Well, which is it? The answer largely depends on several different factors; where you’re from, the inherent local cuisine of a specific area or region, and of course, personal taste. In Spanish, the word chile can be traced back to the Nahuatl (Aztec Cuisine) “chīlli,” which generally refers to a “chili pepper.”
In American English, “chili”, is typically a red spicy stew containing chili peppers, meat (usually pork or beef), and often tomatoes and/or beans. Other seasonings may include garlic, onions, and cumin. Geographic and personal tastes will often involve a wide variety of different types of meat and other ingredients.
“Chile”, on the other hand, (not the country, the food), refers to a pepper containing the active component capsaicin, i.e., plants belonging to the genus Capsicum, or more specifically a spicy pepper, and even more precisely, the green and red type chile peppers that are grown throughout New Mexico and the Southwestern United States. The headquarters of green chile country, in my opinion, is Hatch, New Mexico, and I don’t think you can find a better quality green chile pepper as an ingredient for practically any Mexican or Southwestern dish, than Hatch Green Chiles.
In the Southwestern sense, or more specifically, the Arizona/New Mexico region, almost any hot pepper is referred to as a “chile.” Or as some might simply call them, “chile peppers.” This broad categorization can include quite a few selections from the “pepper world,” e.g., ancho, jalapeno, pasilla, serrano, to name a few. As a further sub-categorization, those chiles, soups, stews, and other dishes which feature the use of New Mexico type of chiles will typically use the spelling “chile.” A few examples include, green pork chile, green chile sauce, green chili enchiladas, chile rellenos, as well as a host of other dishes.
When the spelling “chili” is used, it generally refers a type of Chili con Carne, which is simply Spanish for “chile with meat,” and most typically includes some kind of ground beef or pork, but also beans and spices. In my opinion, this is more of a Texas-style “red” chili, which usually includes beef (in some cases, pork),will normally have chili powder as a major ingredient, and may include as well a sprinkling of other various herbs, spices and seasonings.
What Americans commonly refer to as “Chili Con Carne,” is a typical “chili” dish. You can see some examples here on my blog, such as Will’s Simple Homemade Chili, or my San Antonio Lasagna. My wife Evelyn’s Goldwater Beans recipe is another good example of a “chili,” rather than a “chile” dish.These are more “red” and more “Texas” than the Arizona/New Mexico “green” chiles and stews, and often will have beans as one of the ingredients. Her Evelyn’s Arizona Style Green Pork Chile is a good example of the Arizona/New Mexico-style “green” chile dish.
For some, this is a very serious issue, and can often provoke disputes or at the least, a spirited discussion among chefs, cooks, and “chili/chile” aficionados, some of whom insist that the word “chili” applies only to the basic dish, without beans and tomatoes, and everything else belonging under the heading “chile.” And to confuse you even further, in restaurants and homes around the country, you will find those two terms used interchangeably. The bottom line is, there can be quite a bit of difference between chile with an “e” and chili with an “i,” but the final distinction will be largely determined by one’s own taste buds.
Chile verde (green chile) is a moderately to extremely spicy New Mexican-style cuisine stew or sauce usually made from chunks of pork that have been slow-cooked in chicken broth,garlic, tomatillos, or tomatoes, and roasted green chiles. The spiciness of the chile can be adjusted by using a variety of “green chile peppers,” such as “Hatch Green Chiles,” but may also include pasilla, poblano, jalapeño, serrano, anaheim, fresno, and occasionally habanero peppers. You can essentially make it as mild or as hot as you want, it’s all according to the types of peppers you use, whether or not you seed them, and of course the quantity used in the recipe.
This particular recipe has been floating around this family for years. It was originally discovered by my late wife Barbara, who was a true Chef de Cuisine Extraordinaire, and it was in her collection of recipes for years; the source of the original recipe is unknown. I have only made minor modifications, mainly to enhance the spiciness and overall flavor. What you end up with is a very simple green chile recipe which can be prepared a a couple of hours, melds well in the fridge overnight, and can be easily frozen for future consumption.
Will’s New Mexico Style Chile Verde
Preparation Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 1+30
2-3 lbs pork butt (or tenderloin)
1- 28 oz can diced (or whole, peeled) tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth (or chicken stock)
5 cloves garlic, minced
10-12 fresh Hatch green chiles (or 1-28 oz can – fresh is preferred but any canned ones will suffice)
4 jalapeno peppers
2 pasilla peppers
2 long green peppers
1 habanero pepper (optional – be careful, this will really add some serious hotness!)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
NOTE: ingredients above in red, are my changes to the original recipe, which called for only 1 cup of green peppers, and water instead of chicken broth
First, roast the fresh green chilies. This is an important part of the preparation, as the roasting process brings out the deeper flavors of the peppers. I’ve done it countless different ways and they all work well. On a propane-powered BBQ grill, (my favorite method) in the oven under the broiler, or on a hot cast iron griddle. Roast them by closely monitoring them and turning them until the skins on all sides are blackened and blistered. The skins do not need to be completely black, just blackened in areas and the rest of the skin loosened and browned. Then – and this is key – put them in a plastic bag or otherwise cover and/or seal them and allow them to “sweat” for about 20 minutes. This will make peeling them a lot easier.
After peeling off the blistered skins, continue the preparation process by seeding and stemming the peppers, which also includes removing the inner membranes. (NOTE: Around this family we like our green chile recipes “hot,” therefore, I do not normally “seed” peppers used in a recipe). This is strictly your choice, just be aware of who is going to be consuming this recipe and proceed accordingly. Seeded peppers will produce a much milder product overall; unseeded ones just the opposite.
It is not necessary to “completely” remove all of the blistered skins, actually leaving some small bits of the roasted skin will enhance the flavor and depth of the finished chile.
When you have finished removing the skins, chop the chiles roughly, and set them aside.
Cut the pork into 1 inch cubes, trimming off the fat. Heat oil in a large saucepan; saute garlic and pork until pork is browned and a bit crispy. Normally, I will use a large saucepan for this step, but even so I have to do them in two batches. Afterwards, I switch to a larger soup pot for the remainder of the preparation.
Put the browned pork into a larger soup pot, (I like my 8-qt Tramontina) then add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Stir in the chopped chilies and bring rapidly to a boil.
Reduce heat to low/medium, and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour.
Serve hot. It’s even better if you allow it to cool, then refigerate overnight. There’s something about green chile dishes that chilling them overnight causes the flavors to meld even more, and making it taste even better a day later.
As always, Saltine crackers or flour tortillas are a great accompaniment, as well as crushed tortillas chips and/or shredded cheese. I like to crisp up some small corn tortillas in hot oil, and layer them in the bowl with shredded cheese and the chile.
And also, as always, Buon Prevecho! (Enjoy your meal, or “May this food be of good benefit to you.”)