Red or Green? New Mexico Chiles

Did you know that New Mexico (NM) is the only state in the U.S. to have an official question and that question is –  “Red or Green?”. Yep – that’s it – “Red or Green?” In NM every New Mexican restaurant asks you “Red or Green?” when you order your meal. If you’re not asked, then it’s not New Mexican food. It’s probably Mexican or Tex-Mex.

red and green chile peppers

New Mexico Chile

So why do waiters ask “Red or green?”? Because New Mexican dishes are typically smothered in a red or green chile sauce. When you order your enchiladas, chile rellenos, huevos rancheros, tamales, or stuffed sopapillas, the next thing you are asked is “Red or green?” – meaning – red chile sauce or green chile sauce. If you can’t decide, you can always order “Christmas” and get both. My standard orders are green with chile rellenos, red with tamales and huevos, and whatever I feel like at that moment for all other dishes.

NM Chile

NM chile – chile with an “e” – is the fruit of a a plant belonging to the genus Capsicum and is  grown in abundance throughout New Mexico. It’s hard to know exactly when chile was actually brought into New Mexico from Central American, but it’s believed that it was brought by the Spanish immigration starting in the 1500’s.  The most common chile grown in NM is a long narrow green chile similar to the Anaheim chile. Through the years several varieties of NM chile have cross-pollinated and hybrids have been created such as Big Jim, Sandia, Rio Grande, Joe E. Parker, New Mexico 6-4, Heritage 6-4. However, some of the smaller farmers and particularly the farmers in northern New Mexico are using indigenous seeds (heirlooms).

Each variety of chile has a heat level (Scoville unit) range.  For example, NuMex Big Jim’s are normally labeled a medium heat (2500 – 3500 scovilles) while Sandias or Diablo can be hot to extra hot (5000 – 7000 scovilles). When buying New Mexico chile, you are usually offered just mild, medium, hot or extra hot and not necessarily a specific variety of chile.  Like most fruits and vegetables, the seed, the dirt, the water, the altitude, and the climate of the area in which the chiles are grown can all affect the flavor of the chile. (Scoville units provided by Biad Chili Products)

Outside of New Mexico, the majority of chile is either sold as New Mexico chile or Hatch chile.  New Mexico chile can be from anywhere in New Mexico whereas Hatch chile is from Hatch, New Mexico.  Just a note, there is not a variety of chile called “Hatch chile”.  When you see Hatch chile, it is chile grown in and around Hatch, New Mexico, and can be of mixed varieties and heat levels. Even though, outside of New Mexico, most people only see “Hatch Chile”, not all of NM’s chile comes from Hatch. Most of the chile does come from southern NM, but a lot of great chile comes from other parts of the state all of the way up to the NM/Colorado border.

 

Speaking of Hatch, Hatch, NM is a small village in the southern part of the state and one of the largest producers of NM chile. Chile from Hatch has become so well-known that every Labor Day weekend the village hosts a Hatch Chile Festival which draws more than 30,000 people from around the world. Having a population of less than 2,000, that’s a pretty big festival!

Cultivation of Chile

Most of the chiles are picked green, but many are left to ripen on the plant and picked once they turn red. The green chiles are roasted and peeled for green chile sauce or just chopped green chile – my favorite. They can also be dried and ground into green chile powder. Red chiles can be picked and roasted and used like green chiles or strung into ristras and hung out to dry. Sometimes you’ll see them on rooftops where they are left to dry. With the lack of humidity in New Mexico, chile dries pretty fast here. Once the chile is dry, it is turned into red chile powder or red chile sauce. More on that in New Mexico Red Chile.

Ristras of fresh New Mexico red chile

New Mexico Chile Ristras

 

Roasting Green Chile

Fresh green and red chile is roasted, peeled, deseeded and chopped. Here in New Mexico you can buy a bushel or 30 to 35 pound sack of chile and either roast it yourself or have the seller roast it for a few dollars more. If you don’t want to stand by the grill or oven for a couple of hours, then I would recommend that you have the seller roast it. The seller usually has a large gas powered roaster that can do the whole bushel at once in just a few minutes. The chiles are dumped into a large grated container which rotates, tossing the chiles about. As it rotates a gas burner below the container sears the skins of the chile. After a few minutes, all of the chile pods have been roasted and the batch is dumped into a bag and passed on to you to take home and peel.

 

chile roasters

Chile Roasters

If you want to roast your chiles at home, it’s very easy to roast them on the grill.  Here are two links to check out: Roasting Peppers on the Grill by MJ’s Kitchen and How to Roast and Peel Peppers by The Yummy Life.

I do love chile roasting season because it smells so good!  This time of year (the fall), with these big roasters going, you can smell chile being roasted pretty much everywhere. Once roasted, the chiles are peeled, stems and seeds removed, and sometimes the interior veins are removed. The veins, the whitish meat that runs the length of the chile on the inside, contains the majority of the capsaicin, the substance in chile that provides the “heat”. So to make the chile milder, you can remove the veins. At this point the chile is ready to freeze or use immediately. The whole chile can be used to make chile rellenos, and the chopped chile – well, it can be used for just about anything. More on that in New Mexico Green Chile.

Which is hotter – Red or Green?

As far as the heat of the chile, you never know until you taste it. I’ve heard many times that red is hotter than green, but then everything is relative. I’ve had some mouth numbing green chile – believe me! On a visit one fall to one of our favorite little New Mexican restaurant (El Patio), the green chile was so hot that we were all getting a little sweaty around the hairline. That’s one of the reason why you’ll normally see honey on the table at a New Mexican restaurant.  A little honey on a tortilla or sopapilla helps to reduce the burning sensation in the mouth. You can also add a little honey to your chile sauces and stews if you find them TOO hot to eat.  Just be careful not to add too much.

So what’s hotter – red or green?  The heat level is determined by the variety of the chile – Big Jim, Sandia, Joe E. Parker, Diablo, etc. For example,  Sandia red can be hotter than Sandia green, but both Sandia red and green are normally hotter than Big Jim red or green. One can always reduce the heat of a chile by removing the veins or pith that run the length of the chile on the inside.  According to a test performed by Cook’s Illustrated, the majority of a chile’s capsaicin (heat) in contained in the pith. (“Common Cooking Myths, Debunked – All parts of a chile are equally hot.” Cook’s Illustrated.  September / October 2013) 

When you purchase chile, you can usually choose between mild, medium, hot, or very hot. Most of the chile we buy is medium with a few hot chiles thrown in. And once you freeze it, it does get hotter. Don’t ask me the chemistry behind that, because I don’t know it.  What I do know is that I love my chile hot enough to feel some heat, but not too hot to hide the wonderful flavor of the chile. Final Note – Chile is addicting! So to help you satisfy your addiction or soon to be addiction, I have provided many recipes and links throughout this website that use either green or red chile in one form or another.

More on New Mexico Chiles

Chile or Chili? Red or Green? and Christmas – Red and Green

NM Red Chile and Red Chile Recipes

NM Green Chile and Green Chile Recipes

Green Chile Burn Video and recipe for a Quick and Easy Green Chile Stew

NM Green Chile Enchiladas

NM Red Chile Enchiladas

NM Green Chile Stew

Green Chile Powder and How to Use it

Recipes that use Green Chile

Recipes that use Red Chile

Sources for New Mexico Chile Products

This New Mexico Chile Series has been shared with the following blog hop.  Be sure to click on the link for more fabulous ideas. Mix it Up Monday!, Weekend Potluck, Showcase your Talent  Thursday

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61 Responses to “Red or Green? New Mexico Chiles”

  1. Lilianna April 14, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    One question mj. Why is red chili more hot than green chili. I’m curious because whenever I eat red chili it’s hot and starts burning my mouth (like crazy). And whenever I eat green chili it doesn’t make my mouth all burning hot. Oh, plus I live in New Mexico.

