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How-To

Chile Roasting Season

Fine Cooking Issue 47
Photos: Laurie Smith
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From the fields come truckloads of chiles, with names like Anaheim, Sandia, and Big Jim.

All over New Mexico and in other parts of the Southwest, chile harvest is heralded by the pungent and unmistakable aroma of roasting chiles—at farmers’ markets, by the side of the road, in parking lots, and on chile farms. The first moment you get a whiff of that fragrance is a pivotal time of year, for it signals the start of a season that has every bit as much buzz and beauty to it as grape crush in northern California or apple gathering in New England.

The harvest begins in late August, when green chiles are first picked, and it continues as the chiles ripen to red through mid October, ending with the first freeze.

This chile roaster is a mesh barrel with a gas-powered flame below. A worker cranks the barrel by hand as the chiles roast.
For maximum flavor, chiles are roasted just until their skins are blistered. The heat is intense, so this barrel only takes about 15 minutes.
Even an experienced chile roaster needs to wear gloves to protect his skin as he packs the chiles—capsaicin, the compound that gives chiles their heat, packs an intense sting.
Roasted chiles are loaded into bags for eagerly awaiting customers, who request mild, medium, or hot roasted chiles to take away.

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