Last week we drove south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico. The refuge sits on the bank of the Rio Grande and is one of the largest winter stopovers on the Central Flyway. There are thousands of water birds during the months of November through March. The largest colonies include snow geese, Canada geese, and Sandhill cranes; there are ducks of all sorts as well.
The main shows are always the flight at sunset when the geese and cranes settle in to ponds for safety during the night and then again at sunrise when the birds fly off in clouds to head to feeding grounds throughout the region. We were a little disappointed this year, because the evening spectacle was not as impressive as in the past. In part that is because some of the birds have already begun to head north in the spring migration.
Still, we enjoyed the birds of winter. We saw pintails, shovelers, mallards, many other ducks, and grebes. There were Gamble quails, red-winged blackbirds, herons, roadrunners, dozens of red-tailed hawks, and a merlin. Reportedly there was a trumpeter swan and a bald eagle around, though we didn’t see either one – we have seen them in the past. We also saw a peccary and a skunk. It was a treat for anyone who enjoys wildlife.
After the evening flight, we stopped for a relaxed meal at the Buckhorn Bar in the nearby hamlet of San Antonio. This one-street town is probably the epicenter for the New Mexico green chile cheeseburger passion. Cafés and greasy spoons all across the state offer their version of this delicacy, but the Buckhorn and its big competitor, the Owl Bar and Café, sit just across the highway from one another, and both have at one time or another vied for the title of best green chile cheeseburger in the world if not the universe. Just down the interstate the McDonald’s and Burger King in Socorro, the largest nearby town, offer their versions of the sandwich, and a local gasoline station also serves a very tasty rendition, so there is no lack of opportunities to enjoy a GCCB, as the locals call it.
The standard question that is asked by the server in any New Mexico roadhouse is, “Red or green?” That means you are supposed to tell him or her whether you want red or green chile on top of whatever you order. If you can’t make up your mind, the standard reply is, “Christmas!” so that you get both red and green chile.
It has always been a puzzle to me as to why there is never a red chile cheeseburger choice, or maybe even better, a Christmas option. This is my effort to correct that culinary deficiency. For the green chile part, I roasted some Anaheim chiles – pretty conventional for a GCCB. For the red chile part, I decided to use chile colorado in two forms: the straight stuff and in mayonnaise. Forty years ago I learned to make chile colorado from our laboratory dishwasher who was from Mexico. This version is a little embellished from that recipe, but it is not very different from practically every recipe out there. The most important thing is to use ground chiles rather than commercial chili powder, which contains a mix of chiles along with garlic and onion powders, cumin and oregano, and probably a bit of MSG. The following recipe makes a lot more sauce than you will need for the cheeseburgers, so think about using the leftovers with fresh corn tortillas for enchiladas or chilaquiles.
- ½ cup ground red chiles (your choice on the heat level)
- 2½ cups water
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ small onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons AP flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin, toasted in a small dry skillet
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, crumbled between your hands
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
- In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chile powder until it darkens lightly and becomes fragrant. Stir frequently and do not allow to scorch. Stir the toasted chile into the water and set aside.
- Wipe out the skillet, and return it to medium heat. Heat the oil and add the onions and garlic, stirring until the onion is translucent. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Stir in the chile and water, cumin, and oregano, and bring to the boil. Then reduce to the simmer for 40 minutes until the raw taste of the flour has cooked out and the chiles have mellowed. Adjust the seasoning with salt.
- Cool and store in a non-reactive container. (Red chiles can present a challenge for stains)
- Makes about 1 pint
Red Chile Mayonnaise
- ½ cup mayonnaise (homemade or commercial)
- ¼ cup chile colorado
- Combine the mayonnaise and chile colorado
- Set aside until ready to use.
Green/Red Chile (Christmas) Cheeseburger
- 4 good-quality hamburger buns
- 8 tablespoons red chile mayonnaise
- 4 Anaheim chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and opened
- 1 pound ground beef
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons chile colorado
- 4 tablespoons chopped onion
- 8 deli slices, cheddar cheese
- condiments (lettuce, sliced tomatoes, dill pickle chips, ketchup, mustard as desired)
- Slice the hamburger buns in half, and spread the cut-side of each half with red chile mayonnaise. Toast on a hot griddle until lightly browned. Set aside.
- Make 4 hamburger patties from the ground beef. Season with salt and pepper.
- Sauté one side of the 4 hamburger patties on the griddle over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Turn the hamburgers only once. When you turn the hamburgers, coat them with the chile colorado using a pastry brush. Then top, in order, with chopped onion, cheddar cheese, and roasted green chiles. Saute for another 5 minutes or until the hamburgers are done to your liking.
- Place the cooked hamburger patties in the prepared buns and serve immediately with condiments as desired.