I think I know where I’m taking Miss D. (and perhaps some friends) in January next year.
Behold New Mexico’s ultimate pork fiesta: 43 pigs, 300 gallons of chile and 22,000 tortillas
It’s 4:30 in the morning, and Anthony Guardian has a problem: His cooking oil is frozen.
He’s getting ready for the 19th edition of the World’s Largest Matanza, an annual fiesta in the small city of Belen, N.M., that celebrates the state’s historic nose-to-tail hog-slaughtering festivals. Sixteen teams from across the state will gather in Eagle Park on this chilly late January day to feed traditional New Mexican matanza dishes — carne adovada, chicharrones, carnitas, red chile and more — to an estimated 9,500 attendees who’ll pay $15 for all they can eat.
. . .
“It’s heritage, it’s community, it’s ritual, it’s economics, it’s culinary, it’s celebration,” says Tey Marianna Nunn, visual arts program director at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. “It really is a performance art form.”
Knowing its drawing power, the Hispano Chamber of Valencia County started what evolved into the World’s Largest Matanza in 2000 as a fundraiser for high school students.
“We can have a banquet,” says current board secretary Rita Garcia, “but isn’t a matanza more fun?”
. . .
The World’s Largest Matanza unfolds without any hitches, with attendees including military veterans, motorcycle club members and DEA agents. The temperature never exceeds 50 degrees, but no one seems to mind. The bands blast through their sets, with an announcer urging attendees to “dance off those chicharrones.”
By early afternoon, only a couple hundred people remain, mostly teams and their friends and family waiting to hear the winners in 10 categories such as carnitas, bizcochitos (an anise-flavored sugar cookie) and the Iron Pig, in which teams were tasked with cooking pork alongside a surprise ingredient: polenta. (“Maybe it’s not an exotic ingredient in Southern California,” says the head of judging. “But it is around here.”)
An article in New Mexico Magazine gives more information, and provides some mouth-watering recipes, too. Here’s one to whet your appetite.
New Mexico Red Chile Sauce
Simple sauces like this are a mainstay of every matanza. Dip a freshly fried chicharrón into a bowl of it. Experience bliss.
Makes 4 cups
- 8 ounces (about 20–25) dried whole red New Mexican chile pods, mild, medium, hot, or a combination
- 4 cups water or chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, minced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1–2 teaspoons crumbled dried Mexican oregano or marjoram
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- Toast dried whole chile pods in a heavy skillet over medium heat until they are warm and release their fragrance, 1–2 minutes per side.
- Remove chiles from the skillet immediately. When cool enough to handle, break each pod into several pieces (wearing rubber or plastic gloves if your skin is sensitive). Discard stems and seeds.
- Warm the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Sauté several minutes, until onion is limp.
- Place the chile pieces, onion, garlic, and oregano in a blender and pour in the water or stock. Puree until mostly smooth, with a few flecks of chile still visible.
- Pour chile mixture into a saucepan, then add salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer. After about 15 minutes, taste the sauce and adjust seasonings. Continue simmering, for a total of 20–25 minutes.
- When ready, sauce will be cooked down enough to coat a spoon thickly but still drop off it easily. Use warm or refrigerate for later use.
That sounds so delicious, I’m going to try cooking it soon. I might try a variation using New Mexico’s famous Hatch green chiles, too. My mouth’s watering already at the thought!