Seasonal Pantry: Taking the confusion out of cooking with chiles
It can be hard to keep chiles straight. Which ones are hot? Which ones are sweet? Which ones are sometimes hot and sometimes not?
The names themselves don’t always help. Let me use two varieties that are currently enjoying a lot of popularity, the poblano and the Hatch, to illustrate what I mean.
The poblano is a fairly large chile, with deep-green fresh, shiny skin and broad shoulders. It ranges from sweet to moderately hot ,and it is impossible to tell what you have until you bite into one. Its name is easy enough to pronounce, but it is often misidentified, especially in supermarkets, where it may be called “pasilla.”
To make matters more confusing, many writers and cookbook authors have explained that a dried poblano is correctly called a pasilla. This is not accurate; a dried poblano is an ancho; a pasilla is a dried chilaca, which is long and thin.
Hatch chiles seem to be the hip chile of the moment, surpassing Padrons and shishitos in trendiness and having all manner of health benefits attributed to them. But a Hatch chile is simply a mild New Mexico chile that is grown in the Hatch Valley, New Mexico. The long, thin chile also is known as an Anaheim.
Hatch chiles actually grown in Hatch Valley do have their own terroir, but all chiles do, no matter where they are grown. They do not taste like Hatch chiles grown elsewhere, including here in Sonoma County.
When it comes to buying chiles at this time of year, you know my advice: Get them at your nearest farmers market or farm stand. If you aren’t sure what you want, figure out the level of heat you like and then talk to the farmer.
The meaty poblano is one of my favorite chiles. I enjoy it in tacos, soups, posole, chile verde and other stews, and sometimes use it, pureed with other ingredients, as a sauce. When I have a bounty of poblanos, I sear them and pack them into freezer bags and put them in the freezer, where they will be perfect for soup over the winter.
One of my favorite foods in the world is chile verde, and there are so many versions, some made with chicken, though pork is traditional and others with a lot of either fresh or canned tomatillos. I’ve followed many recipes, but I’ve never found one I prefer to the one here, which I’ve developed on my own over many years of experimentation and love. For actual chile verde, consult the serving suggestions below.
If you don’t have a slow cooker or prefer not to use one, you can prepare this in the oven. When I do so, I layer things as described in the main recipe in a clay pot, set it in a cold oven and then cook everything on 250 degrees for about 5 hours. Use your intuition, your eyes and your nose to guide you to perfect.
Basic Slow-Cooker Pork & Poblanos, with Serving Options
Serves 6 to 8
3 1/2 pounds pork butt
2 teaspoons New Mexican green chile powder (optional)
— Kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds