It’s June now, which means that chile has already been in the ground for over a month in all the major farming regions. We are around 2 months away from the 2022 chile season, and the time is right for a guide to how to pick out good chile.
First things first is to evaluate the retailer you are buying from. If they are a typical grocery store and their chile is cheap, it is probably a chile variety with less flavor than many varieties we and other local New Mexican chile roasters such as Fruit Basket or Snake Ranch sell. Second, make sure they let you at least try the raw chile to know the flavor. Don’t expect to try chile already roasted, as it leads to food safety concerns. Spice and other flavors associated with different varieties is impossible to explain. In order to get the right product, you should be allowed to sample the product. At Farmers Chile Market, we always let customers try raw chile to get an idea of what the flavor of each chile variety we sell.
How to try raw chile
Tasting chile is very important if you want to get the ideal match of heat and flavor. As chile is a seasonal product, it means every season has different characteristics. Just like wine, tea, coffee and other agricultural products, chile’s flavor also varies based on the weather and other factors. More than just that, there are many different chile varieties to choose from.
Break the chile away from you or anyone else so the juices don’t fly in anyone’s face. Try to break it around the middle, as this is where the heat from the chile is most indicative of the spice level of the chile. Raw chile has the majority of its spice centralized in the membranes near the seeds. This means the tip often has very little heat, while near the stem might be like fire. During roasting, the membranes break open, and the juices flow all around during the steaming process, which makes the spice level more uniform throughout the chile. Bite one side, and share the other side with a friend, or throw it in the roaster with your sack of chile if you like it. At Farmers Chile Market, we will gladly explain the differences in flavor and let you try whatever flavor you want. We even have free water, in case you try something a little too spicy. This is one of many little things we do to try to be the best place to get chile roasting in 2022.
How to see if fresh green chile is good
The easiest things to notice are wrinkling and decay. If a lot of the chile looks decayed, go to a different store, as wherever you are obviously doesn’t care enough to remove bad product. We put fresh chile out multiple times a day and always remove decay when we see it, as it can ruin nearby chile as well. Another thing to look for is wrinkling. While a little wrinkling is not too bad, excessive wrinkling can make a chile incredibly hard to roast and peel. In our raw chile section, we rotate out the chile several times, and roast it before it wrinkles too much. Not only that, but we get shipments 3 times a week, so our chile we sell is at most only 3-4 days since harvest. Good chile roasters pay very close attention to these details, and you can be assured to get a quality product. To summarize, a little wrinkling is ok, but don’t trust a place that puts out a lot of decayed chile. Ideal chile is plump and firm, with a flavor that suits you and the people you eat with. Don’t be afraid to try, as you know and understand what flavor is best for you much more than just trusting a sign that says mild, medium, hot, or extra hot.
How to choose a good Hatch red chile ristra
To start things off, I should say that decorative things are very subjective, as everyone has different artistic tastes. That being said, there are some things I will recommend looking out for. First, make sure that the ristra is straight. If you see any obvious bends, it probably means the ristra was not properly stored, and will have a weak point, from which chile will easily break off. Second, look at how plump it is. Some ristra makers skimp out on chile, and while the length is correct, it shrinks down a lot once it is dried. A ristra should be quite full, with around 3 chiles per layer. Some ristras have a shape that curves outward a lot, and some have shapes that curl inward. What specific look you like is really up to you. As they say, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” Look for breakage of chile if the ristra is not fresh. Generally you don’t see much decay on ristras. As they age, some ristras will have brown patches on some chile, this is just the color that green chile turns to when it dries. It just means that the chile originally was not completely red when it was tied to the ristra. It will still taste good, even if it isn’t the most pretty chile.
If you have more questions about ristras, our Ristra FAQ has plenty of answers for you.
The New Mexican Chile Experience
If you are from New Mexico, you understand about what it is like to get chile roasted here. For people who are outside of New Mexico and have to rely on grocers in your area, I highly recommend making the chile season part of your reason to visit New Mexico. In October, we have the Balloon Fiesta, the worlds largest hot air balloon festival. It always occurs toward the end of chile season, but we will almost always still be roasting when it occurs, barring freak cold snaps, which do occasionally end the chile season early. One of the coolest things to do in New Mexico is visiting a chile roaster, as you can see the lifeblood of New Mexican food up close. If you come to our chile stand at 2010 Eubank Blvd NE in the northeast heights in Albuquerque, we will do our best to show you a delicious side of New Mexican culture.