The Pueblo West View

Chile 101: Time to heat up Pueblo’s pride and joy

Welcome to chile week.

Sure, every day is a chile day in Pueblo, but we’re in the midst of The Big One: the week leading up to the city’s signature event, the Chile and Frijoles Festival. Tens of thousands of people will flow onto Union Avenue and out to local farms this weekend for a whiff and taste of our most famous crop.

In honor of that, and in recognition of the newcomers who might not be up to speed on all things chile, we present a crash course in this perfect pepper.

Your taste buds are on alert.

PUEBLO PRIDE

With due respect to the venerable Hatch chile from New Mexico, the greatness of the Pueblo chile is no longer a secret.

The Pueblo is thicker than other types of chiles and about 6 inches long, with a moderate blast of heat and a hint of sweetness. And when it’s roasted . . . oh, baby, the flavor is beyond compare.

Pueblos are of the Mira Sol variety of peppers, named so because they grow upward, toward the sun. The arid summer days and cool nights on the St. Charles Mesa are an ideal incubator for this crop.

Pueblo’s farmers grow a variety of delicious peppers, from Anaheims to jalapenos, but the Pueblo reigns supreme.

HOT TO HANDLE

There are two important rules to follow when getting your hands on chile peppers:

1. Wear rubber gloves. Capsaicin in chile gives the pepper its heat and can irritate skin. Which leads us to . . .

2. Don’t touch your eyes! Anyone who’s experienced this will tell you: If you don’t follow the glove rule, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands after handling chiles. Your eyes will thank you.

FRESH OR ROASTED?

Those who buy just a few pounds of chiles at a time can take home fresh peppers and roast them in the oven or on the grill, but by far the most popular choice is to buy chiles by the bushel and have them roasted on site before taking them home.

Most farmers and produce markets have their own commercial roasters that can do the job in 10 minutes or so (be sure to add some fresh garlic bulbs for extra flavor).

Once that’s done, the only job is to put the chiles in freezer bags, squeeze out as much air as possible, and store them in the freezer.

Some people remove the roasted skins before freezing; others leave them on until thawing. We’re in the skin-on camp (to hold in flavor), but hey, it’s a free country.

HEAT MASTER

The ghost pepper has been displaced.

For some time, the Bhut Jolokia, or ghost pepper, was rated hottest on the Scoville scale, which measures the heat level of various peppers. At more than 850,000 Scoville units, this ghost makes a visible impact on taste buds.

Now an English farmer and pub owner named Gerald Fowler can claim the heat title with his Naga Viper chile. Its pungency? More than 1.3 million Scoville units.

Fowler used three peppers to create his monster: the ghost pepper, Naga Morich and Trinidad Scorpion.

Customers who want to sample its ferociousness can try a curry that’s made with the pepper — but Fowler makes them sign a disclaimer form beforehand.

For comparison, here’s how some other common peppers rank on Mr. Scoville’s list:

Anaheim — 250-500

Jalapeno — 2,500-5,000

Pueblo — 5,000-6,000

Serrano — 10,000-20,000

Cayenne — 30,000-50,000

Habanero — 100,000-350,000

FIRE EXTINGUISHERS

Need to cool your mouth after a taste of spicy peppers? Try things like milk or sour cream. The fat in dairy products is believed to cut the heat. Water and carbonated drinks won’t do much to douse it.

Tortillas and other breads also can help lower the temperature by absorbing that capsaicin.

Then again, isn’t heat a big part of the chile fun?

GOING TO SEED?

To seed or not to seed? It really comes down to personal preference. Removing seeds (and the vein) from chiles will lessen the heat factor, but doesn’t affect flavor.

GOING GREEN

We could put a recipe here, but the fact is there are as many recipes for green chile (or green chile sauce, as some nonlocals insist on calling it) as there are cooks. Only one thing is constant: Simmer the chile for several hours to bring up the flavor.

Here’s a list of basics that make their way into many recipes; we’ll leave the improvisation to you.

Chiles

Pork

Garlic

Chicken or vegetable stock

Tomatoes

Onion

Flour

MIX IT UP

You want to buy a bushel of chiles but think there’s no way to use that much before next harvest.

Au, contraire. Never mind batches of green chile; those peppers can be used in, or with, just about any food imaginable:

Potatoes

Eggs

Breads

Chile con carne

Chocolate

Macaroni and cheese

Soups

Marinades

Rice

Dips

Pizza

Burgers

Hot dogs and sausages

Guacamole

Relish

Jams and jellies

Better get two bushels. Just in case.

amym@chieftain.com

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