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.

Gloria Trujillo, who grew up here eating chiles three times a day, shows me the little patch where she grows Chimayós behind her house. These days, she tells me, people stop to chat about their chiles. When to plant is a big issue, because the frosts at this elevation—7,000 feet—are notoriously unpredictable. “Some say when the snow has melted off that peak”—she gestures toward a distant crag—“it’s safe to plant. But my grandfather used to say you had to check this peak over here.” She points towards the Jemez Mountains.

One of the myths about chile is that it’s nothing but heat, or piquancy. But great New Mexican chiles needn’t be especially hot. “You know you’re eating chile,” Gloria Trujillo told me, of her own chile. “But that’s not the point. It’s all about the flavor.”

She is right. When I made my first sauce with Chimayó chile powder, I couldn’t believe I had added nothing except salt and water. It was like an all-in-one mole—dark and gleaming like river-mud, glistening as if gold flakes had been stirred in, and full of extraordinary, rich flavors. What was this stuff?

A religious experience. Henry Shukman has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a number of years, where he teaches creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts and writes periodically for The New York Times. His poetry and fiction have won numerous awards, and his latest novel is The Lost City (Vintage).

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