Grillin’ and Thrillin’

Sizzling cookout recipes—con chile—that are guaranteed to wow your guests.

Whether you’re New Mexican born and bred or only wish you were, grilling should be in your cooking repertoire. People grill outdoors the world over, of course, but not everyplace has the favorable climate we enjoy throughout New Mexico, especially at this time of year. From Ratón to the southern reaches of the Río, we’ve got virtually no humidity, and nary a pesky mosquito or other busy bug in sight. We can light up the grill—or Dutch oven, wood-burning horno, or fire pit—in sunshine, surrounded by the great blue yonder, or under a star-filled night sky. Blend our flawless weather with bold Southwestern flavors, and we have a compelling recipe for hot times with family and friends.

A New Mexican Griller’s Repertoire

There are countless places statewide that serve a credible green-chile cheeseburger—and that list should include your own backyard. Knowing how to grill a serious steak to perfection is important, too. For a spectacular splurge, perhaps for Father’s Day (June 16), grill up inch-thick rib-eyes, richly crusted on the surface and juicy within. You should never mess too much with a top-quality slab of beef, but a sauce of green chile with mushrooms can complement it without compromising the steak’s sublime quality.

Chicken breasts, too, need to be in everyone’s recipe collection. Here, we flavor them with canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, which stand in for the more familiar—but usually less exciting—barbecue sauce. Shredded breast meat makes especially good tacos.

New Mexican outdoor cooks need a vegetable dish too, especially one that can work as either an entrée or a side. What could be more wonderful than stuffed and grilled green chiles?

Recipe for Success

For a cooking technique so elemental, it’s surprising how often grilling is done poorly. You can’t simply light a blazing fire or crank the gas up to high, toss on some food, and time the cooking by how long it takes to down a beer. With the following recipes, you’ll find directions for the proper heat level as well as recommended timing to reach perfection. Burgers and steaks come out best when first grilled over a hot fire—to sear the surface—and then a medium fire to finish cooking to desired doneness. Both gas and charcoal grills can give good results when used at the proper temperature. Fire up whichever fits your personality and the time you have available. Here’s how to build a two-level fire:

  • On a gas grill with three or more burners, you can set burners to keep a hot fire and a medium fire going simultaneously. On a smaller gas grill, simply turn the heat down at the appropriate point.
  • With a charcoal grill, arrange the fuel in two different cooking areas, with a single layer of coals for medium heat, and coals piled up two to three deep for the hotter fire.
  • Almost all chicken and vegetable preparations cook over steady medium heat. The most effective way to measure the cooking temperature is really the simplest: the time-honored hand test. Place your hand a couple of inches above the cooking grate and count the number of seconds until the heat of the fire forces you to pull away. One to two seconds signifies hot, three seconds medium-high, and four to five seconds medium.

A few other tips for grilling like a pro:

  • Be sure to oil the cooking grate and the food itself.
  • Use a sturdy spatula or tongs at the grill rather than a fork. Piercing the food allows the juices to run out.
  • Leave the grill cover open for the short time it takes to grill your food.
  • Avoid playing with your food on the grill. To keep food from sticking to the grate, leave it in place for at least a full minute before moving or turning it. Don’t push down on food over the fire—you’ll squash out the juices.

Grilling Tip

Freshly ground beef always enhances a burger. Many butchers, even in chain supermarkets, will grind chuck or brisket for you on request, but you should be prepared to cook it that day to retain the flavor advantage. The best approach is to grind the meat yourself at home just before you grill. Use a meat grinder or grinding attachment on a mixer, if you have either, but you can also use a food processor. Take the beef directly from the refrigerator and cut it into chunks or strips. In an average-size processor, grind the meat one burger at a time, pulsing it with the regular chopping blade. For superior taste and texture, grind slightly coarser than regular supermarket style.

If you start with fresh chiles, simply char them on the grill before you cook the burgers. Two keys to success: Drain the chile well, and use buns sturdy enough to contain the fixings.

Grilling Book

This month’s recipes are adapted from the recently published 100 Grill Recipes You Can’t Live Without: A Lifelong Companion, by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison, from Harvard Common Press. Available in our New Mexico Magazine store (nmmagazine.com).

