Roasting, Cleaning and Freezing Chiles: Pueblo Hots

 

In late summer, a wonderful smell begins in Southern Colorado and New Mexico. Soon enough, parking lots everywhere are filled with folks selling fresh chiles and roasting them in rotating “barrels” over propane jets. The smell of the copious smoke clouds that puff up is incredible: a smoky, vegetal, clinging stench with lots of bitter and char. The popping and crackling of the skins and seeds, the hiss of the steam from blasts of water, and the roar of the propane are the sounds of the season.

A few weeks ago, I drove to Colorado and returned with a small bag of fresh Pueblo Hots. There are different types of chiles and they are grown in different areas. Like all agricultural products, the soil, sun, wind, and water have a strong effect on flavor and texture. The most famous chiles – from New Mexico – are primarily Hatch, which is where they are grown. I’ve also has Socorro chiles, and they were also divine.  In Southern Colorado, Pueblo is well-known for farms and for great chiles, the Pueblo chile. It’s a different chile than the New Mexico chiles, and has a slightly different flavor, a bit more bitter. They aren’t as long as the New Mexico chiles, and they have the more classic “chile” shape used in advertising and such.

Needless to say, they’re all good, but I’m especially stoked to have some true-blue Pueblo Hots. (Hots as compared to Very Hots or Mediums – I need my ass to be a non-burning issue, so I didn’t go crazy!)

Chiles prefer hot, dry days and cool nights. In a normal year, there would be heaps of Pueblo chiles, but there were just a couple of baskets. When I was rung up at the farm store, they advised me to come early in September because the harvest was the worst ever and they would run out very early. The cause of all of this – too much rain! It’s raining multiple times a week and many fields aren’t getting enough chance to dry out and it’s causing mildew and other moisture-related issues they normally don’t worry about. This is yet another example of climate change seeming beneficial at first glance, but proving to be a change that threatens agriculture. In this case, extra rain in an arid environment that depends on irrigation for crops means that best practices, infrastructure, and localized plant stock are threatened.

Ok, enough background, let’s get cooking!

Prepping

Before you begin, locate and stage your tools:

For roasting:

  • tongs
  • heat-resistant tray (I prefer stainless steel)
  • spray bottle with fresh cool water (tap water is fine)

For cleaning:

  • clean cutting board
  • plate or second cutting board
  • sharp knife, small-medium
  • gloves
  • bowl for the “trash”
  • parchment paper (NOT wax!) cut into squares (I use burger patty papers)
  • tray or plate to put individual cleaned peppers in the freezer to pre-freeze
  • gallon-size plastic bag(s) or vacuum sealing bags

First, I wash/rinse them in the sink and throw away any funky ones beyond rescue.

Get a grill nice and hot (500F or more). Depending on your sensitivity to capsaicin, you may want a mask so you don’t breath in pepper smoke. Clean the grill to ensure there is no leftover food debris or oil. The chiles will be grilled dry.

 

Roasting

Place the chiles on a clean grill. You do not need oil or anything like that. Close the grill.

After a few minutes, check the bottom of the chiles to see if there’s some good roasting marks. If so, flip and rotate them.

Steam

Throughout the roasting process, spritz them liberally (don’t go crazy but don’t be shy). Steam should instantly appear and make cool sounds and puffs.  This is good – the steam helps loosen the skins.

Cook until all peppers are well-roasted, rotating and flipping and applying more steam.

Smaller peppers will cook quicker, as will those over hot spots, so take care and move the cooked ones to your tray while the rest finish.

Once they are cooked, take the tray indoors to reduce insect issues and cover loosely with foil. Let them steam/rest for 10-20 minutes and then the final stages begin.

Cleaning

Put gloves on and grab a pepper and move it to your cleaning surface.

With the back of a thin knife (paring, for example), lightly scrape the burned skin and all other skin off.

Cut off the stem side and remove any defects.

