NOW IS THE TIME TO ROAST PEPPERS

The weather around here is still hot, but the smell of autumn is already in the air. That’s because the chile roasters have set up their stands around the city and have big burlap bags bursting with green chiles to be roasted. There are a couple of popular kinds – Hatch chiles from southern New Mexico and Chimayós from the northern mountains. Whatever the source, the process is the same: the vendor fills up a big mesh cage with fresh chiles and then turns the cage over a blazing hot fire from a blow torch or some other propane-driven device. Gradually the chiles become charred black, and the wonderful, tell-tale aroma wafts into the breezes filling the whole city with this unique smell of early autumn. Then you buy a plastic bag filled with chiles of your choice – mild to incendiary – and take them home to peel and seed and chop (depending upon what you want to do with them) so that they can be frozen away for the winter’s supply for chiles rellenos, green chile cheeseburgers, or just salsa. Of course you can do all of the roasting at home, and many folks do, but we prefer to roast on a much smaller scale.

Red-hot roasting grille

Fortunately, a device has been invented locally to let you roast just a few chiles as you need them. The Santa Fe School of Cooking, http://santafeschoolofcooking.com ,  sells a handy stove-top grill for $29.95. The grill is made of steel mesh stretched across a steel ring with two wooden handles to protect your fingers from the heat. In just a few minutes, you can heat up the grill, char a few chiles, and get ready for a real chile feast. We use the grill for our allotment of Hatch or Chimayó chiles, but we also use it to roast ordinary bell peppers for an easy and delicious appetizer.

Fresh peppers on roasiting grille

So here’s what you do: Turn your stove burner on high. A gas range works much better than electric. I’m not even sure if you can use radiant heat, because you need to get your grill red-hot. Put the grill over the flame and wait until the steel mesh begins to glow. Then arrange your chiles or bell peppers on top. You can fill up the grill, but don’t crowd it as the skin of every pepper needs to get blistering hot and char. Let the peppers sit undisturbed on the grill until the surface touching the grill has completely charred and turned black. Then turn the peppers to expose another surface. Keep charring and turning until the whole pepper is black. Don’t forget the ends. Put the charred peppers in a plastic bag that can be closed or sealed, and let them cool completely. If you have done your job correctly, the charred skin can be removed easily under a stream of running water. Peel the peppers, core them, and remove the seeds. You are now ready to make smoked peppers in garlic olive oil.

  • 4 roasted bell peppers, preferably one each of green, red, yellow, and orange
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced very thinly
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 12 to 15  whole black peppercorns
  • extra virgin olive oil, enough to cover the peppers in a bowl

Peppers getting their char

Place the smoked, peeled peppers on a cutting board and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Then place the pepper pieces, sliced garlic, salt, and peppercorns in a bowl that is deep enough to hold them comfortably. Add enough olive oil to cover the mixture, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let sit on a kitchen counter at room temperature. Two or three times each day for two days, turn the mixture, re-cover, and let marinate at room temperature.  The peppers should be ready to serve with crackers or thin slices of bread so that each guest can spoon a pepper piece and a little olive oil on the cracker or bread and pop it into his or her mouth. The sliced garlic is good, too.

Marinated peppers with garlic

Yield: Four peppers make enough for 8 persons

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