A Patriotic Pig Roast

Culinary fireworks abound at Arroyo Seco's Fourth of July celebration.

Looking for a delicious way to celebrate the Fourth? Head to Arroyo Seco, a charmingly quirky bend in the road between Taos and Taos Ski Valley. Seemingly, every one of the 1,000-plus residents of this Spanish land-grant community comes out to celebrate the birth
of our nation with a pig roast and parade.

Turn from Taos onto Highway 150, whose asphalt ribbon leads through an
open plain. Even for a regular visitor like me, the sweeping view toward the Sangre de Cristos and the ski valley inspires awe. It always makes the phrase “purple mountain majesties,” from “America the Beautiful,” pop into my mind. That’s extra-appropriate on the Fourth of July—Katharine Lee Bates was inspired by Rocky Mountain vistas when she wrote those words, and her poem first appeared in print on July 4, 1895. The view definitely has that “O beautiful for spacious skies” thing going, too.

The annual pig roast is hosted by Sabroso, one of the most convivial restaurants in the state, hidden in a glade over a small bridge on the edge of Arroyo Seco. Chef Tim Wooldridge presides over other food events—a clambake, a paella party—during the year, but the pig roast has become Sabroso's signature festivity. With my advance reservation for the afternoon meal comes a parking place, a coveted perk on this busy day. The aroma of roasting pork wafts to my nose, and on a custom rotisserie I spot a good-sized pig—one of two Chef Tim’s cooking up for the party. It’s nearly done, all crackling brown skin and glistening meat.

I officially check in at Sabroso, and am given a wristband and a beverage. Now it’s time to walk back along the main road to find a spot for the parade. Many in the crowd tote collapsible lightweight chairs for comfortable viewing.

It Takes a Village

The parade begins at noon sharp. Come earlier, though, to check out the vendors of fun tchotchkes and food, from brats to crêpes to the famed local ice cream at Taos Cow. You’ll probably spot some enterprising kids selling lemonade or flower-festooned cupcakes, too. Step inside a local landmark, Abe’s Cantina y Cocina, overseen by Abe Garcia and family since just after World War II. The bar and grocery portions of Abe’s will be open today, but not the kitchen. That’s no disappointment on pig-roast day, but do stop in another time for Abe’s homey New Mexican specialties. The chicharrón (luscious chewy-crispy pork rinds) burritos are well loved, and the green-chile cheeseburger is on the New Mexico Tourism Department’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.

The town’s small collection of shops and boutiques are a mix of the arty and the delightfully offbeat. Nationally recognized artist Doug West maintains a gallery here. It was his haunting landscape Sanctuary that graced New Mexico’s Centennial stamp in 2012.

Watching the setup for the parade can be nearly as entertaining as the event itself, with people, vehicles, pets, and farm animals of all sizes donning costumes and decorations. Once the exuberant procession gets moving, it’s a toss-up as to whether there are more people in the parade or watching it. Think free-spirited and free-form, as opposed to marching band precision. Led by the local fire department, the parade snakes through town with donkeys and burros, decorated cars, vintage pickups, and miscellaneous floats sharing music, snacks, and more. Handily, the parade ends at Sabroso’s driveway.

Time to Eat

At Sabroso, today’s festivities will be centered outdoors, but take a peek inside the rambling 150-year-old adobe hacienda, surrounded by pine and fruit trees. The dining rooms are simple and enchanting, with the kind of New Mexican character that comes only with time. The cozy bar is a favorite winter spot of mine for a bowl of French onion soup or chile corn chowder after a day on the nearby ski slopes. The low ceiling supported by vigas, and the fireplace, cushy couches, grand piano, and handsome murals all entice guests to linger.

On the patio, Chef Tim seems to be everywhere at once, walkie-talkie in hand, greeting guests, directing the inside kitchen staff and the outdoor setup crew, all the while keeping a watchful eye on the rotisserie. He’s been up since 3 a.m., when pig prep got underway. We’ll be eating free-range Berkshire hogs that have arrived from Iowa, already butchered, via FedEx. Tim has stuffed the porkers with spicy Cajun andouille sausage, and they’ve been cooking—for eight or nine hours.

