Denver Green Chili is a regional specialty and is found all along the Colorado Front Range. This Denver Green Chili, my secret family recipe, made in the classic Denver style, is a secret no more. Rich and silky, just thick enough to smother a burrito and gently pool, it has just the right amount of heat. Enough to catch your interest, to be sure, but not enough to cause any true distress. Just marvelous flavor that will tickle your tongue, then wrap around and settle a bit toward the back of the throat.
I just love this Green Chili, and so has everyone I’ve ever served it to. If I were dying, this Denver Green Chili would be my last request. And it might very well revive me, it’s that good. Then I’d request it the next time! (Although I would urge you not to wait that long to make it!) Before we go any further, just to clarify for anyone that’s not familiar with Green Chili and/or green chile and might be confused with the different ways I spell chile/chili, Chili with an I is the finished gravy or sauce-like stew, Green Chili; Chile with an E is the vegetable its made from, green chile.
About Denver Green Chili:
My Denver Green Chili – it’s going to cause cravings, maybe even withdrawal symptoms if you don’t eat it on a regular basis. Originally developed when I lived in the Mile Hi City, I’ve refined it over the 30 plus years I’ve been making it. See, I couldn’t seem to find this style of Green Chili anywhere after moving to the Twin Cities so of course, I had to perfect my own. I also for years couldn’t find any green chiles to use except those tiny cans, and since I like my chili hot, you’ll find more than a few little touches to up the flavor.
Denver Green Chili, at least how it was made during my years in Colorado, before everything became so “Cheffed” up (Tomatillos? Really? That’s a New Mexico thing) is simple, down-home cooking. Even though I have had versions very similar to this recipe in some restaurants, I always tend to think of Green Chili like this where the meat is “stewed” (as opposed to cut into chunks that are sauteed and then simmered just until tender) as more like a home version.
Many versions of Denver Green Chili, but not all, have a little tomato in them, and over the years, it seems like the version with tomatoes has gotten more popular. I think that’s partially because so many dive places that had great Green Chili (often w/o tomatoes) were located in the marginal areas around the outskirts of downtown. They were lost to the Stadium and the prosperity the Stadium brought to the area. But then food evolves, right? Tomatoes give Green Chili a pinkish or reddish or even orange hue. If you love that, add a can (15 ounces or 29 ounces, your preference) of petite diced tomatoes to the recipe. Me? I love my Green Chili pure – and just that, Green.
When I first posted my Denver Green Chili, I did so on the Ranting Chef. He had a contest, and I didn’t win, even though this Green Chili has won several contests in Denver and one in Minnesota, just minor ones. I thought it was time my Denver Green Chili recipe came home, here, to my blog, but if you want to read my original post on the Ranting Chef, click over. You’ll love the Ranting Chef. Great cooking; his stories will charm you and his recipes will keep you going – you’ll never be at a loss for something to make. His site is so good I don’t even resent not winning – too much – anyway. After all, it’s not easy being green!
What I Do With My Denver Green Chili:
- A Bowl of Green: Usually served in a wide, shallow bowl, garnished with sour cream and cheese – in the Denver area, the utensils aren’t always used and it is often served with a side of refried beans. The old-timers tear off a bit of tortilla, fold it up and use it as a scoop.
- A Mexican Hamburger: I’m not sure how “Mexican” they are, but a well-done hamburger (in the places I ate in the Denver area, these were always thin, griddled, & well done, with a crust) is sprinkled with cheese, tucked into a tortilla and smothered with green chili and more cheese. And don’t forget the garnishes!
- A Smothered Burrito: Any filling is good here, and probably the most common one is a ground beef filling, but really great are simple refried beans or pulled chicken – just use something that doesn’t compete with the Green Chili and its own special blend of spiciness. Garnish as desired – it’s the Chili that makes these great!
- A Cheesy Green Chili Queso Dip: Simply heat a little green chili with some grated cheese a few minutes in the microwave. Make it as cheesy as you want and use whatever cheese you want but I like half GC and half grated cheese and my fave cheese is a Monterrey Jack. Serve with tortilla chips and let the party begin!
- Breakfast Burritos: These are my favorite things to make with this Green Chili. A pound each of sausage, cheese, & cooked hash brown potatoes, a diced and sautéed onion and enough Green Chili to moisten, rolled in tortillas. Make a dozen or a bunch to freeze. I’ll walk you through them step by step in my post on Green Chili Breakfast Burritos.
