Above: Hatch green chile fires up a side of corn at Sparky's. Photograph by Douglas Merriam.
Barbecue, both as a cooking technique and as an excuse for revelry, has been the great American pastime for as long as there’s been an America. George Washington even slept at one. In his diary, the first president noted attending an Alexandria, Virginia, “barbicue” that lasted three days. The cooks didn’t slap burgers over charcoal briquettes at an event like this. They dug a sizable trench or pit in the ground, filled it with logs, and burned the wood down to glowing coals. Then they slow-roasted whole animals or large haunches over the coals for hours, letting them soak up the woodsmoke.
Here in New Mexico we have a long history of low and slow cooking, and the state is full of restaurants that bring other barbecue traditions to our plates.
The meats may be the star attraction, but the sides are where you really get the flavor of New Mexico. What’s my favorite? Probably what’s sitting in front me at this very moment. Let’s get a taste.
Corn with Green Chile
Much as I love good versions of coleslaw, potato salad, and beans in barbecue restaurants, I perk up when I come across side dishes that are a bit different and reflective of their locale. Sparky’s, in Hatch, does a version of this, using—of course—the area’s famous green chile. Whether you start from frozen chile or fresh-roasted pods, frozen corn or kernels from summer’s sweetest ears, this is both simple and scrumptious.
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 5 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 1 cup frozen pearl onions (optional)
- 1 cup chopped roasted mild New Mexican green chile, fresh or frozen
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add corn and optional onions, stirring to coat with butter.
- Cover and “sweat” mixture for 5 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until accumulated liquid has mostly evaporated.
- Stir in green chile and half-and-half. Salt generously. Simmer until half-and-half and any chile liquid is reduced and thickened. Serve hot.
Green Chile Coleslaw
Josh Baum serves this stellar coleslaw at the Ranch House, on Santa Fe’s south side. It’s a lip-smacking-good side dish for any meal, but the slaw can elevate a pork sandwich to porcine perfection.
- 1 cup chopped roasted hot New Mexican green chile, drained of excess liquid
- 1 medium bunch cilantro, stemmed and 1/4 chopped (about 1/2 cup chopped)
- 1/4 cup corn oil or other vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup mayonnaise (do not use any variety of light or reduced-fat mayo or Miracle Whip)
- About 12 cups shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix
- Salt and ground black pepper
- In a large bowl combine chile, cilantro, oil, vinegar, sugar, and mayonnaise. Whisk together until smooth. Mix in cabbage, stirring to combine well.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Let sit 15 minutes at room temperature before serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to a day.
Sour Cream and Bacon Potato Salad
Whole Hog Café may be known best for its pork, but it also offers a knockout potato salad. Many years ago, shortly after the original Whole Hog opened in Santa Fe, New Mexico Magazine Senior Editor Gwyneth Doland and I met for lunch there, and our first bites of that salad stopped our conversation dead in midsentence. The restaurant considers the recipe top secret, but it’s in this general style. The salad is hearty and rich—whole hog, you might say.
- 3 pounds large red waxy potatoes
- 1 1/2 cups sour cream
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup ranch dressing
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
- 6 slices cooked thick-cut bacon, crumbled
- 1/2 cup finely sliced scallions (white and green portions)
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Bake potatoes until quite tender, about 1 hour for 8-ounce potatoes. Let cool slightly, then cut into rough bite-size skin-on cubes and place them in a large bowl.
- In a medium bowl, mix the sour cream, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, vinegar, sugar, garlic, salt, and pepper.
- Spoon dressing over potatoes and mix together well. Stir in bacon and scallions and mix again. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if you wish.
- Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.
Are you going to find this on many commercial BBQ-joint menus? Probably not, but in the late summer, when watermelons are at their peak, it’s among the most refreshing combos you can imagine. It offsets the hearty, smoky heft of barbecued meats while adding vibrant color to the table and plates. I particularly like the mild tang and creaminess of Dreamcatcher goat feta, sold at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, but use any version that you enjoy. If you wish, add a few handfuls of arugula or watercress to the platter before serving.
- 1/2 large red onion, halved and sliced very thinly into half-moons
- 4 cups watermelon, cut into -inch chunks, chilled
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 to 3 handfuls arugula or watercress(optional)
- 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
- Place onion slices in a bowl and pour over enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Add a couple of ice cubes and let sit for about 10 minutes. Drain.
- In a large bowl, combine watermelon with oil and lemon juice. Gently stir in red onion and chopped mint and season lightly with salt and pepper. If you wish, refrigerate for up to a couple of hours.
- If using greens, scatter them around the edges of a platter. Scoop watermelon mixture out onto platter. Dot with cheese and serve cold.