    • mj April 14, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

      Hey Lilianna! Thanks for posting the question. There is a huge debate on which is hotter – red or green, so I’ll try to explain it this way. When chile peppers are left on the bush to turn red, then dried, the flavor and heat becomes concentrated. The majority of the heat (Capsaicin) of a chile is stored in the interior veins which are normally not removed before making red chile sauce. Many people do remove the veins of green chiles before making a sauce; therefore, the red peppers from the same bush do normally make a hotter sauce. However, when you are talking different types of chiles – for example, Big Jim (a medium heat) vs. Sandia (hot heat) – the green Sandia can be hotter, much hotter than the red Big Jim. Believe me, I have had green chile that I couldn’t eat, so I normally stay away from any chile that’s labeled HOT and definitely stay away from chiles labeled Very Hot. :) When going out to eat, I have been known to ask “Which is hotter tonight – red or green?”. Hope this helps!

      • Lilianna April 14, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

        Thanks for the reply back much. I was just curious because at school in all of our classes we are studying red and green chilies.

        • mj April 15, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

          That’s really cool that you’re studying red and green chiles. Let me know if you have any more questions.

          • Lilianna April 17, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

            Can you give me some facts about Green Chile mj?

          • mj April 17, 2014 at 9:20 pm #

            Lilianna, I sent you an email with some links. If you don’t get it, check your spam filter. Because it has so many links, it may end up in your spam folder.

          • mj April 17, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

            Lilianna, The email sent you was undeliverable. The error said that my email was rejected by the server. Could you please send me an email from another domain? Send it to mjskitchen@gmail.com. Thanks, MJ

  2. Tim April 7, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    I lived in Virginia. In 2011 we visited Albuquerque, and had some meals where I had green chile/ I loved it. I missed it when we went home. We came back in 2012, and I had more green chile. I missed it again when we went home. Now we live in Albuquerque, and I have green chile at most of my meals. Tonight I even put green chile sauce on my spaghetti – it was great!

    • mj April 8, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment Tim!!! Like you, I was addicted the first time I tried green chile as well. It really is addicting! Have you put it in Mac&Cheese yet? :) YUM! Welcome to Albuquerque!

      • samara April 14, 2014 at 5:29 pm #

        is red chili more hot than green

        • mj April 14, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

          Samara, Please see my answer to Lilianna’s question (the same question) in the comment above Tim’s. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Taylor Miller March 24, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    I love your recipes and facts your so cool and fun.

    • mj March 24, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

      Thanks so much for your comment Taylor! It’s always good to hear from my readers!

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  7. Biren @ Roti n Rice October 11, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    Haha…state question? I think I’ll go for Christmas as I can’t decide. :)

    Oh yes…I do like a little heat in my chiles! Big Jims are good, just about the right level of heat for green chili. Those chile roasters remind me of my days in Colorado….sigh! Still miss the place.

  8. Amber @ The Cook's Sister August 14, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    I wish I knew the state question a few years ago before I visited New Mexico! I didn’t know it referred to chiles and may have embarassed myself just a bit while ordering breakfast burritos. :)

  9. jamessnider May 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    Have you ever tried making green chile jelly? Like jalapeno jelly but with hatch green chiles. I tried it last hatch season and it came out more like syrup than jelly. The flavor was fantastic but the viscosity was not. Any suggestions other than doubling up on the pectin?

    • mj May 20, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

      James, No I haven’t tried making it but it’s on my list of things to do in the fall when I can get some really fresh chile. Sorry yours came out syrupy. Have you tried reheating it? Sometimes when a jam or jelly comes out too soft, I’ll bring it back to a full rolling boil for additional time. I would recommend testing this out with 3 cups of the jelly. Bring to a full boil (one that can’t be stirred down) and boil for 4 minutes. Pour it back in the jar and let it sit overnight to see if it’s still to thin, too stiff or just right. Please let me know if this works for you! Thanks for asking and have a great Sunday!

