The Nasty Bits: Yak Neck
The last time I was home in New Mexico, I met a woman who raises yaks in Taos. Naturally, I went for the part I was most curious about: yak rocky mountain oysters. (You can read more about testicles here). This time around I went for the more conventional cuts: tongue (more on that in a future column) and neck.
Yak meat smells like aged beef and tastes a great deal like it too. As you can see, the meat is marbled but not as fatty as pork or beef, and tastes closer to beef than it does to say, venison. The neck bone meat, with its combination of bone, flesh, and tendon, is perfect for stewing.
Fall in New Mexico is all about the green chile. After the harvest, cylindrical roasters turn the pods around and around until the skins are black and blistered. There is something very ceremonial about the roasting. The roasters are set up outside of grocery stores and in people's backyards, too. Walking by a batch of green chile roasting—it smells both sweet and smoky—is to feel a connection to the land, the dirt, these canyons.
Roasted green chile serves not only as a condiment but as a side dish in nearly every ica meal. Red chile is all spice with a subtle sweetness that trails at the end. Green chile tastes more herbaceous and at its best, has the juiciness of a tomatillo. For just about every dish I've eaten in New Mexico there's the option of ordering green or red chile or both, which is called getting the dish Christmas-style.
A brief chile primer: Red chile comes from the same pods as green chile, only red chile is allowed to mature on the vine.
A green chile and potato stew is just about as simple as it gets around here. You brown the onions and the garlic, add stock, potatoes, and chopped green chile, and simmer until you have a green-tinged soup that's spicy and velvety-smooth from the potatoes. Roasted green chile, when it's stewed, becomes swollen and sweet with a richness that's similar to peppers marinating in olive oil.
Add meat and posole (dried corn) or strips of fried tortilla and you have yourself a meal. If you don't have yak neck, and I'm going to make the assumption that most of us do not, use pork neck or beef neck. The trick though, is to stick to some kind of meat with lots of bone on it.