Carefully cut from the stem side to the tip, only cutting through one layer of the chile.

Now open the pepper and, using the back of the knife, scrape the seeds and the major vein masses. These are major sources of heat, so leave some, to your liking.

Once the inside is in good shape, flip the chile and ensure that most-to-all of the skin is removed. Small black flecks are welcome, but larger pieces are not desirable.

Packing

Place the cleaned pepper on a parchment paper square.  In our household, we call them “squids” for obvious reasons.

Arrange a single layer of squids on a baking sheet or tray and put it in the freezer.

 

After 30-60 minutes, remove from the freezer. Stack the squids and put them in a large ziplock or vacuum sealer bag. I have limited freezer room, so I freeze them in batches and collect them in a bag until my final freezing step.

 

Because I roast and freeze chiles once a year, then keep them for that long, I always vacuum seal in batches of 12-20 so when I open a bag, I don’t have 3 months of chiles to eat before freezer burn sets in. Having individually-frozen chiles is a nice treat because you can more-easily separate one or a few without having to defrost a big hunk. Some folks I know freeze them in big blocks and just shave off what they need, but again, freezer burn.

I have had 5 year old frozen chiles and they were still fine, as long as they were vacuum sealed, so for longer-term storage don’t waste your precious produce on non-vacuum tech.

A final note: in the time since I first wrote this draft, the annual “Hatch Chile Days” at Wegmans happened, so I bought a few Hatch mediums and hots, already roasted, and cleaned and froze them. I have a nice two shelves of frozen chiles! I can’t wait to do a few small taste comparisons and yes, I’ll share some recipes and techniques. Chiles are a wonderful, healthy addition to your diet.

A final note – it sure is nice that I can get fresh Hatch chiles one weekend each summer near me; it has become an annual late-August event I begin to long for, come mid-July.

If anyone is curious, I buy my Pueblo chiles at Musso Farms, just East of Pueblo on US-50. They do ship!

 






44 replies
  1. 1
    Spanky says:

    I thought from the title that this might be an ungodly early-in-the-day post by Cole, but seeing the excellent quality of the pictures laid that idea to rest.

  2. 2
    Spanky says:

    Before you begin, locate and stage your tools:

    Just have to say that immediately following this line, FYWP put in an ad for Craftsman hammers and screwdrivers.

  3. 3
    Alain says:

    @Spanky: Hey, thanks! John inspired me to do canning this year, so I’ll be posting about that soon enough.

    I hope to hit an orchard in two weeks and get some concord grapes so I can make some jelly – I’ve a new steam juicer I’ve been wanting to break in for over a year now!

  4. 4
    Alain says:

    @Spanky: hah!

    Ok folks, stepping away from the computer for an hour. I’ll be back to answer questions, etc.

  5. 5
    mrmoshpotato says:

    @Spanky: Ouch, that burns.

    I’ll see myself out.

  6. 6
    AB says:

    The smell of roasted chiles in Alamosa!

  7. 7
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Ooh, I was in Ouray/Ridgway in September a few years back, and ABQ was the cheapest flight for me, so I drove up and back, and yeah, they’re roasting everywhere.

  8. 8
    rikyrah says:

    I have to ask…
    Do you HAVE to scrape off the burnt part?

  9. 9
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Moderation? For what?

  10. 10
    rikyrah says:

    What’s the name brand of your vacuum sealer?

  11. 11
    kindness says:

    Sounds like those chilis would grow perfectly well out here in CA’s Central Valley. Miserably hot days? Check. No rain? Check. Cool nights? Depends what you mean by cool. There are usually a couple weeks of 90 degree nights. But only a couple. Typically July. I have no doubt if the farmers thought they could make bank growing chilis here, they would. Sadly the valley around here is becoming a monoculture. Almonds dominate everything now. Their return has consistently been better than any other ag product going back decades. As a result, peaches are pulled out for almonds. Fields that used to have cows (dairy is still big out here, just not what it was) now are planted in almonds. The worst part? Almond ranchers (don’t call them farmers, they get pissed and don’t even think about pronouncing the ‘L’ in almonds with them) are the most conservative and (shockingly!) selfish pig headed shits in the business. They think they should get all the water and have it delivered for free. They get upset that any stream reaches the Pacific. Wasted water, don’t ya know? They hire out contractors that hire nothing but migrants and still send big donations to Republicans to kick out their workers. God has to love them cause I don’t.

