Chile Harvest = Roasting Chiles
At chile harvest season, chiles are roasted so the skins are easily removed, making for better chile eating. Throughout the Albuquerque area, seasonal chile roasting stations pop up everywhere.
Local grocery stores, farmers markets and small roadside stands display the open black wire cages that are turned while a propane flame heats the chiles dumped inside. The gushing sound of propane gas swooshes out followed by the snap, crackle and pop of roasting chiles as they shed their skins. Someone stands by the cage and turns its cylindrical drum to ensure the chile pods are heated on every side. This ensure the skin will blister, which allows the pod to be peeled down to the delicious chile flesh. The smell of roasting chile is unlike any other, and I for one, can never get enough. I've walked up to roasters even when I didn't need any chile, just to get a whiff.
I'm a huge believer in local foods grown for a local community. With a vast geographic base, New Mexico's local extends further than that of other states. But in Albuquerque during chile harvest time, the chiles grown and shipped in from southern Hatch, New Mexico make it to the stores and shops where people buy food, and the roasting begins. Folks can buy their chiles in various quantities, from just a few pounds to entire 50 pound sacks. Chiles are roasted and bagged for lugging home, where the final processing begins.
Find Your Local Roasters
During the roasting season, chiles are plentiful. Find an outdoor farmers market if you enjoy helping the local small farmer. Or visit small farms such as Wagner Farms in Corrales. Wagner's has not only chiles, but other seasonal fruits and vegetables as well.
Grocery chains such as Smith's, Lowe's, Sunflower Markets and Whole Foods also carry the tasty pods. You can also find them at indoor Farmer's Markets throughout the city. La Montanita Co-op offers locally grown and organic chiles. Wherever you decide to purchase yours, the chiles are bound to be delicious.
Roasting at Home
Roasting your own homegrown pods or just a few from the store couldn't be easier. Roast them on the outdoor grill, right on the griddle. Turn them as they blister, then process as suggested below.
Our family grows a lot of chiles, so we roast ours using a propane tank with an attached hand wand. We put the chiles on cookie sheets, roast and then process as below.
Once the Pods are Roasted
So you've decided to take the plunge this year and buy a huge 20 pound bag. What next? Well, this is where the fun begins. Buy a pair of thin plastic gloves if you aren't used to peeling chiles. I don't use them, but I process small home grown batches and know enough not to touch my face or eyes, where the chile oil can burn. Have plenty of quart sized freezer bags on hand. You can also simply place the roasted, cooled chiles in the bags without peeling them. You'll then peel them as they come out of the freezer and are defrosted, one bag at a time.
Roasted chiles peel easily. Working over the sink, remove the skins and place a small quantity of chile pods in the bag. Lie the bag flat on the counter, so they will stack easily in the freezer.
I like to put about a third of a bag full of pods in each bag. Each week, I'll pull a bag out of the freezer and use it in the weekly cooking. Some people like to chop their chiles prior to freezing. Whatever you prefer, each works just as well. I find it easier to process the chiles as I use them.
Red or Green?
New Mexicans love this question. It's philosophic in nature, and is the official state question because we love it so much. When ordering New Mexican dishes at restaurants, you'll be asked if you want red or green chile. So what's the difference between the two?
The roasted chiles bought at the black wire cages will be green chiles. They have thick flesh that holds up well for stuffing with cheese or other food items (the possibilities are endless!). Locals will tell you that depending on the seasonal variables such as rainfall and temperature, the chile will be milder or hotter than previous years. That's true, but the commercial pods bought at the local market will likely be mild to medium in heat, and if you're concerned that they may be too spicy, ask the seller.
Green chile is simply not as far along in the ripening process as the red chile pod. Red chile tends to have a milder flavor, but not always. I like red for cooking enchilada sauces, and green for throwing in dishes through the week. Everyone has favorites, all for good reasons.
Use your pods to make green chile stew.