  10. Vicky February 26, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    I loved reading this! When we buy chiles we don’t get much of a choice and they are small. We tend to opt for a “Christmas” selection and I would say the green ones are fruitier and the red ones are hotter. Lovely Pictures!

  11. Jus2havfun February 17, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    Hey MJ,

    You have really elaborated well on the red and green chile sauce which is main ingredient in New Mexican food style…

    Me n my husband love mexican food as we both love the spicyness….but we r Pure vegetarian and jus wanted to knw whether the red chile sauce and roased green chile sauce has any meat Into it?

    We r planning to visit this new mexican style restaurant but the only thing we dont knw is whether this sauce has any meat????

    Thanks

  12. ChefDad December 8, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    Thanks MJ! This is a great series.

  13. Jack Moran September 23, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    I visit New Mexico at least once a year, I lived in silver City for 13 years and visited the Hatch New Mexico Chile Farms.I am now living in New Jersey and i can’t understand why it cost’s so much to ship frozen Hatch Green Chile to New Jersey.I am going thru withdrawls and prefer not to eat out of cans. The thought of a Green Chile Cheesburger is allway’s on my mind. Can anybody help.
    Jack

  14. aleida September 12, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    love it! contrary to popular belief, typical puertorrican food is not spicy. we use many aromatic herbs and spices, but not chiles. however, I love spicy food. thank you for such an informative and well written post!

  15. Dottie Sauchelli Balin September 10, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    MJ,

    LOVE your blog and all your recipes look terrific. Can’t wait to try some of them. The photo of the red chili’s is very beautiful. Love the way they just flow down like that. I love them both, Red and Green. Learned a lot of info I did not know. Thanks for sharing. :)

  16. Jamie @ the unseasoned wok September 9, 2011 at 12:43 am #

    I love the picture of the chiles! You never see them like that in Hawaii. Very informative post – thank you for sharing!

  17. mj September 8, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    Looks like we have more chile addicts! :) Thanks for all the wonderful comments!

  18. Jeannie September 8, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    Great article! Can’t wait for the rest of the chile saga. I came to chile via curries first, then around the pepper world to Colorado’s take on Mexican food. Started small but now there is a whole drawer in the freezer full of little bags of different peppers. We’re hooked!

  19. Tiffany September 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    Such great info! :D I love chiles… and learning new things about my food. Thanks!

  20. Jeff September 6, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    mj, Wow. Great site and so informative about NM chile. I live in NM and know what it takes to get the green chile packaged and in the freezer so it can be used all year. I love green but go with red for huevos. I have tried a some of your recipes (both chile and non) and loved them. Can’t wait to try some more. The photo gallery is professional. Very impressed.

  21. Magic of Spice September 6, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    What a fun idea for a series :) I love the shot of the chilie roasting, wow I bet the aroma is amazing for sure. I personally love them all red and green…looking forward to more :)

  22. Manu September 5, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    What a great and informative post MJ! I loved reading it… I had no idea about NM chiles and I am looking forward to reading the other articles of the series! I can only imagine the aromas in the air! That would be great to smell! :-) Great pictures too, I particularly like the first one: amazing colors!

  23. mj September 5, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    WOW! Thanks everyone for all of the fantastic comments and feedback!!! It’s great to see so many chile lovers out there and people interesting in the whole NM chile thing. As many of you already know – it is a big thing here in NM. A lot of this feedback also proves the chile addiction. I look forward to hearing from you all again. I guess I need to get back to cooking! :)

  24. Diane September 5, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    One of the things I really enjoy every year, is allowing some of the chiles in a bushel to go ahead and turn red, but not start to dry out. Then I roast the red chiles, just like I do my green chiles. Or if they are done in bulk at the farmer’s market or which ever parking lot has the roasters…

    The point is, I truly love the flavour of a roasted red chile, which I have not seen many people make an effort to utilize. It is like the cherry on top, simply the best of the roasted. It tends to be a bit sweeter, and intensified flavour. Much like a sun dried tomatoe. Or more accurately, a red bell pepper, when you saute or grill them, roast them, whatever… they end up sweeter than their green cousins. Same exact peppers, but the more maturity deepens the flavours and concentrates the natural sugars within the peppers.

