My glorious and gustatorially-resplendent Citizens – I am pleased to report that I have just recently returned from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where my father has lived for nearly 20 years now! This was the first time I’ve visited him in NM in nearly 5 years, and it was a joyous and Revolutionary reunion indeed – I also had the opportunity to sample some of Santa Fe’s finest traditional eateries while in town!
It was on my last day before returning home, and I had the opportunity to meet an old and dear online friend for the first time – and it was Howard who introduced me to the joys of not just sopapillas, but also carne adovada and red chile sauce – have patience and I shall explain what all parts of these delicious bills-of-fare entail!
A sopapilla is a kind of fried pastry and a type of quick bread served in several regions with Spanish heritage in the Americas. The word sopapilla is the diminutive of sopaipa, a word that entered Spanish from the Mozarabic language of Al-Andalus. The original Mozarabic word Xopaipa was used to mean bread soaked in oil. The word is derived in turn from the Germanic word suppa, which meant bread soaked in liquid.
A sopapilla is traditionally made from leavened wheat dough (or a mixture of wheat flour and masa harina) to which some shortening such as butter is added. After being allowed to rise, the dough is rolled into a sheet that is then cut into circular, square or triangular shapes, 8–10 cm in size for the longest dimension (if intended for a dessert) or 15–20 cm (if intended to be stuffed for a main course). These pieces are then deep-fried in oil, sometimes after being allowed to rise further before frying: the frying causes them to puff up, ideally forming a hollow pocket in the center.
Fried cakes have been made by humans since the earliest pottery vessels were developed that could hold oil or fat, around 5000 to 3000 BCE. In ancient times, frying cakes was a primitive substitute for baking, requiring only fire and a simple vessel. Every culture has developed some form of the dish. Sopapilla is a version found in Latin American cuisine, Tex-Mex cuisine and the cuisine of the Southwestern United States.
Sopapillas in New Mexican cuisine are pillow-shaped fried pastry dough, distinct from Latin American variations. Similar to Native American frybread (perhaps dervied from the Hopi or Navajo Native American First Nations), they are typically served as a bread, and used to mop up sauces, scoop up tidbits, or are shredded into stews. It’s been called “the doughnut of the Southwest”, while other authors have said “this non-yeasted, simply flavored bread is definitely not a donut, but it’s not really a fritter either”.
In northern New Mexico, they are often filled with savory ingredients such as ground beef or chicken, covered with chile and cheese, and served with lettuce and tomato as an entree, but such “stuffed sopapillas” are a relatively new innovation and are still fairly unknown in the southern part of the state. They are sometimes eaten as a dessert, drizzled with honey or anise syrup, but are often eaten this same way during the meal itself as New Mexican cuisine tends to be very spicy and sweet syrups reduce the sensations of heat.
Sopapillas are perhaps my new favorite snack – and they’re even better smothered in red chile sauce and stuffed with pork, as I have done in this recipe!
Adobada (Spanish for ‘marinated’), also spelled adovada, is a preparation for many dishes that are common in Mexican cuisine similar to tacos. Adobada is generally pork marinated in a “red” chile sauce with vinegar and oregano, but it can refer to different types of meat and to marinades closer to al pastor.
‘Carne adovada’ is a baked meat dish that is a specialty in New Mexican cuisine. In its simplest form, raw pork is cut into strips or cubes and placed in a large plastic bag with New Mexico red chili powder or minced red chili peppers (Hatch, Chimayo, or guajillo chili peppers), garlic, oregano, cumin, lime/lemon juice and/or vinegar, and salt, then mixed and refrigerated overnight. The dish is cooked by baking at low heat wrapped completely in foil or in a covered dish like a casserole dish to keep the meat moist.
The southern New Mexican version is usually pork cut into strips and chunks. Historically, before refrigeration, the pork was fermented in red chile in a crock using lactobacillus bacteria cultures. Fermented meat was a way of preservation and imparted a “sour” taste to the pork which explains why modern New Mexican adovada recipes call for a bit of white vinegar or lemon/lime juice.
The red chile is prepared “con pellejo” with bits of the chile skin using spices of fresh minced garlic, mortar and pestle ground oregano, comino (cumin), cilantro, and coriander seeds that may or may not be toasted. The dish is then baked until the meat is tender, moist and succulent on the inside while encrusted with a semidry and crisp red chile exterior that is almost blackened.