The rotisserie is to one side of the front courtyard, across from the deep, shade-providing portal. The outdoor bar at the center of the courtyard is a local version of a tiki hut, and today is festooned in red-white-and-blue bunting. Tables are spread here and around the Plum Grove, another flagstoned terrace, surrounded by rosebushes, lilies, and plum and cherry trees. Taos musician Jimmy Stadler’s stage occupies part of the Grove, as does the station for the jalapeño-eating contest later today. If you’re thinking of entering, keep in mind that last year’s winner ate 87 chiles.

The buffet is simply presented on red-and-white–checked tablecloths, filled with platters of big, juicy chunks of pork, grilled chicken, and American Fourth favorites: potato salad, coleslaw, corn on the cob, and cherry cobbler. The second pig awaits carving under another tablecloth. As I sit contentedly in the warm sunshine with friends and family, it occurs to me that sabroso means “delicious.” Indeed, a simply delicious day in every way.

Bites

Other Tasty Independence Day Celebrations

A Capitán Fourth

The Smokey Bear Stampede jams eight rodeos into four action-packed days in July. Food lovers will want to be sure to arrive by noon on the Fourth, for the judging of the barbecue cook-off. Teams from throughout the area compete in categories of Smoked Beef Brisket, Pork Butt, Sausage, and Beans. The best news of all? All entries are available for sampling after the champion is declared. July 4–7. (575) 808-2814; smokeybearstampede.com

A Toast to La Unión

La Viña Winery, in this southern New Mexican hamlet, hosts an Old-Fashioned Country Picnic on the Fourth from about noon to 6 p.m. You can bring your own picnic, or purchase items from the grill here. Winery open house, music, and merriment for the whole family.
(575) 882-7632; lavinawinery.com

Mescalero Magic

Celebrate with a Native American take on the Fourth in Mescalero, outside Ruidoso. The attractions over the first four days of July include the Mescalero Apache Rodeo, ceremonials, traditional dances, and traditional foods for sale. Mescalero Rodeo Grounds. Small entry fee for non-Natives. July 1–4. (575) 464-4494; skiapache.com

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Roasting an entire pig is a pretty big deal. Here’s a simpler way to enjoy some of that divine swine on the Fourth, or any other day.
Yield Serves 8

Ingredients

Marinade and Sauce

Juice of 2 large oranges (approximately 1 cup)
Juice of 2 large limes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar, honey, or agave nectar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground dried New Mexican red chile
1 teaspoon smoked salt, or kosher salt
2 plump garlic cloves, crushed
Two 12- to 14-ounce sections of pork tenderloin
Additional smoked salt, or coarse flaky salt, such as Maldon
Avocado slices and red-ripe cherry tomatoes

Directions

At least 2 hours and up to the night before you plan to grill pork tenderloins, mix marinade-sauce ingredients in small bowl. Set aside one-third of this for a finishing sauce (it will be thin). Place tenderloins in zippered plastic bag and pour remaining two-thirds of sauce over them. Reach in and rub marinade into tenderloins’ surfaces. Seal. Refrigerate tenderloins and reserved sauce.

When ready to cook, drain marinade from tenderloins and discard. Let meat and sauce sit at room temperature 20 to 30 minutes. Alternatively, heat sauce on edge of grill while cooking tenderloins.

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). The hand test involves placing your hand a couple of inches above the cooking grate and counting the number of seconds until the heat forces you to pull away.

Place tenderloins on grill, with thin ends angled away from hottest part of fire. Grill tenderloins uncovered on high heat 3 minutes, turning them on all sides. Move to medium heat, and estimate remaining cooking time according to thickness of meat. Thin tenderloins (about 1½ inches in diameter) need an additional 10 to 12 minutes on medium, fat ones (about 2½ inches in diameter) up to 25 minutes. Continue turning on all sides for even cooking. Brush once with sauce about halfway through cooking time. Pork is done when its internal temperature reaches 155˚ to 160˚ F. Exterior should be well browned and a bit crusted in spots; interior should still have a hint of pink.

Lay tenderloins on cutting board, cover with foil, and let sit 10 minutes. Carve tenderloins into thin slices, sprinkle with salt, garnish with avocado and tomatoes, drizzle remaining sauce over slices, and serve.