    @rikyrah: Yea the skins are what you burn off. They’re tough like leather if you don’t and it’s the fleshy part underneath that has all the flavor.

  12. 12
    rikyrah says:

    Back again…
    Why scrape ALL the skin off?

  13. 13

    @rikyrah: Preferable. Their skins are thick and can get tough while cooking – charring doesn’t soften them enough to avoid that. They come off easily when steamed after the charring.

  14. 14
    Spanky says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Happened to me a couple of threads back for no apparent reason. I suspect FYWP thinks there’s a full moon. (Narrator: It’s first quarter.)

  15. 15

    Alain and I must have had mind-meld this morning. I was going to post here about fire roasting tomatoes, which I will be doing again today. You can read the post here.

  16. 16
    evap says:

    Yum! I had a great batch of serranos and jalapenos this year and I have made hot sauce and will be making more. I use them once they turn red. Recipe: Roast the peppers, along with lots of unpeeled garlic cloves and onion. I use the outdoor grill, usually. Remove the charred skin and seeds, then throw everything in the blender with lime juice and salt. That’s it! For a pound of chilies I use a small onion, a small head of garlic, and juice of 1-2 limes plus maybe a teaspoon of salt.

    For some reason, chilies always grow well for me here in Atlanta, they are the easiest crop to grow.

  17. 17
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Spanky: Seems like somebody released it. Anyway, the roasting is a feast for the nose, the drying is a feast for the eyes.

  18. 18
    jeffreyw says:

    @rikyrah:

    Why scrape ALL the skin off?

    Because the skins are practically inedible, same texture as cellophane.

  19. 19
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Moderation again? WTF?

  20. 20
    Spanky says:

    Since it’s an open thread …

    For those of you still clinging to the belief that the stock market is driven by cold realities rather than a herd-like mentality driven by emotion:

    Stocks surged on Thursday after the U.S. and China agreed to meet next month in Washington to discuss trade.

    The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 459 points, or 1.7%. The S&P 500 climbed 1.5%, led by a 2.7% gain in the financials sector, and traded around 1.5% from its record high. The Nasdaq Composite advanced 1.8%.

    No breakthrough, no agreement, no nuthin’. Just agreeing to meet.

  21. 21
    Victor Matheson says:

    Undoubtedly one of the finest foods on the planet.

    My parents in Colorado (one of whom originally hails from Las Cruces, NM, heart of chile country) have a regular chile roasting party. Throw the chiles on just a regular gas grill, char all of the skin, and the immediately put them in a large ziploc bag to steam. The tough skin comes right off with the steaming and you are left with the flavorful chile meat. We generally peel them right away and then freeze appropriate portions for later use.

    Green chile stew with pork fantastic, at least when made by my New Mexican step-mother.

  22. 22
    Spanky says:

    @Gin & Tonic: One more time, mister, and Alain is going to pull this blog over and come back there.

  23. 23
    Spanky says:

    @Gin & Tonic: HA! My reply to you is in moderation too!

  24. 24
    david says:

    There are 1,001+ things to get ginned up over, and the WH adds to the list every day; but, damn,
    48 hours later and y’all still trying to make that stupid sharpie circle on a weather map a federal crime?

    That ranks up there with the latte salute and the tan suit on the faux-rage scale. You’ve got enough
    REAL crimes and issues to hoist him on. Making boulders out of pebbles isn’t helpful.

