New Mexico's Annual Chile Harvest
As summer draws to a close, growers in southern New Mexico begin the annual harvest of what many say are the finest and most flavorful chiles in the world.
Many of New Mexico's traditional dishes are built around the chile, as early residents of the area discovered that the peppers were easy to preserve and added abundant flavor to their cooking without the need for too many additional ingredients.
Although chiles are grown throughout New Mexico, most commercial growers are located in the southern part of the state.
New Mexican Chiles (sometimes known as Anaheims) are about 7" to 10" long and 2" in diameter. They change in color from bright green to red as they mature and range from mild to fiery in their heat intensity.
The annual chile harvest in New Mexico begins in late summer and lasts through the first frost. Jim and John Thomas (aka The Salsa Twins) are the producers of El Pinto Salsas and Sauces, and they were kind enough to walk us through the process that brings their chiles from farm to table.
Chile seeds are planted in greenhouses in late February, where they are nurtured for about 45 days before being transplanted to the fields. The plants thrive in New Mexico's abundant sunshine and warm soil, producing green chiles that are ready for picking about 90 days after planting.
El Pinto's chiles are washed by hand and flame-roasted, using a special technique that ensures the thorough blackening of each individual chile. The roasting process enhances the aromas and flavors of the chiles and also allows for easier peeling.
Many of today's commercial farmers use an acid bath to peel their chiles, but El Pinto prefers to peel their chiles by hand. Once peeled, they are chopped and frozen for use throughout the year.
El Pinto also allows some of their chiles to remain on the vine for a few more weeks to ripen to a rich red color. These chiles are sweeter, but not as easy to chop, so they're generally incorporated into stews in traditional New Mexican cuisine.
The Thomas brothers are also the co-owners of the award-winning El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina in Albuquerque, NM. Try their quick and easy recipe for chicken enchiladas ~
Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas
1/2 lb cooked, shredded chicken
1 jar El Pinto Green Chile Sauce
1 dozen 6-inch corn tortillas
2 cups shredded chedar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to broil. Warm green chile sauce in pan. Lightly fry corn tortillas in hot oil (or steam for a low-fat option). Drain excess oil on paper towels. Place one tortilla on a dinner plate, add a little green chile, cooked meat and cheddar cheese. Add another tortilla and repeat the process. Continue until you have three layers on four different plates. Place in oven and broil until cheese is melted, being careful not to burn. Garnish with sour cream. Makes 4 servings.
Visit the El Pinto website for more recipes and to purchase their salsas and sauces: http://www.elpinto.com.