Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Time to roast the chiles
Originally uploaded by norvegal

"The smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us...." - Marcel Proust

A new and welcome tradition has been the arrival of green chiles on my doorstep each fall. They come straight from northern New Mexico courtesy of a generous and understanding sister in law.

If you've ever been to New Mexico in the fall, I think you'll agree that few smells in this world evoke such a sense of place as the scent of roasted green chiles. The minute that box arrives, I check my charcoal supply and get out the Ziplock bags. The clock is ticking, and I don't want to lose one single green chile before it has a chance to be roasted.

I love this ritual as much for the surprise factor as for the culinary treat it provides for an entire winter. Here in Maine you expect certain fragrances - woodsmoke and rotting leaves, primarily. But you do not expect the smell of roasting chiles.

The roasting itself is an exquisite moment. When you place these seemingly inanimate objects on a grill over extremely hot coals, they come to life. They hiss and puff, they breathe in and out, they willingly absorb the heat as they roast from the inside.

Once they're roasted, I pull them off the fire and let them continue cooking under a wet towel. There's always a sense of satisfaction when I finally close the grill lid and bring my heaping trays back inside. Once they've cooled, the chiles go into plastic bags that are dated and then set in the freezer for safekeeping.

Soon enough it will be 14 degrees outside and I will have looked at nothing but snow and grey skies for days. I'll long to get away, to go somewhere warm, somewhere...different. When that moment comes, I can pull out a bag of chiles and put them in a special dish - a chicken stew, or perhaps an omelette. And as soon as I take a bite and close my eyes, I can feel the airplane of my imagination taking off and heading west.