Visit New Mexico and you’ll quickly see that the cuisine is unlike anywhere else in the world. When dining out, you’re likely going to be faced with the state question, “Red or Green?” In fact, the New Mexico chile pepper, which comes in red and green varieties (and some colors in between) is also the state vegetable.
Chile in New Mexico was first grown by Native Americans. When the Spanish arrived, they introduced European cultivation techniques. The father of New Mexican chile cultivars is Dr. Fabián Garcia of New Mexico State University. He worked to develop more standardized chile pepper varieties, which led to the New Mexican chile pod’s creation. All modern New Mexican-type chiles have Garcia’s New Mexico No. 9 chile as their genetic base.
Several regions across the state grow chile peppers, and each area grows its own distinct peppers. For example, Chimayó has a long history with chile which remains an important part of the story of the region. I grew up in southern New Mexico and have always eaten Hatch green chile. So-called Hatch chile is not a specific cultivar; rather, any New Mexico chile type grown in the Hatch area, from Big Jim to Sandia, can be called Hatch chile. This is perhaps the most well-known chile outside of New Mexico, and can be found in stores across the Southwest (Texans apparently love it.) Hatch chile has a very interesting history which you can read about in this New Mexico Magazine article.
Peak chile season is typically late August and early September, though it sometimes starts in late July and can stretch into October, depending on the season’s weather conditions. This year, I visited Morrow Farms (sold as Las Uvas Valley Produce) where we purchased fresh-picked green chile which was roasted on the spot. In New Mexico, the traditional way to roast chiles is in a barrel roaster.
If you’re outside of New Mexico but still happen upon some fresh green chiles in your local market, you don’t need a barrel roaster. You can roast the peppers on your barbecue grill, or even in the oven. After the peppers are roasted until the skin blisters and cooled, it’s our tradition to peel the peppers (wearing gloves) before packing them into zipper bags and freezing them. This just makes them easy to thaw and use when you need them. They’ll keep for quite a while in the freezer; we were down to one bag from 2015 when we picked up this year’s chile.
If you aren’t able to find fresh chile in your area, you can also buy it online. The Hatch Chile Store is run by the family featured in the New Mexico Magazine article.
Are you a fan of New Mexico chile? Red or green? Tell me in the comments!