Grilled Green-Chile Cheeseburgers

In New Mexico as in the rest of the country, the popularity of the hamburger dates back to the early days of drive-in eateries and roadside cafés.
Yield Serves 6

Ingredients

Burgers
2¼ to 2½ pounds freshly
ground beef chuck
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground
black pepper
6 burger-size slices mild Cheddar, American, or Monterey Jack cheese, at room temperature
1½ to 2 cups roasted New Mexico green chile, mild to hot, fresh or thawed frozen, chopped, warmed

Trimmings
6 large sturdy hamburger buns (toast near the side of the grill, if you wish)
Catsup or mayonnaise
6 thick slices large red-ripe tomato (skip if out of season)
Crisp iceberg lettuce leaves and slices of mild onion, dill pickles, or crisp cooked bacon, optional

Directions

In New Mexico as in the rest of the country, the popularity of the hamburger dates back to the early days of drive-in eateries and roadside cafés. A number of places from that era claim to have invented the state’s iconic green-chile cheeseburger, but it seems likely to have evolved naturally in many kitchens about the same time. We could all miss dinner arguing the merits of whether the cheese should be arranged over or under the chile. Cheese will melt pretty thoroughly if placed directly on the burger, but reverse the two if you prefer that the cheese bond with the bun. Avoid overdoing the toppings beyond chile and cheese, to let the chile’s flavor shine.

Fire up grill for a two-level fire capable of cooking first on high heat (1 to 2 seconds with hand test), then on medium heat (4 to 5 seconds with hand test).

Mix together in bowl ground chuck, salt, and pepper. Gently form mixture into six patties ½ to ¾ inch thick. Patties should hold together, but avoid handling any longer than necessary. Arrange on platter or baking sheet to take to grill.

Grill burgers uncovered over high heat, 1½ minutes per side. Move burgers to medium heat and rotate half turn for crisscross grill marks. Cook
3½ to 4 minutes longer, turn once more, and cover each burger with cheese. Cook another 3½ to 4 minutes for medium doneness: a bare hint of pink at center of each crusty, richly browned burger. Remove from grill to a clean platter or baking sheet.

Smear buns with catsup or mayo. Arrange tomato or any other optional topping(s) on each bun. Follow with cheese-covered burgers. Spoon chile over each. Crown with bun tops. Serve right away.

Grilled Chiles Rellenos

Classic New Mexico batter-dipped and fried chiles rellenos are of course delicious, but for the hotter months, this grilled preparation isn’t as heavy, and the preparation’s less messy.
Yield Serves 4

Ingredients

Cilantro Sauce
¾ cup chopped cilantro
½ to 1 fresh jalapeño or serrano chile
¾ cup Mexican crema or crème fraîche, preferably, or sour cream
¹/8 teaspoon salt

Cheese Filling
8 ounces Chihuahua or Muenster cheese, grated
6 ounces creamy fresh goat cheese or cream cheese, or a combination, softened
½ cup corn kernels, fresh or thawed frozen
¼ cup piñon or pine nuts, toasted in dry skillet
2 tablespoons minced onion
½ teaspoon minced fresh epazote or ¼ teaspoon dried epazote, optional
8 fresh, fat, mild green New Mexico chiles or meaty medium poblano chiles
Vegetable oil spray
Chopped tomato, optional

Directions

Prepare cilantro sauce. In food processor, mince cilantro and jalapeño very fine. Spoon in crema and salt, process again until well blended. Refrigerate until needed. (Sauce can be made 1 to 2 hours ahead, but after that the cilantro’s vibrancy begins to fade.)

Prepare filling, mixing together all ingredients in medium bowl. Cover and chill until needed. (Filling can be combined 1 day in advance, covered, and refrigerated.)

Fire up grill, bring temperature to medium heat (4 to 5 seconds with hand test).

Grill chiles uncovered 8 to 10 minutes, turning occasionally so that skin blackens and blisters all over. Place chiles briefly in plastic bag to steam as they cool.

When chiles are cool enough to handle, peel them, wearing rubber gloves if your skin is sensitive. Slit each chile from end to end and remove any loose seeds. Don’t remove seed pod or it will weaken chile walls. (Chiles can be prepared to this point a day ahead, covered, and refrigerated. Bring them back to room temperature before proceeding.)

Stuff chiles with filling, bringing slit edges of each chile tightly back together. Spritz chiles with oil. Return chiles to grill, slit side down. Grill uncovered 5 to 7 minutes, turning once, until filling feels quite soft. Serve chiles hot with drizzle of sauce.

