Monday, September 17, 2012

Roasting Chiles

We finished breakfast at Tecolote Cafe and were headed to the parking lot when we saw this huge semi parked behind the restaurant. Looking under the trailer, we could see some activity. Seeing the reference to Hatch chiles was enough of a clue that something very interesting was occurring in this parking lot.

(We later learned that Berridge Farms has sold thousands of pounds of chiles at this same site for over 15 years.)

For the citizens of New Mexico, there is only one type of green chile--those grown in the area around Hatch, NM. Growers say that the intense sunlight and cool nights in this valley result in a uniquely flavored chile, which are available for only about six weeks during the months of August and September.

Fortunately, that brief six-week period can be extended to fifty-two weeks by the process that begins at locations similar to this parking lot.

First, bags of chiles are unloaded from the trailer and prepared for roasting.

Now the roasting process is anything but simple. First the area around the roasters must be roped off, because customers must be kept behind the roped area at least 15 feet away from the roasters.
The people doing the roasting are strongly advised to wear eye protection, long-sleeved cotton shirts, and leather gloves.

The barrels make one turn every five seconds with the barrel rotating from the bottom up into the flame.

The powerful flame burns the peel but does not cook the meat of the chile.

In four to five minutes, chiles will start to blister and turn brown before blackening.

With roasting locations located in parking lots near supermarkets, in locations "reserved" year after year, and homes throughout New Mexico, there is a wonderful aroma that covers the city and state.

I found myself referring to that old song:

Chiles roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nowhere to be found,
Hatch chile praises being sung by the choir,
Who then buy chiles by the pound.

The final step is to empty the roaster into a cardboard box with a plastic bag lining.

The bag is then closed and sealed to allow the peppers to “sweat.” Later, peeling off the outer skin leaves the wonderful chiles--ready for eating or freezing for meals throughout the year.

So for the people leaving this location with 30-40 pounds of chiles, we could guess their answer to the “official” state question: “Red or green?”

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