Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Take a whiff of this

Last week when I posed the question what's green, comes in a trash bag, and is a certain rancher-woman's reason for living, several readers asked what process I used to roast my chile. I wish I could tell you that I painstakingly roasted them one by one over a campfire, but the truth is, this year my neighbor just dropped them off at my gate. The local high school where she teaches had a fundraiser; why bother selling candy when you can sell roasted green chile? I love New Mexico.

Anyway, had the green chile fairy not shown up at my gate, I would have bought my annual sack at a farm market or grocery store or...heaven forbid...Walmart, where I went to take these pictures so that I could show you this time-honored New Mexico tradition.

At Walmart, you can buy green chile by the pound or by the box. The 30-pound box will set you back $19.88, but that includes the roasting.

You take your box of chile out to the parking lot, where the roasting stand is set up. I played chile paparazzo early on a Friday morning, and only a few people were standing in line. On Saturdays, I've seen the line stretch all the way down the sidewalk. This roasting stand was equipped with three propane-fired roasting drums.

The chile man dumps your box of chile into one of the motorized drums, which spin over gas flames. Round and round the chile goes, when it stops only Chile Man knows. He watches and waits until the chile skin is perfectly charred, which seems to take somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes.

As the chile roasts, many of the seeds and charred pieces of skin fall into the pan below the drum. Chile Man sweeps all this debris out of the pan, then opens the roaster.

Out comes the perfectly roasted, steaming hot chile.

Chile Man dons his gloves and carefully scoops the green gold into a milk crate lined with a trash bag.

He is very careful to extract each and every chile from the drum, then he twists the bag and ties it tightly in a knot, sealing in the steam.

Chile Man delivers the bag of goods to Happy Customer. If Happy Customer is smart, he will set the bag of steaming chile next to him in his truck and enjoy the aroma all the way home, and for weeks to come since the smell permeates everything within a mile radius.

By the time Happy Customer arrives home, the chile will have steamed in the trash bag for awhile, making it easier for Happy Customer to remove the charred skin and seeds before he places it in baggies to store in the freezer for the coming year.

Here's one more fun fact about chile that non-New Mexicans may not know. The red chile ristras you often see in southwest decor? Those are just ripened green chiles, strung together and hung to dry. The dried red chile pods are boiled down in water and pureed to make a red chile sauce.

Red or green, New Mexicans are passionate about their chile and some of us literally can't go a day without it.


  1. There's my problem: we don't have the nice Chile Men with the roaster drums. I tried to do them in a skillet once and it wasn't pretty, although I have heard of people doing it that way.

  2. Who'd a thought that you could buy those at your local Walmart! Sounds, and looks, like an interesting process ... now if you could only send us the smell and perhaps a little taste ... that would be perfect!

  3. I want some now. They don't do this in the parking lot of the Walmarts in New England, y'know.

  4. I can hear the Wal-Mart door greater laughing now when I ask where the Chile Man and roaster are here in NC...

  5. Roasting chiles in front of Walmarts? I need to move south. Looks like fun!
    Do share any recipes you use these things in!

  6. Glad you got your fix in for the upcoming year! Personally, I'm storing up pesto! Have a good day.

  7. When I get the first whiff of roasting chile, I know fall has arrived -- the September 22nd date means nothing. One of my favorite little New Mexican cookbooks is License to Cook - New Mexico. It's a great gift to accompany some frozen roasted chile.

    A friend in Medford found a chile roasting man at his local grocery store. He was there for a single day exposing Oregonians to the smell and flavor of New Mexico chile.

  8. That is the one thing I missed most about living in ABQ. We used to get ours at whole foods or downtown. I don't think non-locals understand that green chile is EVERYWHERE. McDonalds has it on the menu, green chile and pepperoni is the most popular pizza topping, it comes in all burritos standard. Oh I miss that green chile!

  9. OK, Walmart might have just gained a few points in my eyes!!! Now I know when and where I need to go on vacation next year - we sure don't have the chile man here in Florida either. I did look up some recipes online though, and I'm going to give the FL version a go...wish me luck!

  10. When we still lived in New Hampshire, we got our chile shipped in from Hatch, NM. Then we spent an afternoon out on the deck, roasting chiles on the outdoor grill. We dunked them in ice water, drained them, and bagged them up (without peeling) for the freezer.

    The process is so much easier now that we just pick up our bag of roasted chiles at the Clovis Farmers' Market!

    Thanks for this great photo essay, Linda!

  11. well... I've never had green chile. I believe you when you say they are good, they must be for you to bag up 52 zip locks!! I actually think I'd like to try to make them now, I'm so curious about them now.

  12. yummmmmmmmm those smell so good!!

  13. dang, wal-mart is good for something! who heard of such a thing? sadly, we have no propane fired chile roasters here in portland. maybe it's time.

    thanks for sharing!

  14. you live in a totally different world than the rest of america, i think.

    i have no idea what green chilis taste like, roasted or not. i gather they are not jalepenos?

    and, what do you cook them in, or do you eat them plain?

    i am in germany, and what i miss most food-wise is mexican.


  15. Thanks for sharing!
    Is that MY Walmart in Edgewood? I hope to be standing in line this time next year...or, I may just fly down and do it. Wouldn't TSA love to screen that delight?

    Something else non-New Mexicans might be interested in: "Red or Green" is the New Mexico State Question.

    My answer: (with feeling) -- GREEN!

  16. Sandra from Collingwood9/23/09, 2:29 PM

    I knew some people from Bulgaria that roasted the peppers right on top of the electric burners on the stove. The peppers did turn black and maybe it wasn't quite like the drums but they were sure good too.Our local Walmart doesn't offer anything in the parking lot. Maybe we could start a new fad up here.
    Best always, Sandra

  17. OMG....That is the second new thing I have learn't today...Have never seen or heard of this in my life....thank you for educating me :-)

  18. Wow that is really cool! I would love to cook something with those :)

  19. oh..we can only dream..that looks so fun!

  20. Sheesh. Seems like Walmart has geographical as well as chilean preferences!

  21. Looks like I need to serve up some green chile recipes. Will do.

    Sandy~~~that's the Belen Walmart in the photos, but I'm sure your new Walmart has the same setup.

  22. My serranos make up the greatest percent of my salsa. Oh yum.