Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Mexican Green Chile Stew

A grey gloom is stretching outside my window. There was rain and there's more to come. Autumn is finally here, and the now-working heating is on. I've been drinking cup after cup of tea, and I've found that the only way to truly warm up is from the inside out.

If you're feeling even a hint of this kind of chill, I have a suggestion for you.

New Mexican Green Chile Stew.

I have this one issue of Saveur Magazine (September/October 2001) that is the most dog-earred, crumpled, wreck of a magazine. It is the issue that keeps on giving. I've made Pork Roast with Mustard and Herbes de Provence countless times. It is phenomenal. The Arroz con Pollo is the epitome of comfort food. I've whipped up the classic Clafoutis aux Pommes and now I can say that I've prepared the Green Chile Stew. It won't be the last time.

The recipe for green chile stew is a quintessential New Mexican recipe with a twist. It uses beef instead of pork. The humble chuck roast to be exact. The beef has a satisfying chew and its bath with the onions and garlic in slowly bubbling water produces a richly flavorful broth. Being a passionate soup-lover, this stew appealed to me on an intrinsic level. The soupiness is just what you need to cure a rotten case of the shivers.

This is not a complicated recipe. The hardest part is charring and peeling the anaheim chiles. This type of task used to scare me off when I was younger, but I've gotten the hang of it, and once you get in a groove, you can make quick work of it. Using the broiler is a breeze, but you can also char them on your stove-top if you suffer from broiler-phobia as I used to.

The recipe is in fact so simple, verging on minimal, that I was concerned that it might be a flop. Chiles, chuck roast, onion, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, cumin. Sounds so basic. I swear when the meat was simmering away, I was the most skeptical of all. Boiled meat and onions, hmm. I really wasn't turned on. The pot looked so grey. But it is amazing what a simmer, some chiles and onion, garlic, tomatoes, and cumin can do.

The flavor is actually quite huge. Although this green chile stew is not very spicy. There is a faint notion of heat, but that is it. The robust beefy broth is soothing and verging on addictive.

I do have an important reminder, which I foolishly did not listen to when I said the same thing to myself. Do not crowd the pot, when you are browning the chunks of beef. I doubled the recipe. As I was throwing all the beef into the pot to brown, I knew I was making a big mistake. Your meat will boil not brown if the pot is too crowded. I know this. You know this. Listen! It makes such a difference.

The enticing aroma will fill your house. The windows will steam up. You will feel like your are doing right by the season. To my mind hot buttered tortillas are a necessary accompaniment and perhaps a crisp salad to finish it off.

New Mexican Green Chile Stew

8 medium-hot fresh green chiles, such as anaheim or new mexico
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound boneless beef chuck, in 1-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
5 new potatoes, peeled (I didn't bother peeling) and halved
2 medium tomatoes, cored and diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Set oven rack in top third of the oven and preheat the broiler. Arrange chiles in a single layer on a large baking sheet and broil on each side just until their skin blisters and chars, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chiles to a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside until cool enough to handle. Using your fingers, peel off skins and remove and discard stems and seeds. Coarsely chop chiles and set aside.

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Generously season beef with salt, then add meat to pot and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until well browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft, 5 minutes. Add 3 cups water, scraping any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover pot, and simmer until meat is tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes.

Add potatoes to pot, reduce heat to medium-low, and continue cooking, partially covered, until potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Add tomatoes, cumin, reserved chiles, and salt to taste and simmer, completely covered, until meat is very tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes more. Adjust seasonings. Serve with warm flour tortillas, if you like.

Serves 6

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Mother Dough

I wouldn't have guessed that the Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Echo Park environs needed another pizza joint. The area seems quite over-run by pizzerias and vegan cafés. But it turns out that I was wrong. What we actually desperately needed was a Neapolitan pizzeria.

As is often the case these days, I am a little late to the game. Mother Dough on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Feliz has been open since last February. I read about it when Jonathan Gold wondered, "am I the last person to discover the pizza at Mother Dough," in August. Well here it is November and I can finally say that I have eaten the Neapolitan goods at Mother Dough.

I'm not sure how I survived without Mother Dough. I want to be eating this kind of pizza in this atmosphere a lot more often. It was so cold out last Saturday night, but inside Mother Dough it was cozy as can be, the lighting warm from exposed filament bulbs and the room glowing from the 850 degree wood-burning oven in the back. I like the spare decor and brick walls.

Mother Dough is a no-reservation kind of place. This tends to get on my nerves, because it's usually impossible to wait around for a table when I'm eating out with Fe. And as Fe. (turning 3 this month!) gets older, it is more and more fun to dine out with him. In any event, we showed up at six o'clock p.m. on Saturday night, just as the restaurant was opening and there was no problem getting a table. Hurrah!

The menu is succinct and focused with only a handful of starters and five pizzas. The place mats offer a rundown of what to expect. Why is the crust charred? How long does it take to cook the pizza in the 850 degree oven (60 seconds!)? Why use only buffalo mozzarella? Why have our pizzas arrived at different times? What is the significance of Mother Dough? Apparently the Mother Dough folks have been asked some of these questions many times.

There were four of us. I was dining with A., Mo., and Fe. We opted to start with the mixed olives, always a nice beginning and a sure-fire hit with Fe. We followed with the burrata salad, which was surprisingly generous. An unruly tangle of arugula dressed in a fairly spicy vinaigrette made a vibrant bed for a hefty portion of exquisite burrata. Typically when I have to share a burrata appetizer, I'm wishing there were fewer people at the table. In this case, there was plenty to go around. Sliced heirloom tomatoes and two crostini rounded out the dish. With more than enough to share, this is a very tasty and satisfying way to begin your meal.

We ordered three of the twelve-inch pizzas. The best way to judge a pizzeria is to sample its Margherita, pizza at its purest. So that was at the top of our order along with a white pie strewn with an abundance of julienned zucchini and fragrant thyme. We couldn't deny ourselves the house-made sausage pizza either.

I'll start by saying that A. was pining for these pizzas the very next night. And just this morning I was ruing the fact that Mother Dough is not open for lunch. I need to get my hands on this pizza again really soon. I'm positively craving it.

These pizzas were extraordinarily good. The crust is chewy with lightly crisp edges and bits of char; the flavor salty and yeasty. The red sauce is pure tomato, acidic and sweet (but not overly so). At first you might actually miss it on the zucchini pie, but you'll recover as you continue to tear into the delicious garlicky and herbaceous ode to summer squash. The trick is to order several pizzas with sauce and perhaps one without. Thus you'll find the perfect balance.

The sausage pizza is also terrific, but for my taste I prefer crumbly mounds to the slices of sausage at Mother Dough. I believe the sausage pie was A.'s favorite, and Fe. kept snatching rounds of it off others' slices. Naughty boy! So there is no denying the success of this choice. I personally was thrilled to have another cheesy and saucy pizza in our midst.

I'll admit that my absolute favorite was the Margherita. It was perfection in its simplicity. Lightly sauced and sparingly topped with buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil leaves, this is the pizza that is calling me back.

I have to tell you that this is not cheap pizza. The pizzas themselves run about fifteen bucks a piece. Our meal as detailed above plus two beers, two glasses of wine and a pop cost approximately $100 before tax and tip. So yeah, not cheap, but I found that our dinner was absolutely worth it. The setting is lovely and the food it turns out is exactly what the neighborhood needed.

Mother Dough
4648 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027