The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 12, 2009

A Taste of the Old Country

Filed under: Food — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 9:34 pm

Although there’s no way you’d be able to tell it from looking at me, I am, by something of an accident of birth, a native of the (sometimes) great state of New Mexico.  Being of Germanic heritage on my father’s side of the family (where the Lutz name comes from) and just two generations removed from Dutch immigrant grandparents on my Mother’s side, I certainly don’t look the part, but I made my mortal debut during the time that my dad was serving in the Air Force stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, and after he was discharged when I was two years old, the family moved to Los Alamos, where we would spend the next fourteen years before moving to Redmond, where I now reside.  To be honest, I wasn’t really a big fan of the place.  Sure, it was a nice place to grow up (at least when it’s not on fire) but to be honest, in hindsight I’m glad we left when we did.  Sure, I would like to have at least been able to graduate from high school there, but when you have to travel five miles to do your grocery shopping (and 35 miles to Santa Fe in order to do much else beyond that,)  you get a sense you’re out in the middle of nowhere.  The town also has its quirks (I grew up thinking that everyone had unexploded ordnance and radioactive forests near their houses) but to be honest, I much prefer being in a town where I don’t have to make an all-day trip of grocery shopping.  That said, there are some things I do miss about the place, the most notable being the food.  

Although based heavily on the Mexican cooking most people would be familiar with, New Mexico (and yes, it is a part of the United States, although some people still seem to think otherwise) has a style all its own.  In particular, the ingredient which sets New Mexican food apart from other Mexican food is the New Mexico chile.  Although genetically similar to the relatively mild Anaheim peppers that are common in many supermarkets, a combination of climate (in particular, the area around the small town of Hatch in southwestern New Mexico is especially favorable for the growing of these chiles) and cultivation makes these chiles quite a bit hotter than the typical Anaheim chile.  This makes them especially prized, and although they are used mostly in traditional New Mexican dishes, they also quite often manage to find their way into a lot of other things that aren’t native to New Mexico, such as hamburgers and pizza.  Given the fact that most of the chiles grown in New Mexico never make it out of the state, this makes them especially difficult to find around here.  Every so often some of the frozen or canned green chiles manage to make it up here, but usually there’s none to be found anywhere, and most of the supplies we have here are brought back from Arizona when someone travels down there.  Because of this scarcity, it was a big deal when fresh Hatch chiles unexpectedly showed up at one of the local supermarkets. 

In New Mexico, at the end of the Summer when the chile harvest begins, it is a common sight to see roadside stands and other businesses in Santa Fe and throughout the state roasting these chiles over an open flame, and selling them by the bushel.  All throughout Santa Fe in September, you can smell the chiles being roasted, and it’s a smell that nobody who has ever lived in New Mexico can ever forget, no matter how long they have been away from the state.  Given the fact that the local supply of these prized chiles is unlikely to be around for too long (it’s a wonder the chiles even made it here in the first place) my parents bought two whole boxes (which has to be at least 40 pounds of the stuff) and spent most of this morning roasting them on the grill to freeze and store.

When youre dealing with that much chile, it can be quite a bit of work to go through it all, but believe me, it’s all worth it.  Earlier this week, I went through and roasted a much smaller batch of these peppers on my own grill, which I plan to use tomorrow to make enchiladas here. 

Here is the result of this, flame-roasted chiles from which the skins can be easily removed, and enough green chile to last us quite a while.  It’s a flavor that’s not for everyone (believe me, these things can be a lot spicier than they look, at times approaching or even exceeding the spiciness of jalapenos)  but it’s a flavor that you just can’t get anywhere else.  This, right here, is the flavor of New Mexico.

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6 Comments »

  1. I don’t know the smell. Maybe I would remember it if someone said, “Hey Heather, here is the smell…” But it doesn’t come to me! Dangit.

    Comment by Heather Lively — September 12, 2009 @ 11:48 pm

  2. Came across your blog by accident lol. My husband is bringing up a TRUCK LOAD of Green Chili from Deming/Hatch this weekend. If you know of any buyers (group or individual) email me…yourself included. Roasted or Raw ;) I can’t wait for it to arrive…We live in MT btw.

    Comment by Kristie Nicoll — September 14, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

  3. Chanced on your blog researching chilis, my fav vegetable. Why did you roast them, by the way? They lose flavor if not eaten fresh. In India, we make curry straight out of them. Very yummy. Or you could dip them in flour and fry, kinda like onion rings. Yummier.

    Comment by K — September 29, 2009 @ 9:14 am

    • Although I’m not really as familiar with Indian cooking as I probably should be, in New Mexico the chiles are almost always roasted. Part of this is because the chiles are fairly large, compared to the much smaller (and much hotter) chiles generally used in the various forms of Asian cuisine. The roasting serves mostly to remove the skins from the chiles before adding them (generally chopped) to whatever dishes they are being used for.

      Comment by Brian Lutz — September 29, 2009 @ 10:44 am

  4. But removing the skin is what surprises me. I’d think a lot of the flavor of the chili is in the skin; the innards do not matter that much. At least in the Indian varieties of chili — smaller and hotter as you rightly said — the pungency is in the seed, whilst the taste is in the skin. Here’s an illustration of the dish I mentioned above. As you can see, the guts of the vegetable are removed, spice is stuffed into the shell, it’s then dipped in batter and deep fried.

    http://niruskitchen.blogspot.com/2008/01/vaamu-bajji.html

    Comment by K — September 30, 2009 @ 9:20 am

    • On the recipe you showed above, most of the flesh on the insides of the chiles is still there. In this case, the “skin” is just the (relatively thin) outermost layer which is made primarily of cellulose, and by itself is relatively flavorless and rather tough. This way, the flesh of the chili still remains, and most of what’s inside (the seeds and sometimes the veins, where much of the “heat” of the chiles is concentrated) is usually discarded.

      The Vaamu Bajji recipe you posted actually seems quite similar to a common Mexican dish known as Chile relleno which is prepared in much the same way, although generally much larger peppers (including these types) are used for those than the relatively small ones that are common in Indian and other Asian cuisine.

      Comment by Brian Lutz — September 30, 2009 @ 2:26 pm


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