Last month I was lucky enough to arrange a quick, last-minute get away to Santa Fe for 4 days. A cheap flight, an open schedule with friends and familia and some fall sunsets were just in order. Oh, and green chile season is in full force right now. Bonus!
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure to sample this beloved fruit, I will pray that you, one day can experience a true New Mexican crop. And yes, chile is a fruit:
Chili pepper (from Nahuatl chilli, chilli pepper, chilli, chillie, chili, and chile) is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae.
New Mexico grows the best chiles, hands down. The tiny town of Hatch, located approximately 200 miles south of Santa Fe, produces the ever popular green chile, named after its place of origin. The flavor is smoky, slightly sweet and pungent. Its heat is undeniable. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s also highly addictive. Once you give in to the pain, the pleasure is so keen and sharp; there really is no way to describe the feeling.
You want more. Now. Then, later. The next hour. The next day. Next week. Oh yeah. You have a green chile monkey on your back, big time. And the only thing you can do, is feed it. More chile.
During the few short weeks of chile season in Santa Fe, you can drive through town and stop along the roadsides, the sights (and smells) of heavy iron roasting barrels, filled with bushels of freshly picked whole green chile. As the barrels spin and turn, the aroma wafting through the air is a cross between a crisp fall leaf and some stinky uh… leaf. Honestly, when I first moved to Santa Fe over 20 years ago, I moved up on Zozobra weekend, a ritual of burning “Old Man Gloom” and I swore every neighborhood I drove through was burning some seriously stinky bud. Turns out, this green crop is way better, more profound; much more coveted.
And, it’s actually good for you. Chile is high in Vitamin C, boasts a hefty dose of anti-oxidants, and has been proven to ward off irregular cell production and cancers. And, the Capsicum levels in chiles encourage the brain to release endorphins, nature’s pain killers and mood enhancing chemicals throughout the body. So you see, I’m not kidding when I talk about the addiction part. But it’s a good addiction, understand?
While in Santa Fe last week, my familia and I sat down to peel, seed and bag 2 beautiful bushels (about 40 pounds) of chile. This has become somewhat of a tradition at the Casa de Pearson-Kramer. This year the crew were few (perhaps the party the night before which ended at 4am had something to with it), but hey – if you can’t run with the big dogs…. then get off the porch.
More chile for us.
Fortified with some blazing Bloody Marys (thank you Julie!), latex gloves and endless ziplock bags, our newspaper lined table quickly filled with bowls of charred skins and seeds, whole chiles for rellenos later, and 40 precious bags of MH and H (medium hot and hot) love.
The process isn’t rocket science. Don your gloves, have a bowl to dump the unwanted seeds and skins, a bowl for the cleaned chile, a plate for the large, pristine chiles which will become rellenos if desired, and another bowl of cool, clean water. Occasionally dip your gloved hands in the water to keep the seeds at a minimum.
At no time, ever, should a chile pass through the said water bowl. This is known as a dipper, or a dunker. It is wrong, wrong wrong. It’s like drowning your food before you eat it. I mean, honestly, would you drop a steak in a tub of water after throwing it on the grill? I didn’t think so. It’s really the same thing. It drowns the poor chile of its flavor, its zip. I know perfectly sane folks who will go ballistic if they witness this heinous practice while in their presence. I mean, I would never lose it like that. No way. Not me, uh uh. I am way too Zen for that.
But please don’t be a dipper. I beg of you. Thank you.
After all the chile has been cleaned, bagged and labeled (remember, you have a bushel of both medium hot, and hot. It is very important to keep these separate and correctly labeled). This way, you can mix the heat up a bit, depending on what and whom you are cooking for.
However, it does appear that this years roasting party may be a mix of proper and improper sorting. Both Lori and myself have been privy to ‘medium hot’ chile that nearly blew our pants off, so I am actually a little afraid to try the hot. I’ll report back when I get the nerve to open one of those babies. Chris on the other hand, dove right off the high board and piled the ‘hot’ onto some cheese quesadillas the other night and is still here, so who knows. But, this guy is a die-hard chile pro, for reals. Tread lightly new chile fans. Tread lightly.
Now, what to do with said chiles you ask? First, put all those lovely little bags in your freezer. Then, when your craving for chile hits, you are locked and loaded my friends. I have been successful with freezing my chile for over a year, but at the rate I’m going, the freezer longevity test will be unnecessary.
In the next few days, I’ll be posting some of my favorite recipes using the beloved pod, such as Green Chile Sauce, Green Chile Stew and more. But you don’t need a recipe to use these lovely little bags. Simple thaw, chop some chile on a board, and tip them into a flour tortilla with eggs and cheese. Or slide a mound of chile on top of your next grilled burger. Grilled cheese and green chile sammies? Si, claro!
The possibilities are endless. Too bad the supply of Hatch Green Chile isn’t.