Other versions of red chile and boiled or braised pork may be claimed as carne adovada. Other versions of red chili and pork-skin pellejo are actually what is known as chile Colorado. Carne adovada may be served with a tortilla, beans and rice, fideos or homefries, or papas with a fresh vinegar slaw or salad.
Another version is found in central New Mexico. Chunks of pork are dipped in milk and rolled in a dry rub of red chili con pellejo, garlic powder, salt, and comino. These are tossed into a large fry pot with chicharrónes and deep fried until crisp on the outside and tender and succulent inside.
As to the red chile sauce – typically, most people think of the iconic GREEN Hatch chile sauce which is beloved throughout the state – but the red is also quintessentially New Mexican and really works well in this particular recipe! My version is made with the very rare but mandatory Chimayo pepper – more about it from this fascinating article in Food and Wine magazine!
The historic village of Chimayó, located in the heart of New Mexico, is approximately a 30-minute drive north of Santa Fe, at the foothills of the crimson-hued Sangre de Cristo mountains. Established at the tail-end of the 17th century by Spanish settlers, this tight-knit community of 3,000 people lies near the Santa Cruz river, and is best known for the Santuario de Chimayó.
But the most prized culinary item of the region is its distinctly reddish-orange chile that attracts purveyors from all nooks of the globe. Despite being so well-known, it is grown only in this community in small batches by a group of farmers who harvest the crop each fall, and use the harvest primarily for in dishes for their families.
The chile is grown from original heirloom seeds passed down from generation to generation, so outsiders can’t quite hybridize and grow their own version of it. Its intense red color comes from the drying process; the batches that are sold are oven-roasted, which gives the spice its distinctly toasted flavor. Chimayó pods are much smaller in size than a traditional Sandia or Hatch chile (roughly four inches in size), making it more difficult to harvest and process.
But it is the unique flavor of this spice that keeps visitors coming back for more.
“Chimayó chiles tend to be small, a little bit curlicued and thin-walled and because of this, they are harder to harvest,” says Cheryl Alters Jamison, a four-time James Beard Award-winning author. “They tend to be grown in small batches in someone’s backyard,” she says.
Because of the precise growing conditions for these plants—they demand warm days, cool nights and an adequate supply of water—it is rare to find this type of small chile anywhere else in the world. And because of the small harvest batches that tend to sell out almost immediately, Chimayó chile commands a very high price, around $45 per pound.
There has also been a rush of vendors who sell counterfeit versions of it, due to the growing demand. It is therefore important to know where to find the genuine stuff, and what qualities set the real chile apart from the other varieties.
Nicolas Madrid, manager of El Potrero Trading Post, which sells the real deal, says that he has only one farmer who will sell Chimayó chile to him, and he prices it at $45 per pound. “There’s basically not a single restaurant in Santa Fe that can serve Chimayó chile,” he says, referring to its scarcity.
Madrid says initially the annual production levels of Chimayó chile were once only 30 to 100 pounds, but that number has grown over the years, but he cannot estimate how much is available now because of “a large number of undocumented farmers,” he says.
Citizens, as you would expect from the Autarch of Authenticity, I ONLY use Chimayó chiles in the red chile sauce recipe – you can purchase the real deal, orange-red colored (this means it’s sun-dried, as opposed to oven-dried – that’s the best kind!) from here. You’ll need Mexican oregano as well for the red chile sauce – you can easily buy it from here. The red chile sauce recipe I am using is gratefully cribbed from madeinnewmexico.com.
My carne adovada recipe is from the Santa Fe School of Cooking – you’ll need top-quality standard New Mexican red chile powder, which you can buy here, crushed chile caribe (buy it from here), and red chile honey (buy it here). Also worth noting that the sopapilla recipe has my own tweaks, including the use of sage honey – buy it here.