Sweet and Sour Pickles

You probably have a coleslaw recipe or three you can pull out for a summer meal. If you want something similarly refreshing but a touch different, whip up a batch of this elemental cucumber pickle.
Yield Serves 8

Ingredients

3 large cucumbers or 6 large lemon cucumbers, peeled (if you wish), sliced
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced in thin rings
1 large onion, halved and sliced into thin half-moons
1 cup white distilled vinegar
1⅔ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

<>In large bowl, toss together cucumbers, bell pepper, and onion. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to a day. Stir again before serving chilled.

Grilled Corn-Off-the- Cob Salad

Corn available in New Mexico by June has most likely been shipped in from elsewhere, and therefore can benefit from a flavor boost. If you can find an unrefined sunflower oil, available at natural foods stores, it will practically double the salad’s goodness.
Yield Serves 8

Ingredients

Dressing

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sunflower oil, or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh basil or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried basil
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 celery stalks, minced
1 small green bell pepper, diced fine
½ cup minced red onion

6 ears corn, husked, silks removed
Sunflower oil, or vegetable oil
Fresh basil sprigs (optional)

Directions

Whisk together dressing ingredients in large bowl. Stir in celery, bell pepper, and onion. Let sit.

Brush ears of corn lightly with oil and sprinkle with salt.

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

Place corn on grill and cook about 20 minutes, turning on all sides to cook evenly, again brushing lightly with oil about halfway through cooking.

When corn is cool enough to handle, slice kernels off ears. Add corn to bowl of dressing and vegetables and toss gently. Serve right away, at room temperature, or refrigerate up to overnight. Garnish with basil sprigs, if you wish, just before serving.

Adapted from Born to Grill © 1998 by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press).

All-American Baked Beans

I love a simple pot of pinto beans, cooked to creamy perfection with the slightest hint of seasoning. But I think baked beans need a little jazzing up, Southwestern style. These might raise a few eyebrows in Boston, but they’ll be right at home on any New Mexico picnic table.
Yield Serves 8

Ingredients

6 ounces uncooked bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 to 2 plump garlic cloves, minced fine
Two 15-ounce cans baked beans (I use Bush’s or Trader Joe’s Organic)
½ cup bottled chili sauce (the catsup-style bottled condiment, such as Heinz’s)
or a ¼ cup catsup and ¼ cup favorite tomato-based barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
½ to 1 tablespoon dried New Mexican red chile flakes (labeled “Chile Caribe”)
1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar, or more to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Fry bacon in large skillet over medium heat until it begins to brown through but is still limp (about 5 minutes). Stir in onion and continue cooking until translucent (4 to 5 more minutes). Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Scrape bacon mixture into large baking dish. Stir remaining ingredients into dish, adjusting heat and sweetness to taste with additional amounts of chile and brown sugar. Bake uncovered 40 to 45 minutes, until bubbly with a bit of browned crust. Serve hot.

Chipotle Cherry Cobbler

In June and July, New Mexico’s cherry season, I’m always thinking about ideas for the next batch of fruit. Not long ago, when a reader asked me about how to make a chipotle cherry pie, I suggested adding ground, dried, smoked chile to a regular pie filling. That inspired this juicy cobbler filling. (If you want your cherries without fireworks, omit the chile.)
Yield As much as you can eat

Ingredients

Filling

pounds pitted fresh sweet cherries or three 10-ounce packages frozen sweet cherries, with juice
1½ to 2 teaspoons ground dried chipotle chile
1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Scant ¼ teaspoon almond extract
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Topping

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons almond flour or meal
¾ teaspoon baking powder (use only ½ teaspoon at altitudes over 6,000 feet)
Pinch of salt
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) cold unsalted butter
2 medium eggs
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons slivered almonds

Directions

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease shallow medium baking dish.

Prepare filling, mixing all ingredients together in large bowl.

Prepare topping in food processor, first buzzing together flour, sugar, almond flour, baking powder, and salt. Scatter tablespoon-sized pieces of butter over dry ingredients and pulse quickly several times to combine. Add eggs, vanilla, almond extracts. Pulse again to just combine.

Give filling another stir and pour into prepared dish. Scatter topping over filling, leaving it a bit uneven, and with a few spots uncovered. Top with almonds.

Bake 35 to 45 minutes, until topping is golden brown and fruit filling bubbles. Serve warm.