Rib-Eye Steak with Green-Chile Mushroom Sauce

This steak recipe is modeled on the version created long ago by Rosalea Murphy during her 50-year proprietorship of the Pink Adobe in Santa Fe.
Yield Serves 4

Ingredients

Steaks

1 to 1½ tablespoons Original Hickory Grilled Char Crust or 2 to 3 teaspoons coarse or smoked sea salt, and at least 1 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
Two 14- to 16-ounce New York strip steaks, 1 to 1¼ inches thick

Green-Chile Mushroom Sauce
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup minced shallots or onion
4 large button mushrooms, sliced thin

1 cup roasted New Mexico green chile, mild to medium-hot, chopped, fresh or thawed frozen
½ cup water
½ teaspoon crumbled dried Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon salt

Directions

This steak recipe is modeled on the version created long ago by Rosalea Murphy during her 50-year proprietorship of the Pink Adobe in Santa Fe. She named it after a regular patron, Pat Dunigan, who loved green chile on his steak. The Char Crust dry rub recommended can be found in the spice section or at the meat counter of markets, including Kaune’s Neighborhood Market, in Santa Fe, and Keller’s Farm Store, in Albuquerque (Montaño location), or from charcrust.com. You can substitute a generous seasoning of coarse or smoked sea salt and freshly milled pepper. If you can find prime-grade steak at a real meat market, it will be worth a splurge.

For steaks

About 30 to 45 minutes before cooking, rub Char Crust into all sides of steaks. Loosely cover and let sit at room temperature.

For sauce

Warm oil and 3 tablespoons butter together in medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in shallots and sauté until soft (about 5 minutes). Stir in mushrooms, then cover pan and let mixture sweat about 3 minutes, until mushrooms have softened and begun to give off liquid. Stir in remaining ingredients and cook about 5 minutes more, until mushrooms are tender. Keep warm.

Fire up grill for two-level fire capable of cooking first on high heat (1 to 2 seconds with hand test), then on medium (4 to 5 seconds with hand test).

Grill steaks over high heat, 2 minutes per side. Move steaks to medium heat, turn again, and continue grilling 2½ to 3 minutes per side, for medium-rare doneness. Turn steaks a minimum of three times, but more often if juice begins to form on surface. Rotate half-turn each time for crisscross grill marks.

Let steaks sit 5 minutes, then slice thickly and arrange on plates. Spoon green-chile mushroom sauce equally over all portions. Serve immediately

Chipotle Chicken Tacos

Everyone’s suffered through charred chicken at somebody’s cookout. Most chicken parts should be grilled at a steady medium heat.
Yield Serves 4

Ingredients

Chipotle Marinade
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
¼ cup fresh or reconstituted orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 to 2 minced canned chipotle chiles and 1 tablespoon adobo sauce from the can, or 2 tablespoons chipotle catsup, such as North of the Border (northoftheborder.net)
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded
¼ inch thick
3 to 4 medium limes, sliced lengthwise into quarters
Canola or vegetable oil

Lime Sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
¼ to ½ teaspoon dried ground green chile or green chile seasoning, such as North of the Border, optional
12 soft corn tortillas, warmed

Directions

Everyone’s suffered through charred chicken at somebody’s cookout. Most chicken parts should be grilled at a steady medium heat. Pounding chicken breasts to a uniform thickness makes it a snap to grill them evenly. Try pounding them fairly thin so that the fire can create lots of crusty edges for a shredded taco filling. For this dish, the chicken’s zipped up with smoky chipotle chile and a splash of citrus. A drizzle of creamy lime sauce tops off the tacos. Pair the filling with soft corn tortillas, or use crunchy taco shells if you prefer.

At least 1 hour and up to the night before you plan to grill, prepare marinade, whisking together all ingredients in small bowl. Place chicken breasts in zippered plastic bag. Pour in marinade, seal, toss back and forth to coat evenly, and refrigerate.

Place lime sections on small plate. Rub lightly with oil and let sit at room temperature.

Prepare sauce, stirring together all ingredients in small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Remove chicken from refrigerator and drain, discarding marinade. Let chicken sit uncovered at room temperature about 20 minutes.

Fire up grill, bring heat to
medium (4 to 5 seconds with hand test).

Grill chicken uncovered 6 to 8 minutes total, until white throughout but still juicy. Turn on each side twice, rotating breasts each time to get crisscross grill marks. Grill limes alongside chicken, turning from time to time so that they soften and develop a bit of char. Remove limes as they are ready.

Working quickly, pull chicken into thin shreds and pile on platter, surrounded by limes and accompanied by tortillas and lime sauce. Serve immediately, encouraging diners to fill tortillas with chicken, drizzle with sauce, squeeze on warm lime juice, and enjoy.

This month’s recipes are adapted from the recently published 100 Grill Recipes You Can’t Live Without: A Lifelong Companion, by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison, from Harvard Common Press. Available in our New Mexico Magazine store (nmmagazine.com).