    I am a native NM and am saddened to hear that the numbers of chile farms is on the decline. The number of acres grown is at a frighteningly low number. We need to encourage growers and keep NM the special crop that it is.

    Much like the Vidalia Onion and the Yakima Peach, the NM Chile, particularly the Hatch Green Chile is extra special and has unique flavours you can not find anywhere else on the planet.

    • mj September 5, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

      Diane, I like the roasted red ones as well. In fact, we roasted some this afternoon! We’re really having a problem this year with the lack of water. I understand that Hatch planted cotton on a lot of its chile acreage because of the drought. So in addition to drought and the costs of farming, we have a lot smaller chile crop this year. So very sad! Good hearing from you.

  25. Glenna Huber September 5, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    This is such a great article, with so many points I was longing to know about, but didn’t know what or how to ask. I left New Mexico in my teens, so I have the tongue that is adicted to chile but no first hand experience in roasting, preparing, storing, then using chile in recipes. I’ve made my efforts at recipes, but not nearly as good as when real New Mexican cooks get at it. When I first moved to Baudette, MN on the Canadian border in 1960, the little local grocery story had to look on his frozen list to import some tortillas for me (then for the other military families that were familiar). He was surprised at how fast they were sold and had to double his order. I just bought my first bushel of freshly roasted Hatch, NM green chile from my local produce guy, who now goes every year to bring a good supply back to Granbury, TX. I would usually just buy his frozen product to use at home, and let my son do the cooking. LOL! But, I did let the chiles sweat, as instructed, then bagged them before peeling or deseeding, then froze them. I’ll try to do a better job next time, if I have the time and energy to peel before freezing. I like the heat, so do not want to take that out. I am looking forward to the rest of this series. Thanks so much for such good, practical information. I’ll definitely use it, as I definitely needed it. God bless all chile lovers!

  26. Paul House September 5, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    I’ve lived in North Carolina since 1986, born in Albuquerque, and each and EVERY year about this time I can almost smell the roasters on the corner of Isletta and Gun Club. You should see the looks I get adding green chile to grits. :)

  27. Terry September 5, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    I liked the article and even though we left nearly 30 years ago we still have to visit relatives in late August and bring back several bushels that have been roasted, seeded and frozen to make it easier to take on the plane.

  28. Alexia September 5, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    I love green chile and pretty much anything. Red chile powder I use in beans, and in tamales. So glad there are internet sites where I can order green chile, since we now live in Massachusetts. (It’s really good in chowders.) My favorite in the fall is green chile chicken soup. Get a store bought roasted chicken, take meat off, put bones into a large pan cover in water and boil. Once you get the broth add diced potatoes cook til done. Add green chile, salt, and the cut up chicken just til heated thru. Great on a cold Fall day.

  29. Kat September 5, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    That is very informative and well-written. As a new New Mexican, I have a lot to learn. I am looking forward to the rest of your series.

  30. sally September 5, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    What a great post! I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your chile series.

  31. Giulietta | Alterkitchen September 5, 2011 at 3:10 am #

    Great pictures, MJ! Those red and green are fabulous!
    And I’m looking forward to your recipes :)

  32. mj September 4, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    Thanks for the great comments everyone! Sounds like we are all crazy about chiles and have personal preferences as to “red or green”. :)

  33. Nads September 4, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    My husband and I vote Green! Both of us like the flavor better with most things and I find green easier to digest. I use poblanos exclusively for stuffing and any time a recipe calls for green pepper instead of using bells. Jim has to have his jar of pickled jalapenos with meals. You know how I love your grits and green chilis. I hope you share your recipe with the rest of us during your series.