  25. 25
    Alain says:

    FYWP was messing with me a lot earlier today, things I’ve never seen it do before. The new site and upgraded WP version cannot come soon enough.

  26. 26

    Nice pics, Alain, and oh my goodness, what careful roasting! That’s harder than it looks, folks. I buy my chiles pre-roasted from the Farmers’ Market.

  27. 27
    ThresherK says:

    Tangent: Is it just me or do green bell peppers taste worse than they did a few decades ago? There’s something in many of them I can only describe as “coppery”.

    (I’m not ruling out the idea that it’s my imagination.)

  28. 28
    swiftfox says:

    Driving around Las Cruces and southern AZ seeing pecan plantations. One in NM was covered in water. Quite a waste of a resource. I was told they are beginning to remove them.

  29. 29
    zhena gogolia says:

    Open thread, so —
    Bank parking lot, just now:
    Woman leaving the bank in front of me is wearing a T-shirt listing 5 things starting with “F,” of which I can only remember “Family, Faith, and Firearms” — “5 things you don’t mess with!” I said, “So little kids have to do shooting drills in school so you can have your firearms.”
    “I’m a school bus driver. That has nothing to do with my firearms.”
    “So I have to worry about getting shot when I go to work.”
    “You are out of your fucking mind.”
    “No, this country is out of its mind.” (I refrained from using profanity.)
    “I’ll have you know that VETERANS made this T-shirt.”
    “I don’t care. I’m a citizen of this country, and our gun situation is nuts. Do you know what it’s like in other civilized countries, what the murder rate is — ”
    “I don’t give a fuck. I’ll give up a round any day for ISIS.”
    “Oh, ISIS, ISIS, that’s what you’re worried about!”
    She roars off in her big-ass pickup truck.

    I’m in a bad mood. These people have NO BRAINS YOU CANNOT REASON WITH THEM

  30. 30
    Barbara says:

    @ThresherK: Or it could be a change in your taste buds. I like eating mild peppers plain and raw, but I don’t like their taste in other things, even things like stuffed peppers or chile.

  31. 31
    Barbara says:

    @zhena gogolia: You can console yourself by knowing that you made her day at least marginally worse than it otherwise would have been.

  32. 32
    Alain says:

    @kindness: Almonds are the devil’s work in CA. They use so much water for so little food produced.

    The recent refilling of CA reservoirs postponed Reckoning Day, but I expect that soon, the state (and other SW or very dry states) will begin to curtail exporting so much produce without getting a commensurate import of water. CA is shipping insane amounts of water out of state and that won’t last in our new climate-changed world.

  33. 33
    The Moar You Know says:

    I thought from the title that this might be an ungodly early-in-the-day post by Cole, but seeing the excellent quality of the pictures laid that idea to rest.

    @Spanky: No shit. Every last one in focus and having at least rudimentary composition. Not a John G Cole product.

    Growing up in SoCal, I really didn’t understand that there were regional varieties of Mexican food until I moved off to college in NorCal. Discovering that NorCal Mexican food is by and large inedible trash was a bit of a shock to me.

    But then, joy. LA Mexican food is different than San Diego’s, but still awesome! And then a trip to NM to visit an ex-girlfriend, where I discovered the Civil War that never ended; Red vs. Green. All of it excellent. I refrained from picking sides.

    And then Mexico City, which was amazing. Much less meat in their food than in the American version. And then the Yucatan, with the seafood.

    Oh Mexico, there are a few things you need to work on, but the joy in almost all of your foods and the variations that have come about as the ideas spread further and further afield is a miracle to me.

  34. 34
    Alain says:

    @rikyrah: I use Foodsaver brand, not the best, but it was a good price for what I wanted. You can find at Wally world, Amazon, etc., mine was approx 140 but was a kit, with an extra roll of plastic (to make your own bags). I prefer to save money, so I buy “generic” vacuum plastic rolls when I restock. One roll lasts me a year to a year and a half; I am not as aggressive as I could be with sealing things like meats. A former friend used to buy large amounts of meat, would inject marinade into the different cuts, then seal and freeze them. He had pre-marinated/flavored meats ready for the grill or oven anytime he wanted, as long as he planned a bit so it could slowly defrost.

