Food Tales

Mouths on Fire in Upstate NY

by Kerrilynn Pamer
Photo by Kerilynn Palmer.

It's that time again! Fire up the chiles for a cozy fall weekend.

GHENT, New York – Fall means many things to me: new clothing, new beginnings, new foods, and a whole lot of roasted Hatch green chiles. Years ago, I spent some time in Taos, New Mexico, and was lucky enough to be there during the chile-roasting season that takes place in late summer and early fall. I still dream of the smell that envelopes the town. We were able to recreate the whole experience, minus Taos' altitude, in upstate New York.

My friend and cooking partner-in-crime, Corinna, ordered 50 pounds of green chiles to Ghent, N.Y. We have been known to put together some truly extravagant meals. Last year's Thanksgiving included: roast goose with pear and cranberry chutney, red cabbage with red currant jelly, bread sauce, roast potatoes in goose fat, brussels sprouts with pecans and bacon, green beans with almonds, bread stuffing with sausage and apples, porcini and onion stuffing, cranberry sauce with ginger and orange zest, Irish brown bread with smoked salmon, kale and onion tart, mashed butternut squash, pumpkin roulade, key lime pie, gingerbread icebox cake, and apple galette. Needless to say, we have a tendency to go overboard (Thanksgiving dinner was for four people). The chile roast quickly became Operation Chile Fest.

We arrived to 80-acres of serenity and seclusion (complete with saltwater pool, square lake, and massive artist studio) just as the fire pit was warming up. We got in line for production. Roasting chiles is a fair amount of work. Fun work, but definitely labor intensive and it's best to do it with quite a few friends, a lot of wine, and extra gloves. Last year, when we had our roasting session on top of Gavin Brown gallery, we didn't wear any. I'm still not sure why, as my hands were on fire for at least two days.

To roast the chilies, one person tends the fire. Small hot embers go underneath the grill while the chiles are turned over flames until they are blistery brown-black. They're placed in paper bags to sweat their skins. Gloved hands peel and remove stems and seeds. The roasted chiles are torn into strips and proudly displayed on the chile platter.

Many hours of roasting, sweating, and drinking yielded 28 freezer bags of the most beautiful chiles on the East Coast. Then dinner: fennel and chile-pepper ribs, guacamole, beans, tomato salad, and a do-it-yourself quesadilla. Cast iron pots were placed on the barbeque alongside flour and corn tortillas, Monterey jack cheese, and plates of chiles in the form of smoky rajas.

We had a peach-nectarine tart from Olde Hudson for dessert. The night digressed into a very long and hilarious game of Celebrity. As we sat and shared stories, a chill crept into the air. We could have been in New Mexico. Good thing I have a freezer full of chiles to keep me warm.

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