  34. Monica @ TheYummyLife September 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Thanks so much for linking to my post about roasting chiles. We New Mexicans are of like minds. (I grew up there.) Red or green? I lean towards green, but love them both. I often end up ordering Christmas enchiladas–one red, one green. I grew up in New Mexico, and this post makes me homesick. Fabulous photos and summary of my favorite New Mexican ingredient–chiles!

    • mj September 4, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

      So great to meet you! After seeing your post on roasting chile, I had a feeling there was some New Mexican influence. :) Sorry for making you homesick. :(

  35. Joanne September 4, 2011 at 6:39 am #

    I loved this post, very informative. I LOVE cooking with chiles. They do so much for the flavor of dishes, and frankly I don’t know what I’d do without them! Personally I tend to like the flavor of red chiles more than the green, but both definitely have their place.

  36. Spoon and Chopsticks September 3, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    Nice information on red and green chillies. Looking forward to other parts of the series.

    http://spoon-and-chopsticks.blogspot.com/

  37. Sanjeeta kk September 3, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    Just posted a few recipes on Indian chili pepper Pickles…and these chillies look perfect for the pickle!

    • mj September 3, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

      I must have been looking at your chili pepper pickles post at the same time you were looking at this one! I was thinking the exact same thing! :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Quintessential Green Chile Cheeseburger | MJ's Kitchen - August 13, 2014

    […] I usually buy my fresh chile at the growers market from a couple of small, local farmers or from Sichler Farms, a farm near San Antonio, New Mexico, about an hour south of Albuquerque. Sichler has a market place set up in Albuquerque, which makes it very convenient.   All of these farmers and the ones in the southern part of the state (including the farmers in Hatch, New Mexico) grow a variety of New Mexico chile – Big Jim, Sandias, Rio Grandes, Joe E. Parkers, and others.  These chiles range from mild to very hot. To learn more about New Mexico chile, please click on over to my Red or Green? post. […]

  2. Guest Post : MJ from MJs Kitchen featuring Calabacitas - Ang Sarap - July 31, 2014

    […] a traditional dish or anything your heart desires”, it was obvious to me that something with New Mexico green chile would fit all these suggestions, and, the timing was […]

  3. Green Chile Pathiri with Pinon Nuts and Queso Fresco | MJ's Kitchen - April 23, 2014

    […] flour crepes then dipped them in egg when assembling.  For the filling – roasted, whole New Mexico green chiles from my friends at the Hatch Chile Store, toasted pinon nuts, olives, and queso fresco.  The […]

  4. Green Chile Chicken Mushroom Soup | MJ's Kitchen - February 24, 2014

    […] I used a medium chile.  If you’re not familiar with New Mexico green chile, please read my Red or Green? post.  It explains the different varieties of chile in New Mexico.  Big Jim is a common variety […]

  5. Spicy Sweet Red Pepper Soup | MJ's Kitchen - September 22, 2013

    […] in just about everything along with just eating them raw. In addition to these sweet peppers, fresh red chile peppers are now available, and the organic red bell peppers are so abundant that prices have dropped […]

  6. New Mexico Chile Wrap-up | MJ's Kitchen - July 17, 2013

    […] chile itself and its importance in New Mexico – culturally and […]

  7. Green Chile Pecan Cheese Spread | MJ's Kitchen - May 17, 2013

    […] chile – Of course I use New Mexico green chile, roasted, peeled and chopped.  I buy it in bulk and freeze it, but most of you will probably be […]

  8. Christmas Breakfast | MJ's Kitchen - November 26, 2012

    […] mentioned in my previous post – Red or Green?, when you want both red and green chile on your order all you have to say is […]

  9. New Mexico Red Chile | MJ's Kitchen - November 4, 2012

    […] those fresh red chile ristras from Red or Green?   It doesn’t take long under the New Mexico sun for them to become dried red chile. Once […]

  10. Easy Green Chile Stew and Video | MJ's Kitchen - November 1, 2012

    […] I – Red or Green? and Christmas – Red and […]

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