Thoughts on Red Chile and Denver’s Satire Lounge
The first meal I ordered in the US with cash I earned as a day laborer — hauling concrete in barrows down six flights in a freight elevator and out to a dump truck — was smothered in chile. This was in ’78. The job was in Downtown Denver, and on pay-day, a guy I hadn’t seen before stuffed a wad of crumpled notes into my hand.
It was a short walk back to my digs in Capitol Hill where I washed up and walked over to the Satire Lounge on Colfax Ave, for my first taste of Mexican food.
It was a classy dump. Dark inside with sticky tables. The little dining room had a stained, badly fitted wall to wall carpet and a low speckled black ceiling lit by tiny red bulbs.
I slipped into a booth and ordered the number six. A combination plate with a bean burrito, a cheese enchilada and a guacamole tostada. The burrito and enchilada were smothered in green chile. It was more like a floury pale gravy than what I now know as green chile. It was held together by shiny corn starch which added a touch of unsavory glamour.
The waiter, a young Mexican guy, looked older and wiser than his years, presented the plate with an admonition: “Be careful, the plate is hot.” He folded his hands behind his back, retreated a half step and for a moment, looked with pride at the bubbling mess before me and walked away.
It looked like something you’d warm up and spoon feed to a toothless grandparent — soft, gooey and swaddled in globby sludge — but, at the time, who was I to tell the difference? I’d never had Mexican food before and here I was spending my hard-earned cash in an iconic American dive whose food I knew for a fact had passed through the bowels of the likes of The Rolling Stones and (nobel prize winner) Bob Dylan. Besides, it had a juke box where you could listen to the likes of Link Ray, The Kinks and Chuck Berry.
These days whenever I eat chile whether its red or green, I remember fondly those sunny afternoons — ducking in from the searing heat of East Colfax Ave, into the cool darkness of the Satire — where I’d down a combination plate, delivered with pride by the elegant waiter, alongside a chilled long neck, with my elbows stuck to the table. I hear they remodled the place, but the old sign is still there. I wonder what happened to that waiter.
Ionah passed through Santa Fe, New Mexico, recently and returned with a couple of bags of dried Landrace chiles grown by Zulu’s Petals farm in Dixon, New Mexico.They’re a rare vareity; protected from extintion by the farmers and supporters of the market. Eat them and they will survive, ironic, as it is.
Fragrant, fruity, spicy with a deep red color — make chile out of these and you’ll eat the spirit of the earth itself.
And if you find yourself in Taos, NM, stop into Cid’s market and pick up a couple of bags of chile caribe, (dried red chile ground into tiny flecks). Your abuelita, (that’s granny in English), may disapprove, but it saves time and space— especially if you happen to be travelling with a backpack— or for the real thing, you can hike up to Chimayo, the heart of chile country in northern New Mexico and find roadside stands selling dried red chiles strung together in ristras, that you’re abuelita would approve of.
Once you’ve made a batch use it frequently as a topping for almost anything, but it’s especially good with tortillas, eggs, beans, cheese or squash enchiladas, chicken, duck and turkey.
About 5oz Dried Red New Mexico chiles.
half an onion, roughly chopped
a few garlic cloves roughly choped
a pinch of oregano
Warm the chiles on a tray in a low oven for ten minutes or so.
Soak them in a bowl of boiling water for 30 min or until soft. The younger the chiles the less time it takes to soften.
Cut the chiles open and remove the seeds. Holding them under running water makes this easier. Tender hands may want to don rubber surgical gloves. Chile can burn so avoid touching your eyes. Wash your hands thoroughly after doing this.
Working in batches put a handful of chiles, a litle onion and garlic into a blender with some of the chile soaking water, or fresh water, (sometimes the chile water can be too bitter — dip in a finger to taste)
Puree to a smoothe sauce like consistency, adding more water as needed. Pour this into a bowl. Proceed with the remaining chiles, onion, garlic and oregano, and add to the bowl. If you have a high powered blender everything will puree nicely but, with an antique such as mine, I push the puree through a strainer to extract the bits of unpureed skin.
Transfer the chile to a heavy bottomed pot and slowly bring it to a simmer, allow it to bubble very gently, giving it the odd stir, for forty minutes or so. This gives the onion and garlic a little time to relax and to blend in.
But beware: as it comes to a simmer, this stuff will most likely turn on you and spit you in the face. Approach while wearing a clean white shirt and you be permanently stained.