New Mexico is such a special place in the fall. The foliage across the mountains turns into a beautiful red and gold canvas. Balloons fill the skies in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos for annual balloon fiesta celebrations. Calabacitas are on the menu weekly as people work through harvesting their squash in the garden, and Friday night football is here.
Fall also means New Mexicans across the state join in unison to harvest and stock enough green chili supply to last the entire year.
In this statewide tradition, families come together to collect their money and purchase large bushels of green chili. Between August and October, visiting any grocery store means lines of New Mexicans are waiting for their chili to be roasted by store employees. Once the chili is removed from the roaster, it’s placed in plastic bags so the freshly roasted chili sweats and is easy to peel when you arrive home.
Upon arrival, family members gather around the table with cutting boards, knives, spoons, forks, and zip-lock bags, ready to prepare the chili.
Peeling the skin can either be an easy or stressful process. If the skin doesn’t come off easily, the family will likely start to talk about the skills of the poor store employee who was put on chili roasting duty that day. They’ll also likely regret the tip they gave them when they got their chili. A good batch of roasted chili is easy to peel, and the skin comes off with very little effort.
Once peeled, the chili is piled together or thrown in a hoya (pan) full of water to rinse off the remaining black pieces. The stem is removed, and the chili is processed. Some people like to prepare the chili chopped while others like to freeze it whole. It all depends on what your mom prefers.
Let’s not forget the underrated star of the show: the zip-lock bag. It’s the greatest invention for moments just like this, because it stores the freshly roasted and cleaned chili with all its aroma, juice, and flavor which comes right back to life when you defrost your bag.
The unspoken cardinal rule of chili peeling is to wear gloves, unless you’re a seasoned professional. Not wearing gloves can result in unpleasant bathroom experiences and painful eye interactions for the remainder of the day. IYKYK (the kids use this to say if you know, you know).
This process is incredibly unique to New Mexican culture. The precision, planning, and effortless and seamless execution of chili preparation was passed on from our parents, grandparents, and their grandparents.
It’s how we bring our entire families into the authenticity of cooking our treasured New Mexican green chili dishes for the entire year, and we take it very seriously.
Happy Chili Season!