The combo of all of these celestial dishes combined together is truly the manna of the Gods and well-worth all of your time, hard work and interest, my Citizens! You may wish to enjoy this delicious main course in tandem with a bowl of green Mexican posole!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
The Hirshon New Mexican Stuffed Sopapillas with Carne Adovada and Red Chile Sauce
- For the Sopapillas:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp. sage honey (TFD change, original recipe was regular honey)
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- Shortening (or canola oil, peanut oil or lard, for frying)
- For the Red Chile Sauce:
- 1/2 cup Pure Chimayo Red Chile powder
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 2 or 3 Tbs. canola oil
- 1 small white onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. cumin seed, toasted and ground
- 1 tsp. Mexican oregano
- 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. salt
- For the carne adovada:
- 1/3 cup peanut or vegetable oil
- 3 1/2 pounds pork butt, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 2 cups diced onion
- 2 Tbsp. minced garlic
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 2 tsp. coriander seeds, toasted and ground
- 2 tsp. dried Mexican Oregano
- 2 tsp. crushed chile caribe
- 3/4 cup New Mexican ground red chile, mild or medium
- 1 Tbsp. red chile honey
- 2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
- Salt to taste
- Shredded cheese, of your choice, plus cilantro for garnish
- Serve alongside chopped lettuce and tomato
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Next, create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the honey and whole milk. Using a spoon or your hands, mix the dough together until it forms a sticky mass. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and allow the dough to rest for about 20 minutes.
- In a cast iron skillet (or medium pot), add enough fat so it reaches 3-inches up the sides of the skillet/pot. Heat up your oil to around 300 degrees.
- Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin. If the dough is at all sticky (it shouldn’t be after it rested) feel free to sprinkle it with a bit of flour so it doesn’t adhere to the surface. Dump the dough onto the counter and roll the dough into a thin (1/8-inch thick) square. (It doesn’t have to be a perfect square either, just do your best.) Cut the sopapillas into 8-inch rectangles. Again, the measurements don’t have to be exact.
- Line a baking sheet or plate with a few layers of paper towels or clean kitchen towel. Heat the oil up again to 375 degrees F. Drop the sopapillas in the hot oil, frying two to three at a time, spooning oil over the tops of the sopapillas for about a minute, flipping them over at the halfway point (if they don’t puff up, they’ll still be tasty). They should be lightly golden brown—not too crispy. Transfer them to the bed of paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining sopapillas.
- For the red chile sauce:
- Put the Chimayo Chile powder in a medium bowl & whisk 1 cup of the broth into the powder to make a smooth mixture with no lumps, then set aside. Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan and saute the onion for 5 minutes over medium heat. Toss in the garlic and saute another 2 minutes.
- Stir in the cumin, oregano, and cinnamon and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Scrape the Chile mixture into the pan & stir; then add the remaining broth and cook, stirring, until the sauce reaches the simmering point. Do not let the Chile sauce scorch or boil.
- Reduce the heat to low, add the salt, and simmer the sauce gently, stirring frequently, for 20 to 30 minutes or until it is the consistently you like; then set aside to cool. When cool, pout into a clean jar, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator. The sauce keeps well for up to 2 weeks. To keep longer, freeze it as soon as it has cooled.
- For the carne adovada:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and brown pork in batches, taking care not to crowd the pan. Set the pork aside. Add the onion to skillet and sauté until golden. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Deglaze the skillet with 1 cup of the chicken broth, loosening the browned bits with a spoon.
- Place the coriander, oregano, chile caribe, red chile powder, red chile honey, vinegar and salt in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the cooked onions, garlic and broth from the skillet and add 2 more cups of the chicken broth. Process until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
- Place the browned pork, chile sauce, and the remaining 1 cup of chicken broth into an ovenproof pot or dish. Stir to combine well and cook for 1 hour or until the pork is tender. Taste and adjust seasonings. Preheat broiler.
- Cut sopapillas in half, stuff with the carne adovada, cover with shredded cheese and red chile sauce, broil until cheese is melted. Garnish with minced cilantro and serve immediately.
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i LOVE the cuisine of new mexico! it is distinctive and utterly delicious. this recipe is most welcome and has inspired me to make this dish and some posole too.
it’s a simple fact that an ingredient can be unique to a place and necessary to a recipe. substitution is possible, but never ideal. i know a local farmer who traveled to central and south america many years ago, and smuggled back chile seeds which he has grown ever since. they do not bear heavily here in maryland, so far from their origin, but they are unique in flavour; unlike any other chile i’ve tasted. there is literally no substitute for them i can think of. so for this dish, i would seek out the chimayo chile if possible, as the dictator directs. i suppose one could make the dish with another chile, but knowing it will be different. still delicious, yes, but different.