In Albuquerque, we take our chile seriously. It’s the official state vegetable of New Mexico after all (even though many may considered it a fruit).
The end of summer and beginnings of fall mean one thing here in Albuquerque - it’s chile harvesting season; and chile harvesting means chile roasting. While we enjoy our chile year round, this is many locals’ favorite time of year, and chile roasting season is something every Albuquerque visitor should experience.
Late August through September, a distinct, sweet, smoky smell saturates the city as local grocery stores, farmers markets and roadside stands throughout Albuquerque fire up their roasters - large steel cylinder cages rotating over an open flame. It only takes a few minutes to char the tough skin of the chile and roast the inside meat of the pepper.
Chile can be purchased and roasted in various quantities, from just a few pounds to entire 50-pound sacks.
So why do we care so much about this chile roasting tradition here in New Mexico? Because roasted chile means more of our one-of-a-kind New Mexican food - burritos, enchiladas, green chile stew, green chile cheese burgers, chile rellenos, and anything else we can manage to top with the good stuff!
Red or Green? Know Your Chile
Any time of year here in the chile capital of the world, be ready for the question, “Red or Green?” When you order a dish at a restaurant here in Albuquerque, you’ll be asked whether you would like red or green chile.
The roasted chile you see in the open-flame roasters will be green chile - often used for rellenos (stuffed chile peppers). You’ll also see roasted, chopped green chile thrown in and on just about anything we cook in our own kitchens. Green chile is simply not as far along in the ripening process as red chile pods. On the other hand, red chile is great for making enchilada sauces and oftentimes tends to have a milder flavor. Either red or green chile can be made into a sauce - green chile sauce tends to be on the chunkier side with pieces of chopped chile in it, whereas red chile sauce will typically be smooth, with a more blended consistency. But, here in ABQ we’ll put either red or green on just about anything.
Any local will tell you that New Mexican grown chile is the best and only kind of chile to eat, with its distinct sweet, spicy and crisp flavor. Perhaps the most famous chile of all, Hatch Chile, is chile grown in the Hatch Valley, in and around Hatch, New Mexico. For truly authentic, local chile, look for the “Hatch Chile” label.
The heat of the chile varies depending on the harvest that year, so if you’re concerned about the flavor being too spicy, just ask the seller about it, or simply order it on the side.
Both red and green chile make for a delicious addition to any dish, traditionally New Mexican or otherwise.
If you’re tempted to try both red and green, order like a local and ask for “Christmas!”
Get Your Chile Fix
Find a restaurant to get your chile fix.
Take some chile home with you and try your hand at a New Mexican recipe.
Learn more about New Mexican cuisine.