At night in Colorado, the temperature drops, the wind picks up, and the air smells fresh, like pine. It’s such a lovely scent—and yet, my nose tells me something is missing. This time of year, right now, everything back at home smells of roasted chile.
This is Max. Every New Mexican neighborhood has its chile roasters. Max is the man behind Perea Farms, a little stand just down the road from home that opens each August (or so) when the first melons arrive, and closes each October (or so) when the last pumpkins have gone. He’s been in business a few decades, far longer than we’ve been in town. In addition to these red and green beauties…
I’m rather partial to his watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, squash and lemon cukes, all grown within a few miles of where we live. But on this particular day, we’re here to get a supply of freshly roasted chiles. We’ll use some immediately and, like every other New Mexican I know, we’ll freeze a bunch for winter soups and stews.
Max sells medium, hot and extra hot. We choose a mix—around here, even the medium is warm enough to slowly sizzle the mouth with that incredible sweet-smoky sensation of a great chile roasted just right.
They all go into the blackened cylindrical roaster, which is fueled by a tank off to the side. (Now, keep in mind, this is but one batch of the season. In my absence, I know Jerry has returned to Perea Farms at least two or three times for additional chiles in varying degrees of heat.)
Flames shoot out and heat pours forth as the chiles are spun and spun and spun. They crackle and pop, and seeds fly out, landing in a mound of char beneath the roaster. All around, the air is infused with a pungent aroma.
The finished chiles rest for a moment in their warm, wrinkled state. In all honesty, roasted chiles alone don’t always look the most appetizing. But this isn’t about looks. It’s all about scent and flavor.
They tumble into a black plastic garbage bag of hot goodness. As soon as we return to home to the kitchen, Jerry gets out the gloves and begins to peel. It’s no simple task to peel a mound of chiles; it’s the sort of labor—like peeling a bushel of garlic cloves or pounding a basin of curry—that I imagine, through the centuries, has brought many a village together for communal culinary work peppered with lots of chitchat.
We eat a quick lunch of toasted tortillas and a salsa of warm roasted chile, garden tomatoes (purple, red, orange), cilantro, garlic, lime and crumbled Cotija. Yum.
Here in Colorado, I keep a Perea Farms ristra on my porch. It’s such a bright, warm splash of color. Every time I see it, I think of the New Mexican sun—and everything it gives to these chiles.