Roasting and Peeling Fresh Chile Peppers

Jackson Ortega-Scheiner Cooking with Chiles Leave a Comment

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Roasting and Peeling Chiles

Certain large fresh chiles, such as New Mexico green chiles and poblano chiles, have a tough outer skin that must be removed before using. The only practical way to remove the skin is to apply heat to the chile so that the skin blisters and pulls away from the meat of the chile. It then becomes easy to peel off the skin. There are several different methods of blistering chiles, and all of them work well. The decision on how to blister depends on what kind of equipment is available, as well as the number of chiles to be blistered.

The first step is to choose your heat source. Oven broilers work well, but seem to require sitting on the floor for extended periods of time if you’re working with any quantity of chile. We recommend that you get the chile right up under the flame or you’ll be there for a day or two trying to roast even 10 pounds. Stove top burners (both gas and electric) also do a good job if covered with some heavy wire mesh. We recommend using a stove top grill which is made especially for this purpose. The drawback here is the small number of chiles that can be blistered at one time. We use this heat source frequently when we have just a few chiles to roast.

Roasting chiles on a grill

Using a gas torch and tongues

Blistering the pods in a deep fryer

Roasting chiles on a grill: Efficient
for a larger number of chiles

Using a gas torch and tongs:
Great for single pods

Blistering the pods in a deep
fryer: Less flavorful, but it works

Outdoor grills are one of the best ways to roast chile. It is easy to regulate the heat, and a large number of chiles can be blistered at the same time. We like to make an event out of our chile roasting; we fire up the charcoal or gas grill, chill down a six-pack, turn on some music, and spend an afternoon roasting our winter supply. Chile roasters, which are usually not available outside of New Mexico or the Southwest, are the fastest and easiest of all. These machines feature a squirrel-type cage for the chiles along with one or more burners hooked into a tank of propane. Larger models are motor driven. If using a roaster, we recommend that the chiles be blistered slowly, however, to allow the chile’s natural sugar to caramelize, which will improve the chile’s taste.

Propane-fired, mortor-driven commercial chile roaster



Propane-fired, motor-driven commercial chile roaster


Once you’ve decided on your heat source, it’s time to start the heat and prepare the chiles. If they need it, wash off the chiles and let them dry. This will prevent any dust or dirt from getting on the edible part of the chile when they are peeled. Cut a small slit in the side of each chile before placing it on the fire. If you forget this step, the chiles will remind you by exploding with a loud pop, shooting their seeds (some of which can be very hot!) five or six feet in every direction. Not every chile will do this, but it is a good idea to keep a knife handy and simply stab every chile as you throw it on the fire.

As you roast the chiles, keep flipping them over to make sure that they are not burning. You will actually be able to see the skin blistering–even blackening somewhat–and pulling away from the meat of the chile. Whether or not you see that occur, it is important to brown virtually the entire chile in order to easily remove the skin. Don’t be timid–the chiles can take a lot of heat before burning; on the other hand, we are merely blistering the chiles, not incinerating them.

A perfectly roasted chile



A perfectly roasted chile


After the chiles are well blistered, place them in a large bowl and cover with a damp towel. This will “steam” the chiles a bit, and will make peeling them infinitely easier. Or, you can place the hot roasted chiles in a heavy plastic bag which will assure easy peeling. Allow the chiles to cool off under the towel or in the bag (30 to 90 minutes) and peeling will be a breeze. You can also avoid scorching your fingers, because blistered chiles right off the grill are hot little critters! (For crisper chiles, plunge them into ice water after roasting. This will stop any further cooking of the roasted pods.)

Steaming chiles in a plastic bag



Steaming chiles in a plastic bag for easy peeling


After the chiles have cooled down, it’s time for the final step. If you’ve done a good job of roasting your chiles, peeling them is fast and easy. Simply start at either end, and pull off the skin. We generally pull from the tip back towards the stem, but it depends on the roasting job. Occasionally, you will run into problems with the deep indentations; it is hard to blister those “valleys” without burning the surrounding areas. In these cases, you simply have to go in with a knife and scrape off any remaining skin.

Peeling the steamed chiles



Peeling the steamed chiles


Because the hotter varieties of green chile are thinner fleshed than the mild ones, it is difficult to peel them and come up with an intact pod. They tend to tear and split apart during the peeling process. If you are going to chop the chile before using, it really doesn’t matter if the pods split. If you want chiles to stuff, however, this can be a disaster. To produce intact, roasted and peeled green chile pods, simply start with mild chile pods, which have much thicker flesh.

At this point, most people like to cut off the stem and remove the seeds. The easiest method is to simply cut off the very top of the chile along with the stem, and then scrape the seeds out of the open end. (Removing the seeds will cause a slight loss of pungency because they are attached to the placental tissue. If you really want to reduce the firepower, you can also remove the veins (the placental tissue) that run the length of the chile and serve to attach the seeds to the pod.) You’ve now completed the whole process and have a chile that is ready to eat, cook with, or freeze.

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