Thursday, January 1, 2015

Red or Green? The New Mexico Chile

New Mexico green chile, 
Creative Commons License
Happy New Year, from the Southwest Armchair Traveler blog!

I haven’t found many local New Year’s traditions here, though in Las Cruces, New Mexico, they started a new tradition this year – dropping a big chile in a takeoff of the New York City ball drop. Chile is hardly seasonal, though.

New Mexico is most famous, at least in culinary terms, for its green chile, which comes slathered over almost any dish. The official state question is “Red or Green?” – which version of the chile sauce do you want? Despite what spell check thinks, I’m not talking about chili, which is a stew that may contain beans and/or meat. Rather, chile refers to chopped or puréed New Mexico chile peppers, possibly cooked in broth with some onion and garlic.

Red chile is simply green chile that has ripened. It is usually dried and powdered, whereas green chile is roasted over open flames, chopped, and frozen until use. The flavor of red chile is generally sweeter and mellower, though either color can have a variety of heat levels. 

“Red or green?” is partly a personal preference, though certain dishes tend to come with one or the other. You can also order something “Christmas” style, meaning with both red and green.

Dried red New Mexico chile peppers, 
by Badagnani
Creative Commons License
People who have lived in New Mexico and then move elsewhere often go to great lengths to get New Mexican green chile. Yes, you can buy little cans of green chile in most grocery stores, but it’s mild and just… not the same. So you see people heading to the airport with suitcases and coolers packed full of green chile. Some companies will even ship frozen chiles, bought in packs of 5 or 10 pounds.

If you don’t want to go to that much trouble, or you like a milder flavor, canned chile from the grocery store may work fine for you. You can also try other fresh chile peppers – Anaheims are the closest to the Mexico green chile – and roast them yourself.

A gas grill is ideal, but for small batches I toast them in the toaster oven until the skin is starting to blacken and bubble. Seal them in a plastic container with a couple of ice cubes for at least ten minutes. This cools the chiles, and the steam also loosens the skin so it’s easier to peel. Then peel off the skin while holding the chile under running water. Use gloves if you don’t want to risk stinging hands (and eyes, if you rub them).

Learn more about the New Mexico Chile, including instructions for roasting peppers at home, from this New Mexico Chile for Dummies! page.

Learn even more about chile peppers of all kinds from The Chile Pepper Institute, an international organization “devoted to education and research related to Capsicum or chile peppers.” Should you be visiting Las Cruces, NM, the Institute’s Horticulture Center has a garden “showcasing 150 chile pepper varieties from around the world.”

Here is a recipe for Basic Green Chili Sauce from Focus New Mexico.

Please follow the blog for occasional recipes as well as travel essays, insights into Southwestern history and culture, book reviews, and guest posts from authors with books set in the Southwest. 

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Whispers in the Dark involves archaeology and intrigue among ancient ruins. What We Found features a young woman who stumbles on a murder victim, and Rattled follows a treasure hunt in the New Mexico desert. To learn more, check the pages on this blog, or visit or her Amazon page.

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