Throughout the country, you will find all kinds of chile peppers. Texans boast their citrus-hot jalapeños and squat poblanos. In Louisiana, cayenne and tabasco peppers are the chiles of choice. Cooks in Miami have fallen in love with the fiery habanero, and in California, the chiles selected are most often pasillas, fresnos, and California chiles. But in New Mexico, there is only one chile of any real importance, The New Mexico chile. The New Mexico chile comes in both fresh and dried varieties and depending on when they are picked are served either red or green.
The New Mexico chile comes in many different varieties. The most popular mild pepper is the NuMex conquistador, which is great for chiles rellenos. The NuMex sweet variety is used like a bell or anaheim pepper, as it has little or no heat at all. The NuMex Joe E. Parker is a medium-hot pepper that is excellent for salsas. And for the serious chileheads, there's the Sandia, a very hot southern variety, that is used in many green chiles that you will find throughout New Mexico.
Many New Mexicans hotly debate the merits of various chiles, farms, fields, and years, much the way wine tasters appraise the vintages of fine wines. You may surprised to learn that these debates are entirely justified. Chiles are berry fruits and possess tannins just as do grapes. Every aspect of chile, its flavor, texture, color, size, shape, and heat, varies not just with the specific variety but with the soil, water, and climate during a particular season.
Many of the New Mexico varieties where hybridized from local chiles at the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) at New Mexico State University in a program started by Dr. Fabian Garcia, director of the AES from 1889 through the mid 1900's.
The Chimayó Chile is a variety of New Mexico chile grown in and around the town (or Pueblo) of Chimayó. The Chile has been grown there since at least 1598 when the Spanish Flew their flag over the territory, and the Chimayó chile acquired a legendary status on established trade routes for to its mild heat and rich and complex taste.
Chimayó chile powder is nothing like the chili powder you will find in the grocery store. Chili powder with an "i" is a red to brown mixture of various pulverized dried chile peppers with oregano, and other spices added to it. It tends to be coarse ground and often has a strong cumin scent and taste. New Mexican Chimayó chile powder, however, contains only dried and powdered ripe Chimayó chiles. It is usually a very bright red and prepared finely ground.
Chimayó chile is, in my opinion, simply unparalleled in taste, complexity and richness, there is simply no other chile like it.
Unfortunately finding real Chimayó chile is becoming harder and harder to do.
Fewer and fewer people are growing the famous chiles in the Chimayó region, In fact, Marie Campos of the Santa Fe Institute for Native Hispanic Culture who is heading a program to revive the famous chile in the region has said that although the chile has been famous for decades, she has found only five remaining Chimayo families who grow the local strain(1). The variety is however grown in other areas of New Mexico.
|A powder offering from "Da Gift Basket" in Los Lunas, New Mexico.|
I have found only 3 suppliers on the web for Chimayó chile that I trust - and even those will still have to prove themselves to be the real thing. The first is a brand that I know well - It is sold in a bright, reflective pop top can and sold through the Santa Fe School of Cooking in Downtown Santa Fe. This chile powder has in the past proven itself to be spectacular, rich in aroma with a complex taste that I have successfully mixed with everything from raspberries to Laphroaig Scotch Whiskey (Yes, that's right, Scotch).
The price that I have paid for this powder however is a bit high - at $7.00 for 4 ounces and $14.00 for 12, plus shipping, my Chimayó habit has been running me a couple of hundred dollars a year.
So a decision to find an alternative sent me to the web, where I found Da Gift Basket, who are selling what they claim is pure Chimayó chile powder for $6.00 a pound. I almost hate to give out the name and link to this company. Earlier this week I received my order from Da Gift Basket, two pounds of chile powder packed in clear sealed baggies. I have not opened the packages yet, but the color is beautiful.
I am waiting on one more order before we do a formal judging. As soon as it comes in I will start with a one powder a day review. Any comments or suggestions on procedure are welcome, as are, if you are interested, additional judges! Contact me if you would like to join in with your opinions as well.
Chimayo sees red over chile wannabes
The Albuquerque Tribune online, Associated Press October 25, 2005