Yesterday, I processed fire-roasted chile peppers and contemplated the raging wildfires in the drought-stricken West. For days, a haze has been hanging over the Colorado Front Range. The foothills are scarcely a mile from our home, yet have lacked their usual clarity lately.
Colorado has seen its fair share of wildfires in recent years. But these smoke particles have traveled hundreds of miles from dozens of fires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and California. Since last night, breezes and rain have cleared the air significantly, at least for the time being.
Summer has been hanging on, dry and hot. Earlier this week our thermometer hit 97 °F. The morning temperature inside our house is usually tolerable in the morning, thanks to cool Colorado nights. But by 10:30 a.m. yesterday, warm winds wafted through the screen behind the sink as I diced peppers. I rinsed my gloves and closed the window to ward off the heat. The hotness emanating from the peppers was enough for me.
Here's the thing about chiles. You can smell how hot they are long before you taste them. Disposable gloves were definitely in order to handle these peppers.
Last Saturday on our farmers market run, we picked up Budapest chiles that had been fire roasted at the market. I had never heard of them before, and the vendor described them as medium hotness. I have since researched Budapest chiles online, and they seem to be hybrid of Hungarian wax peppers, which have a wide range of hotness.
When harvest season comes, I purchase three to four 1-quart bags of fire-roasted peppers to process as an ingredient in winter soups and stews. Roasting over an open fire imparts a smoky flavor that trumps roasting peppers in the oven at home. Besides, who wants to turn up the oven to 450 °F in 90-degree weather? I guess I could roast chiles over an outdoor grill, but I'm all for shortcuts. If you do want to crank up the oven, here's a step-by-step process for roasting and freezing chile peppers that I wrote several years ago. However, since then I have made a few improvements to the process, so read on.
I've found a straightforward way to dice the chiles. Slice them in half vertically, removing the stem and seed. Then stack the halves in the same direction.
This positioning makes quick work of dicing, allowing for further vertical and then horizontal cuts.
The diced chiles then go into a sauce pan with minced garlic. In my previously posted rendition, I suggested simmering 2-3 hours and using a potato masher. I now simmer the peppers about an hour and forego the masher. Shortcuts! Then I let the chiles cool and spoon them into ice cube trays for freezing. I pop the frozen cubes into a freezer-safe storage bag and store in the freezer until needed. Depending on the dish and the chile heat index, I use two to four cubes per dish.
Yesterday, while the chiles were simmering, I ran the seeds and stems through the garbage disposal.
Then I imagined what it would be like to be Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, as my nostrils filled with peppery heat. More than likely, most of the hotness went down the drain with the seeds. But there was an unmistakable heavenly fieriness wafting from the simmering pot on the stove. I'll play it safe with my first stew made with these chile cubes.
Let's hope snow is just around the corner for the western states.
Note: I attended an inspiring International Association of Culinary Professionals webinar yesterday about writing a food memoir. The speakers were Molly Wizenberg, author of the blog Orangette, and publishing editor and Top Chef Masters judge Frances Lam. Among their many suggestions was to give your story context beyond food.