Chile-stuffed chicken

by Ari LeVaux

Last week I attempted in vain to present my recipe for green chile chicken. But I was unable to move the discussion past the dish’s main ingredient: green chile, that fragrant, smoky soul breath of New Mexico.

I was going to explain how to make a very special green chile stew, and how a variation of that stew can be stuffed into a chicken and baked. But instead, I fell so deep into the history and culture of New Mexico green chile that it was all I could do to describe how to roast it at home before I ran out of space. Today I’ll assume you know about green chile and skip straight to the stew. Then I’ll tell you how to shove it up a chicken’s butt, bake it and love it.

A good green chile stew is a poem in a bowl, a New Mexican ballad whose hot winds, heavy with the scent of green chile, fan the smoldering fragrance of garlic, dry the dusty potatoes and drive the cold, tomato-splitting rain. Typically served with a folded flour tortilla tucked between saucer and bowl, green chile stew will make you sweat, cry, cough and clap your hands like desert thunder.

It’s a simple dish, little more than potato, tomato, onion, garlic, meat and roasted green chile. There are, of course, variations. Some cooks add olives. Or carrots. Or even red chile. Some serve their stew with a sopapilla instead of a tortilla.

First you brown the meat – typically pork, but any will do. Then, for each pound of meat add one onion and two tomatoes, chopped, and a few minced cloves of garlic. After it cooks together – about 10 minutes – add two cubed potatoes and enough stock to cover it all, and simmer until the potatoes are done. Season with salt and garlic powder, add 10-20 chopped green chiles, cook another two minutes, and serve.

Despite being a hearty, chunky affair, very few incarnations of green chile stew are thick enough to actually stuff into a chicken. So I’ve adapted the stew into a low-water, oven-roasted product that works great as a stuffing and absorbs juices from the surrounding chicken.

This is a great wintertime dish, but I’m giving you the recipe in the height of summer to get you hooked. Hopefully you’ll consider putting away a stash of green chile so you can make this dish all year round. If so, now is the time to assemble that stash.

Green chile, as discussed last week, is typically frozen after roasting. If you live where you can acquire freshly roasted green chile by the sack, that’s a lot easier than spending all day roasting chiles on the grill or in the oven. I usually drive to Hatch, N.M., and buy five bushel sacks of fresh chile, which I have roasted on the spot. Then I drive my green chile home, where I pack it into quart-sized freezer bags and freeze it for year-round use.

Most of the other ingredients – for stew and chicken both – are crops you can grow in your garden and keep until spring. Potatoes, garlic and onions store themselves, given a cool space. Tomatoes may be frozen, canned or dried, and most any unadulterated form of preserved tomato will do. I use sundried tomatoes.

The quantities suggested in this green chile chicken recipe will create about twice as much stuffing as will fit into a 4 lb. bird. You can place the extra stuffing around and beneath the chicken. ï® Four medium potatoes

- Two tomatoes (in my case, two tomatoes’ worth of sundried slices)

- One head of garlic, chopped

- One good-sized onion, chopped ï® At least 20 roasted green chiles ï® A quarter-cup of mixed pine nuts and pecans ï® Two carrots

The carrots and nuts are not typically found in the stew, but I like them in the stuffing. Also, you will need a chicken, obviously. And the following ingredients are optional:

- Oregano and sage (to sprinkle on top of the chicken)

- Tortillas and a big summer squash sliced into ¾-inch slabs (for placing under the chicken to absorb the juices)

Because the stuffing is oven-roasted, and the chicken subsequently baked, your oven will be hot for a long time. It’s good if you can multi-task to keep it full and make use of the heat. Bake some bread, or pies. Bake me a cake. Last time I made green chile chicken, I did a load of oven apricot butter. Of course, if you make this recipe in winter, a hot stove will be an asset to the kitchen. Cut the potatoes and carrots into 1-inch chunks, arrange them on a baking pan, sprinkle with salt, and roast in the oven at 300. (You can adjust 50 degrees either way if you have other stuff in the oven, and adjust cook times accordingly.) Stir every 10 minutes.

With the roasting in progress, prepare the chile and tomatoes. Wash the burnt, blistered skin from the roasted green chile, remove the tops, and clean out as many of the seeds and inner membranes as you wish – depending on how hot the chile is and your heat tolerance. Chop the green chile into chunks and mix them with your tomatoes in a bowl. In my case, the moisture in the chile begins to rehydrate the sundried tomatoes.

When the potato and carrot chunks develop dry skins, stir in the chopped onion and continue roasting for 15 minutes, stirring at least twice. If the pan starts to stick, deglaze with white wine. Add the garlic and the nuts and keep roasting.

When the smell of roasting garlic reaches intoxicating levels, stir in the chile and tomatoes. Roast until the moisture is nearly gone from the pan. Remove and let cool.

When the stuffing is cool enough to handle, adjust the salt, add black pepper if you wish, and stuff it into your chicken.

I like to line the bottom of a baking pan with tortillas, and then cover them with slabs of summer squash (this is only an option in summer). Either way, put your stuffed chicken in the pan, surrounded by the stuffing that didn’t get stuffed. Sprinkle the chicken with oregano and sage and bake for three hours, or until done, at 300.

Let it cool to an edible temperature, and enjoy the poetry. •