Saving Money on Denver Green Chili:
Depending on where you live, Green Chile can be harder to find and a little pricey – if you’re in the Southwest, you can buy green chile, roasted, on street corners where the vendors roast them up and sell them. I used to buy and freeze, and one year after I moved to Minnesota, a good friend (thank you Margaret!) brought me a bucket of them when she visited.
If you don’t have that kind of access, don’t want to mail order and aren’t able to buy larger cans of green chile, you’re probably going to be stuck with the small 4 ounce cans. Stock up on them if you use them, during the Cinco de Mayo sales (often unadvertised) or when you happen to see them on sale.
Pork shoulder is one of the cheapest proteins you’ll find. Grab a few when they’re at their low in fall and chuck them in the freezer. One thing I didn’t mention in my recipe: sometimes I make a lot of pork shoulder – more, really, than needed for the Green Chili – then I can shred it for all kinds of things – burrito filling, enchiladas tacos, flautas, tostadas, etc. It’s not “hot” but has a wonderful flavor. Of course, you can doctor it up as desired – it’s really good shredded with barbecue sauce on buns, too.
My Denver Green Chili recipe makes a big pot and I use it in so many ways that I rarely freeze this. When I do, I’ve noticed it does thin out a bit. Sometimes a little, but sometimes a lot. What the difference is, I’m not sure. Depending on what I’m using the thawed green chili for, I may or may not thicken it back up. When I do, I heat up the green chili in pan to a simmer. In another, I melt a little butter in a pan, add an equal amount of flour and stir until it thickens up to a roux. I then ladle a little of the green chili into the butter/flour mixture, stir it together, then add all of to the pot of simmering Green Chili and let it cook for a moment or two. It will thicken right back up.
Denver Green Chili
Meat and Stock:
- 2 pounds pork shoulder
- 2 quarts water
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 2 – 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 3 tablespoons chile pequin or red pepper flakes
Green Chili (Chile Verde):
- four tablespoons bacon drippings (may be combined with the fat from the stock to total four tablespoons )
- 1 onion, small dice
- 3/4 cup flour
- 7 – 8 cans green chile (7 ounces each) drained but not rinsed or 3 cups fresh, roasted, cleaned & diced
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon chile rojo (chili powder will work in a pinch)
- a pinch to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon or to taste, of chicken bullion base or a combination of chicken and beef *
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, perhaps more to taste
Place roast in a large stockpot, cover with 2 quarts of water, add onion, garlic, the two teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and chile pequin or red pepper flakes. Simmer gently until pork is tender but still holding together, about two and a half to three hours, depending on the size of the meat used. Strain stock, reserve, and set aside meat until cool enough to handle. Remove meat from bones and cut or shred into bite-sized pieces. May be refrigerated at this point, if desired, which makes it very easy to remove the fat from the stock.
When ready to proceed, heat bacon drippings (or a combination of the fat from the stock & bacon drippings) in a large stockpot. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add flour, stirring until flour cooks for a moment to two and is coated with oil. Turn burner down a bit and add about two cups of the stock, whisking vigorously, until a paste is formed. Continue to add stock in additions, whisking, until all the stock is incorporated into the mixture. Turn heat back up and bring to a simmer.
Note: this is a quite a bit of flour to add to the small amount of fat, and a little care is needed to smoothly incorporate the stock into the flour. It is helpful to have a two-cup measuring cup on hand to quickly dip out the stock and add to the roux mixture. After two or three additions, the roux is generally thinned out enough to add the remainder of the stock at once.
Add in green chile and reserved pork. Add seasonings to taste, depending on the heat level you desire. Add bullion to taste. A restaurant version of this type of green chili is generally very highly seasoned and nearly always contains some bullion, while home versions may or may not. Taste for salt after the bullion is added. Your palate is the best indication of how much or how little spice and seasoning is desired.
Simmer very gently for at least 30 to 40 minutes, stirring often, until the green chile is tender. If the Green Chili seems to be a bit thick and is sticking to the bottom of the pan as it simmers, add a little water until a desired consistency is reached. The finished chili should have a slightly thick, gravy-like consistency.
- It is very common for both home cooks and restaurants in the area to use a bit of bullion or base to up the flavor of the Green Chili. While most use chicken, I’ve found the combination of both chicken and beef to be perfect. They are a bit of a “secret weapon.”
- A heart healthier Green Chili can be made by replacing the fat in this recipe with oil, although the fats tend to be the basis of some of the flavor.