  35. 35
    waratah says:

    My chili’s are in the freezer, a recipe I read for green chili chicken soup said she did not get all the black off that it adds to flavor giving it a char Smokey flavor.
    Oh Alain! I love homemade Concord grape jelly. The first time I tasted I could not eat the commercial jelly. I only made for my family so did not strain it clear. Love to spread it on my stoneground corn bread hot out of the oven and butter melted.
    I like wild sand plum jelly as much as the grape and they are the only jelly’s I will make now.
    I do make other jams and preserves.

  36. 36
    zhena gogolia says:

    @Barbara:

    My thoughts exactly. Small comfort.

    The fact that she jumped right to the F-word tells me she’s not so confident in her position at all.

  37. 37
    Leto says:

    @Spanky: @Spanky: Lol!

    the annual “Hatch Chile Days” at Wegmans happened

    Didn’t know they did that, but thanks for letting me know! Seriously jealous of all the good chili options you have there!

  38. 38
    Shana says:

    @rikyrah: Jumping in to add that I also have a Foodsaver which I got at Costco several years ago. It also came as a kit with packages of bags, several rolls to make your own bags, and a marinating canister. I buy kosher meat in family sized packages that I break down and freeze, make chicken stock that I freeze in 2cup portions. I also bought a package of resealable ziplock bags that I generally use for cheese so it’s less likely to get moldy before it’s used up. The resealable ziplock bags are quart size and might also be a good alternative for the chiles. You could pull out as many as you want and reseal the rest of the bag.

  39. 39
    cain says:

    I’ll be in Denver in two weeks and I’ll be getting a couple pounds of hatch chilles. I’ve grown in love of them and I love the green hatch chillies I make on my instant pot. So damn good. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be making an annual trip to Denver from here on in. I have friends there too and of course, my girlfriend.

  40. 40
    rikyrah says:

    @Alain:

    A former friend used to buy large amounts of meat, would inject marinade into the different cuts, then seal and freeze them. He had pre-marinated/flavored meats ready for the grill or oven anytime he wanted, as long as he planned a bit so it could slowly defrost.

    Why slowly defrost. I cook semi-defrosted meat in my air fryer all the time.

  41. 41
    Alain says:

    @rikyrah: this was early oughts, and he was mostly a grill man.

    I should learn more about my air fryer, it sounds like!

    I’ll be posting about green Chile recipes soon, so give it some thought, folks.

  42. 42
    cain says:

    @Alain:
    My oven can do air frying..what is @rikrah not telling us?!

  43. 43
    central texas says:

    @rikyrah:
    The skins of NM chilies and others from the desert SW are remarkably similar to the cellophane that used to wrap cigarette packs.[*] Clear, tough, tasteless, and gets in your teeth. The tricky part is getting them blistered so that the clear skin comes off easily and not cremated to the point that it is burned into the flesh of the fruit.
    [*] maybe still does. I don’t smoke.

  44. 44
    central texas says:

    Cafe Sena, a restaurant in Santa Fe, NM used to have an appetizer on their menu that consisted of one red (fully ripened) and one green chile, each stuffed with a different mixture of fruit, cheese, and roasted pork. I wondered for years how they got the chiles so perfect. Then I asked and was told
    to put 1/2″ of oil in a skillet and heat to hot but not smoking, poke several steam holes in the collar of the chile, grasp it by the stem with tongs and roll it through the hot oil. It will take only a few seconds for the skin to blister and release with no charring or sticking. Once the skins are removed the resulting chile retains its shape and structural integrity enough to be stuffed and the briefly broiled. Very, very good and much easier than I thought.

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