Marilee Figueroa checks on spicy green chiles roasting in a motorized drum fitted with propane burners in front of Ace at the Curve on Friday. Roasting brings out the flavor of the chiles and makes it easy to remove their skins.

Photo by Tom Ross

Marilee Figueroa checks on spicy green chiles roasting in a motorized drum fitted with propane burners in front of Ace at the Curve on Friday. Roasting brings out the flavor of the chiles and makes it easy to remove their skins.

Tom Ross: Canned green chiles could never compete with the freshly roasted version you can buy in Steamboat

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

— This is that special time of year when Steamboat households can stock up on freshly roasted green chiles that will enrich the flavors of stews, soups and Mexican dishes throughout the long Steamboat winters. But chile season only lasts another eight weeks.

Yes, you can pick up a tiny can of Anaheim chiles any time you go to the grocery store, and I still do that. You also can partake of the fresh chili goodness by roasting your own peppers on the barbecue grill or under the broiler in your oven. But you have to constantly turn them with tongs while they blister. And you’ll never roast them as easily nor remove the skins as efficiently as you will with roasted chiles purchased through mid-autumn from a local vendor.

If you haven’t caught on to this early-autumn tradition (there’s no denying it, the blackbirds are beginning to fly around town in large flocks), I suggest you jump on it.

Katherine Zambrana, of Sweet Pea Market and Cafe, said her dining establishment is serving a Palisade corn Anaheim chile bisque that has proven very popular. Sweet Pea roast the chiles in house and also will fill special orders of bulk roasted peppers for people who can’t get enough.

“I just filled an order for a bushel of roasted poblano peppers for a customer,” Zambrana said.

If you haven’t sampled the mysteriously smokey flavor of a freshly roasted poblano chile, you are missing out on a tradition that stretches from Southern New Mexico all the way north to Colorado. Chile roasters are commonplace on vacant commercial lots in metro Denver this time of year.

Your neighborhood hardware store might not be the place you think of first when you want to buy food that’s been grown closer to home. But this is the time of year to make a trip to Ace at the Curve for a paper sack of hex bolts and nuts and a still-warm bag of Big Jim chiles freshly roasted by Marilee Figueroa. Her business is Chile Divas, but for right now, it’s Chile Diva singular.

Marilee's late husband, Al, who died in 2007, got her started roasting chiles in Steamboat at Sweet Pea after they moved here from Phoenix, where he spent most of his life. Al worked at Ace at the Curve, and after his death, Marilee continued the tradition with one major change: She purchased a motor-driven roasting tumbler.

“People are fascinated with the roaster,” Marilee said Friday. “Al had a hand-powered roaster. I don’t know how he did it. You can’t do anything else. You’ve got to keep turning the roaster!”

Figueroa orders Colorado-grown chiles from Mauro Farms in Pueblo, but the farm also sells her significant amounts of Hatch peppers from New Mexico. The Anaheims are mild, the Big Jims are medium, the New Mexico peppers are hot, and the New Mexico Gold peppers are extra hot.

It only takes five minutes to char the peppers in the motorized roaster, and don’t let the blackened peppers fool you: They aren’t burned, and the blackened skin washes off easily under the kitchen faucet.

The Hatch region of New Mexico is one of the epicenters of chile farming in the United States. Of course, Anaheim chiles are grown in California, but the vast fields of chiles that carpet the farmlands surrounding Deming, N.M., feel more connected to Colorado. And there are chilies grown near Pueblo and on the Western Slope in Delta County.

Roasted peppers freeze well, and Marilee has a tip: If you freeze them individually on a cookie sheet or pizza pan, they won’t freeze together into a solid block. After you rinse off the charred skins and before you freeze the peppers, remove the seeds and the little bit of pulp.

Figueroa will be selling her fresh roasted peppers into the middle of October for $7 per 14- to 16-ounce bag or $20 for three bags.

I know that if I dice a Big Jim pepper into a pot of tomatillo pork stew on a long February night in 2014, it will take me back to the golden days of autumn 2013.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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