There were many, many moments to remember in our recent ten day, 3,100 mile road trip that began in a blizzard in Maine and ended in a motel in Burbank, both culinary and otherwise. There was the complete memorization of the entire first season of “The Muppet Show,” particularly the episode hosted by Sandie Duncan, that seemed to be the only thing about the journey that made sense to poor two-year-old Violet, who was subjected both to more time in the car and more television than she had ever seen in her life. There was the pie plate-sized cheeseburger from the (mostly) abandoned mining town in Oklahoma, made from cattle raised right across the street. There was the hot chicken in Nashville. There was the basket overflowing with deep-fried bull testicles that I ate before noon outside of Amarillo. They’re all good memories. But they’re all different stories, for a different day.
Today, I remember fondly a restaurant where we had breakfast in New Mexico. Our stop there marked the beginning of the end of our journey West, but also was the first stop we’d had in a long time with some friendly faces; in this case, my sister, Lisarae, her husband David, and daughter Nora. As sibling relationships go, ours is a little complicated. We’d never been “close” in any traditional sense, they way brothers and sisters raised in any kind of normal environment would use the word; with only one common parent and many miles between us, our paths never even crossed until I was ten years old. I’ve only seen her a handful of times, since. But I think we both acknowledge that there is some THERE, there, a common twinkle in the eyes, a shared sardonic turn of phrase that reveals a deep-rooted common bond encoded in our very DNA. We may not be as up on the day-to-day of each other’s lives as some siblings are, but we’re getting closer.
It was such a relief arriving at her house in Los Alamos under the pitch blackness of night, the stars of New Mexico twinkling overhead. After a week in one generic hotel room after another, crashing into the cacophony of her normal family routine felt almost like arriving at home. Even if it wasn’t our home, it was someone’s home, and it was wonderful to have a home-cooked meal and someone new to talk to. Watching Violet tear around with her cousin Nora was a wonderful change of pace, since her patience with being cooped up in the car was beginning to fray a little bit around the edges. And the tequila certainly didn’t hurt. Me, that is. Violet didn’t have any.
In the morning, we wound down the mountain to Santa Fe, to have breakfast at “Tecolote Cafe,” a popular stop sandwiched in between a few fast food places and a few auto mechanics, where I was relieved to find plenty of parking in the back for our Jeep and our trailer. Amid what seemed like hundreds of owl figurines (“Tecolote” is the Aztec word for “owl”), we wedged the whole unruly gang into a corner table, and began contemplating the perfect order.
The Tecolote Cafe may be most famous for serving gigantic cinnamon rolls instead of toast, but since I was eating breakfast in New Mexico, I knew that I wanted chiles. Lots of chiles. I wanted a huge, hot plate swamped with chiles and cheese, and I didn’t care about much else. In New Mexico, you can get almost anything you’d like smothered in a puree of either red or green chile, and it seems you can have it at any time of day. Rather than waste my time with eggs, I chose an even worthier vehicle for my chili: A burrito, filled with spicy carne adovada, a spicy braise of pork simmered for hours in red chile, with hints of vinegar, oregano, garlic, and cumin.
While New Mexican red and green chilies may get all of the attention when it comes to the cooking of the region, I kept coming back to that burrito filling. Don’t misunderstand: Both of the red and green chile sauces were astonishing, and I marveled at what different flavors you could get out of the same pepper, picked at different stages of ripeness. There was a freshness that accompanied the customary heat that I really loved, almost like you find in a good tomatillo salsa. But I kept coming back to that carne adovada, those chunks of unbelievably tender marinated pork stained a lewd shade of dark red, and packing enough of a scoville wallop to wake you up far better than any cup of coffee.
I’ll miss that burrito, and that morning on the road. Fortunately, making carne adovada at home is remarkably easy. Use it as a filling for burritos, tacos, or tortas, topped with a little onion, cilantro, and queso fresco. Or just eat it straight out of a bowl. Here’s how to do it.
- 6 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 2 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 3 chipotle peppers in adobo
- 32 ounces low sodium chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- Juice from 1 lime
- 3 pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- Tortillas, bread, sliced onions, queso fresca, chopped cilantro, for serving
- Preheat oven to 375.
- In a large saucepan over medium high heat, combine chiles, chipotles, chicken stock, and lime juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Blend until smooth using an immersion blender, or transfer in batches to a standing blender. Set mixture aside.
- In a large Dutch oven over high heat, heat vegetable oil until shimmering. Add pork in a single layer to bottom of pan (don’t worry if it doesn’t all fit, just do your best) and allow to cook without stirring or moving for 8-10 minutes, or until pork sears on one side. Transfer to bowl and set aside.
- Add sliced onions to pot, and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until onions soften, about ten minutes. Add garlic, oregano, cumin, coriander, and cloves, and cook, stirring, until spices become fragrant. Add chile mixture, bay leaves, and pork, stirring everything well to combine.
- Bring mixture to a boil, then cover and transfer to oven. Let cook for 1.5-2 hours, or until meat is very tender. Serve with tortillas or bread, onions, queso fresco, and cilantro.
Sad footnote: Since we visited in February, the Tecolote Cafe has closed following a lease dispute. They are currently seeking a new place to call home, and urge loyal customers to keep up with them on their Facebook page for updates.