Why You Should Try This King of New Mexico Chile Peppers

By Henry Shukman, "The Chile That Saved Chimayó," September/October 2010

Taste these 7 chile spiced recipes and discover why the Chimayó chile is considered sacred in New Mexico.

The chile is miraculous: it is packed full of vitamin C and it actually increases the tactile sensitivity of the mouth, which may be one reason it’s popular in places that have bland staples. Liable to bring on a light sweat, it turns a meal into a multidimensional experience. It’s about the only way of hurting yourself without harming yourself, which creates a flood of endorphins. At the end of a serious chile-infused meal, you can feel dreamily, deliciously lightheaded, and lighthearted.

The New Mexican chile is famous, with names and variations like Hatch (a name loosely given to chiles of many types grown around Hatch, New Mexico), Big Jim, Española Improved and NuMex Conquistador. Chile peppers grow easily in New Mexico, ripening from green to red (green chiles are simply picked before they turn red) beneath the strong Southwestern sun. They can be used fresh, roasted or dried and used as a seasoning, most commonly as a ground deep-red powder.

With the best chile, there’s something comparable to the terroir of fine wine, and the town of Chimayó is to chile as Havana is to cigars. After centuries of selective breeding, and irrigation from a particular mountain stream, there’s an unmistakable complexity to the chiles here, a citrus tang, a depth and richness you can’t quite find elsewhere. Throw anything in a skillet—steak, chicken, vegetables, even tofu—sprinkle a couple of spoons of ground Chimayó red chile powder on top, add salt and enough water to create a grainy, blood-red sauce, and the result will defy all logic, all culinary chemistry or experience.

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