The New Mexican chile is not a condiment–it is a vegetable and basic ingredient in lots of recipes. It’s hard to find a traditional New Mexican dish that doesn’t contain some form of the chile.
The chile is a regional variety of chili-pepper similar to an Anaheim. People in the southern part of the state will tell you that the only decent chile is grown in Hatch, but the variety is cultivated throughout the state. Hatch chiles can be hot, medium, or mild but you can’t distinguish a hot one from a mild one by looks alone. You have to rely upon the seller whether it’s your local grocery store or a road-side stand.
Chiles are harvested green or left in the fields to ripen into a rich red color.
Green chiles are roasted, peeled, and seeded. They don’t keep and are generally frozen for use all year long. Folks queue up at the grocery store to have their bulk purchases of chiles roasted by the store. Buy 30 pounds and the roasting is free.
Red chiles are dried and can last a long time. They are generally thrown in the blender to make a thick rich red sauce. Green Chile sauce is made from chopped green chile, onion, chicken broth and flour to thicken it. Many dishes are served with either green or red and you will be asked by the server for your choice of red, green, or Christmas. The heat level varies depending upon the variety used. In fact, the heat for a given dish will vary from batch to batch at the same restaurant.
I’m a fan of green–red is too processed for me. I love green chile stew or enchiladas swimming in green sauce. In fact, I love sauce on lots of things and can usually get a side dish to dip stuff in at my favorite places.
I am currently in the Phoenix area–Green chile sauce is not ubiquitous in Arizona. I went out to breakfast yesterday with my stepmother and other residents of her retirement apartment building in Peoria, AZ. We ate at a restaurant with a distinct western theme. I started talking about how I like chicken fried steak but really prefer brown gravy to country gravy. But I then told them I really like green chile sauce and wondered if this place had it.
One of the men in the group assured me that green chile sauce was routinely available in here. I kinda doubted this but decided to test his assertion. I asked the waitress for some while ordering my eggs over easy. She told me that they didn’t have it. He replied, “but this is Arizona–you must have it”. Her reply–“Hone, this is NOT a Mexican restaurant”. When she served my eggs, she she set a bottle of mild green Tabasco sauce on the table–“this is all we have”. It was insipid.