New Mexico is known to be hot and it’s know for its chilies, also known to be hot; a specific red and green variety grown here that are unique among chilies. But the chilies here are not like what you get around the U.S. The wonderful thing about New Mexico is the variation, intensity and unique flavors of the chilies grown here.
In Santa Fe, the chilies are ubiquitous, but that doesn’t mean the food is rehashed standard dishes with a sauce slathered on top. Nearly every place in New Mexico thrives on its chilies, mainly the Hatch variety, and yes they impart a unique flavor. Nearly every waiter will ask the age-old question; red or green, meaning which chilie do you want on your food? Though the Hatch chilies are the most common and mass produced they are still very tasty and they are never uniform, the flavors will always be slightly different. The lesser available Chimayo chilies grown near Santa Fe in the small town of Chimayo are the top of the line. It is these chilies which best reflect the regional food since they only grow here. Chimayo chilies are erratic, meaning they can vary in flavor, heat, spice and intensity, which is actually part of the allure, as they truly reflect a sense of where they are grown. But overall they have a hint of sweetness, a lot of spiciness and more earthy grounded flavors unlike the standard Hatch. Chilies that are not picked green are vine-ripen until they turn a brick red color. Then they are dried and strung into long chains called ristras, which you’ll see throughout Santa Fe and New Mexico.
In Santa Fe, the Table de los Santos restaurant, located inside the Hotel St. Francis, is one of the best spots to find creative food using Chimayo chilies. When Chef Estevan Garcia, a New Mexico native, first started his career his early success was with Ste. Estephe in Newport Beach, California, and he was one of the pioneers of Southwestern cuisine. Garcia relocated back to Santa Fe, and gets to ply his trade at Tabla de los Santos with his fine dining approach (and a killer organic goat milk flan), and at the recently opened Hotel Chimayo, with his version of rustic, pueblo-village food, though still infused with Chimayo chilies. Around Santa Fe you’ll see traditional dishes like tamales served with red or green chile, guacamole, pinto beans and calabacitas, a traditional Southwestern blend of sautéed corn, squash, onions and peppers, and the ever popular chile relleno. But all these foods are elevated by Chimayo chilies.
But chilies also find their way into cocktails which really should not surprise anyone. There is a creative bent on making new drinks which reflect a sense of place and using the chilies as a noticeable component of the drink, not merely a garnish. This is best expressed by Secreto Bar located inside the St. Francis Hotel in downtown Santa Fe, with a drink they call the Agave Way by mixologist Chris Milligan. The Secreto Bar has become a hip gathering hot spot for locals and tourists and it’s an energetic spot to cool off. Using local chilies, their signature drink has a little heat and a lot of flavor. So when in Santa Fe, eat up and drink up with Chimayo chilies and you’ll be hot and cool all at the same time.
By Michael Cervin, www.CervinsCentralCoast.blogspot.com