I know. Usually I do zombie Saturday, but today I thought I’d digress a bit from that and talk a little about some other interesting (hopefully) things.
First, I’ve got an interview with fab author Lori Lake posted over at Women and Words. If you’re not familiar with her work, I highly recommend you check it out. She’s an awesome craftswoman in terms of structure, and her plots and characters are always strong, and always a slice of life.
All right. With regard to fall, this is my fave season, no matter where I am. I’m from New Mexico and though I’m not currently living there (not yet!) at the moment, one of the best things about fall in that stateis that the chile harvest comes in and local vendors and grocery stores put roasters out front. So you go get yourself a big-ass bag of chile (like, a big gunny sack full) for around $20-$30 and the vendor/grocery store employee roasts it for you.
source: New Mexico Department of Agriculture
Hungry for more? Read on!
Or, you get yourself a big-ass bag of chile (or a smaller-ass bag) and you take it home and roast it yourself. You can do that on a barbecue grill or in your oven (broil setting). It’ll take longer, because those are smaller than a big roaster, but I enjoy roasting my own chile because my house fills with the smell of it, and I freakin’ LOVE that smell. Currently, I am in the process of roasting two boxes of chiles from a farm in NM down in the Hatch region that a friend of mine sent as a present. I was beyond stoked for this gift, and even in the boxes (which have holes in them so the loose chiles can “breathe”), you can smell the distinctive odor of New Mexico chiles. It’s tangy and crisp and takes me right back to my home state. I get super homesick this time of year if I’m not in New Mexico, and roasting NM chiles makes me even more homesick, yes, but also makes me feel connected, in a weird way.
Anyway, the air in Albuquerque (where I lived) and Santa Fe and surrounding areas are filled with the tangy-rich smell of roasting peppers, and that, along with the subtle shift in the air — that crisp, underlying harbinger of cooler temperatures — always signaled fall. New Mexico is a magical state, anyway, but for some reason, fall is just the best season there. I might be biased, though. 😀
Back to the peppers. After they’re roasted (around 10-15 minutes in the big roasters), they go into a plastic trash bag, where they need to sit for a while until you can start peeling and slicing them and putting ’em up for the winter. Some people actually put them away in freezer bags and the freezer with the skins still on, and then they remove the skins after the chiles are thawed. I prefer to peel them before I freeze them. Do NOT rinse the chiles after they’re roasted to get the skins off. That takes away the yummy smoke flavor. Wash ’em before you roast.
AND IMPORTANT NOTE: Always wear gloves (rubber/latex/latex substitute) when you peel and slice chiles. If you don’t, your hands will feel like they’re on fire and it takes a long time for that to wear off. Take care not to touch your eyes or face when you’re working with chiles, as well. Seriously. Just make that a general rule when you’re working with any spicy chile. Okay, so after you peel and slice/dice ’em, stuff bunches of small freezer bags with ’em and stash ’em away in your freezer so you have awesome roasted New Mexico green chile throughout the winter.
source: Capitol Report, NM
Bags for the freezer:
source: Nanette Blanchard’s blog
Something that a lot of people don’t understand is that New Mexico chile is different than other types. Most people think of the California Anaheim chiles, which you can find in grocery stores all over. New Mexico green does look like those chiles, but they taste different. And if you get the Big Jim variety (that’s a New Mexico chile developed fairly recently, in 1975), then you’ll definitely notice the difference because Big Jims are 10-12 inches long). Most people who know their NM chile talk about Hatch chiles, a small town in southern/southwestern NM, which is known worldwide for its New Mexico chile.
Note, too, that when speaking of New Mexico chile, I spell it with an “e” on the end rather than an “i.” That distinguishes the fruit of a chile plant from Tex-Mex chili, which is a mixture of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, ground beef, pinto (or kidney) beans, and spices. It’s a whole different taste, so if you go to New Mexico and you order a bowl of “chile” you’re not going to get that Tex-Mex stuff. You’re going to get a bowl of chile made from New Mexico greens (or reds) that you eat with tortillas. That chile may have pork in it, but not always. And if you’re in a restaurant and you order something with chile, your server will ask you “red or green?” That means, do you want red or green chile sauce on it or both? If you want both, ask for “Christmas.” Red AND green. Get it? Christmas?
Bowl of NM green (with pork):
New Mexico also has a red chile. Those are the ripe greens, and they produce a different flavor. It’s deeper and earthier than the tangy pungent flavor of green. You’ll probably see a lot of red chile ristras in New Mexico:
Bowl of NM red chile:
source: Ellie May’s blog
New Mexicans make red chile from the dried red chile pods that they hang on ristras. A lot of ristras, however, are specifically decorative and treated with something to make them keep for a long time. So don’t use those chiles to cook!
Anyway, Karen Caplan has a great blog about Hatch chile, along with photos and a video showing you a roaster in action.
Want more info? Try the New Mexico Chile Pepper Institute here.
And are you hungry? Viva New Mexico has some tips and recipes.
So there you go. A little bit of New Mexico for you, and if you read my mysteries, you’ll find references to culture and cuisine in each one.
Happy reading, happy eating, and happy start of fall!