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A Master Chile Roaster Shares Secrets of the Trade

The Chile Konnection, 1136 Broadway Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87102, chile and other produce, (505) 242-8601, $, Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 8am to 4pm

By Max B. Mangè

The Paper. spoke with Francisco Arredondo, owner and head roaster at Martineztown’s beloved chile and produce market, The Chile Konnection, to learn how a master roaster flames chiles to perfection. Francisco (or Pancho, as he is known across Albuquerque and beyond) has been roasting chile for over forty years. He and his wife Socorro opened Chile Konnection back in 1984. The roasting season is starting to wrap up, but chile connoisseurs can still find the finest selections of red and green chile, ristras, local pinto beans, chicos and all manner of spicy products at their shop. Bring cash, as cards are not accepted. A heartfelt thanks goes out to Francisco and Socorro’s daughter Janet for assisting with translation when my espanglish was found wanting.

The Paper.: Where are you sourcing your chile from this year? Which variety is the spiciest?

Francisco Arredondo: We have chiles from Hatch and Lemitar. The Hatch varieties are Big Jim, 6-4, Sandia Hot and the Barker. From Lemitar we have the Big Jim Medium, Sandia Hot, Ms. Junie and the Extra Hot. The hottest batch that we roast is a special blend of Big Jim Hot from Hatch with some habaneros thrown in and all roasted together. It is super-hot, no joke.

What does an experienced roaster know to do when operating the roasting machine?

You need to start at very high heat and watch the chiles closely. As soon as the skin has turned just a little bit brown, like after around one minute of high-flame [shrill whistle signifying “cut it”], you turn the flame down. And then after around two to three minutes, the chile will already be cooked. If you leave the flame too high the chiles won’t cook correctly. After you cut the flame, you should give it around twenty more seconds rotating and they are ready.

When you were a youth, just starting off in your chile-roasting career, what was the most challenging thing to master?

Back in the day, we didn’t have the motors. It was all done manually. So, I had to actually rotate the roaster and operate the flames. I got to where I could operate two roasters, by hand, at the same time. You need to be very careful to make sure that the flames are good, so the skin doesn’t burn.

Do you have any advice for our readers on how to most efficiently and effectively peel and clean their freshly roasted green chile?

After the chiles are roasted you should leave them in the sealed plastic bag for an hour. Open the bag and the heat will escape. By doing this and then cleaning the skins should slip right off. A lot of people like to use a glove. Some people just use their bare hands.

Have there been any challenges with the pandemic during this roasting season?

With the business, no. But out in the fields, things are hard. They don’t have pickers. Sometimes they only have two or three pickers on each farm right now.

Do you prefer roasting the first summer crop, the late-summer or the fall crop? Which is better for eating?

I like the second pick. By the third pick, the chiles become smaller. During the first harvest they haven’t gotten firm enough.

Do you, personally, eat more red or green chile?

Green, green, green. It does depend on what you are using them for, but in truth I have ulcers and the green doesn’t give me as many problems.

Lastly, do you have any thoughts on the claims by some of our neighbors to the north in Colorado that they have better green chile?

In all the world they have preferred the taste of what we grow here in New Mexico. No matter where: Roswell, Hatch, Las Cruces, Lemitar, Socorro or Portales. We have the best, because we have the flavor that people know and love.