Late summer is my favorite time of year. Mornings are brisk, but it warms up by mid-morning. Leaves are beginning to turn colors, but they are still on the trees. But my favorite thing? The aroma of chile peppers.
If you live in the southwest United States, chile roasters are a common sight at farmers’ market or even a grocery store parking lot on the weekend. The intoxicating aroma of freshly roasted peppers waft through the air. Oh the excitement of selecting the variety of pepper and quantity (typically in bushel, half bushel, and even quarter bushel). The peppers are dumped into the cylindrical roaster and then the magic happens. The burners are turned up, the roaster begins to turn, and if you listen closely, you can hear the peppers hiss and pop as the skins begin to blister. After about five minutes, the chiles are placed into a bag for you to take home and enjoy.
This got me thinking, could I do something similar at home? Sure… I know that the chiles could be placed in a pan, drizzled with oil, and then roasted in an oven until the skin begins to blister. The roasting process takes longer and the resulting flavor is nice, but could the flavor be enhanced in a home setting? I looked around at my options: conventional oven and toaster oven, but surely there had to be something else available? My search took me outside and there I saw it. The smoker!
Getting the process down of smoking a chile compared to oven roasting took some trial and error. First, the wood was soaked in water since I wanted a slightly smokey flavor. Then after the wood was placed in the smoker, the chiles were rubbed with a little peanut oil. After the smoker began to smoke, chiles were carefully placed on the rack and the lid put back into place to help retain the smoke. After about six minutes, the chiles were turned using a pair of tongs and the lid put back in place. The chiles were checked again six to seven minutes later and there they were fully smoked! The skin was discolored and blistered, just like roasted. Many batches later, the timing worked out to approximately 10 – 15 minutes of total smoking time. Just make sure the chiles aren’t soaked with oil, otherwise there will be flare ups in the smoker and you could end up burning the chiles rather than smoking them.
If your smoker temperature can be set, aim for the 200F.
Once the chiles have cooled to the touch, the task of peeling them and removing seeds was the next step. Peeling them was just as easy as if they had been roasted. Start at one end of the chile where the skin has blistered up and gently pull. The skin should slip away. If there are no openings in the skin, carefully tear a hole in the skin. Once you have removed as much of the skin as possible, make a slit from the stem end of the chile down towards end. (Since these chiles will not be used for Chile Rellenos, I open the pepper completely and remove the membrane and seeds.
The true test was the taste. Not only did the chiles have a wonderful smokey flavor, but the aroma was slightly smokey as well. But with such a short time in the smoker, the smoke flavor did not mask the flavor of the chile pepper. Even eaten by themselves, the smoked chiles tasted great. Now I can imagine using them in green chili, soups, stews, Eggs Ranchero, posole, tortilla pinwheels, or even mixed into scrambled eggs.
Smoking chiles is a great alternative to roasting. It is easy to do. It takes less time than if you roasted chiles in the oven. The smoke provides a nice, subtle flavor. And you can do this at home. Give it a try. The only thing better than a roasted chile is a smoked chile! Enjoy.