Word on the heat: Forget the controversy, enjoy your chiles

Green chile is region’s signature food, with no shortage of controversy

Bob Wooley
bwooley@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/19/21

Hatch, Pueblo, Anaheim or an upstart from Greeley — Coloradans have differences of opinion on who grows green chiles best. But when it comes to the state’s love for the spicy fruit (yes, fruit), …

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Word on the heat: Forget the controversy, enjoy your chiles

Green chile is region’s signature food, with no shortage of controversy

Posted

Hatch, Pueblo, Anaheim or an upstart from Greeley — Coloradans have differences of opinion on who grows green chiles best. But when it comes to the state’s love for the spicy fruit (yes, fruit), there’s not much debate to be found.

What you can find, almost everywhere, are green chile burgers, green chile burritos, green chiles in chocolate and wine. There’s green chile salsa, green chile sausages, chips with green chile and lime. But according to Eddie V., (last name withheld) originally from Pueblo, but calling Denver home for decades, for the true connoisseur, a bowl of green chile with a side of warm flour tortillas is all you’ll ever need. 

New Mexico, let’s face it, is the 800-pound gorilla in the green chile game, with the tiny village of Hatch creating a smoky mystique from coast to coast. But Colorado has been making a respectable showing with the Mirasol, or Mosco chile, aka the Pueblo chile, grown in, you guessed it, Pueblo.

To say green chiles are popular in the city of Pueblo would be a notable understatement. Home to the Chile and Frijoles Festival, and perennial but friendly foe of the folks down in Hatch, the Southern Colorado city can claim serious chile cred. But about four hours north and a little bit east, Greeley is trying to get a piece of the action.

“My mother grew up on a farm, and wanted a produce stand when she was a child, and her dad said no. Then, when she got married, she still wanted one, and my father said no. When he died, she told my brother she wanted one, and he asked me what we should do, and I said: ‘Build her a produce stand!” said Tigges Farm’s Kathy Rickart.

Rickart comes from a Greeley family farm that goes back three generations. Pumpkins are the big cash crop at Tigges Farm, but if she has her way, Northern Colorado will, some day, compete with Pueblo for green chile glory — maybe even with Hatch. Rickart, with a background in 4-H education, developed her love of the green chile while spending seven years living and working in Bernalillo County, New Mexico. Her brother, Kenneth Tigges, was running the family farm at that point — growing chiles without much local demand, when a neighbor told him he needed to start roasting them onsite, which was a game-changer.

In 2008, Rickart’s mother passed away. At that time, Rickart, her sister, Gale, and her brother officially took over the farm. They planted 5,000 chile plants that year. They’ve since quadrupled that number, and Rickart has sought out every bit of knowledge about green chiles she can find. Last year, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said gave them their share of difficulties, her farm sold out of chiles, Sahuaro by name, completely. The season is shorter up north than in the warmer climes of New Mexico, so don’t dawdle if you aim to try a Greeley chile in the fall.

“As soon as we get the hard freezes, it puts an end to the season,” Rickart said. “Mother Nature rules, from beginning to end.”

The fabled Santiago’s

Carmen Morales knows a few things about green chile, and green chiles. Morales founded Santiago’s. Her mother’s green chile recipe put the restaurant on the metro area’s culinary map 30 years ago. Now, with more than 28 locations, Santiago’s is virtually synonymous with breakfast burritos. But the green chile, she said, still reigns supreme. Morales’ parents were originally from New Mexico, where she said her mom learned to cook.

“My dad had to have green chile at every meal or he would refuse to eat,” she said. “To him, it wasn’t really a meal without it.”

So, her mom would make it from scratch every day. Morales said that scratch kitchen tradition continues to this day at every Santiago’s location. And when you see the numbers — the sheer volume of product they’re creating — it puts into perspective, what a massive undertaking it is.

“One year we purchased 1.8 million pounds of green chiles,” Morales said, “and sold 1.36 million gallons of green chile.”

Santiago’s gets all of those green chiles from Salem, New Mexico, not the storied Hatch. Morales says the farm they buy from is the only one they’ve found capable of producing what her restaurants need. 

Santiago’s celebrated the 30th anniversary of their flagship location in Brighton earlier this month.

On the topic of things that are wildly popular in this state, Tommyknocker has been brewing craft beer in Idaho Springs for 26 years. Brewmaster Steve Indrehus has been there the entire time, creating beer with hints of chocolate, pumpkin and citrus, but a mainstay, and the No. 2 seller in the lineup, is their Green Chile Lager. Other breweries make chile brews too, but Indrehus thinks drinkability is what sets Tommyknocker’s apart from the rest.

“A lot of the others are really hot and in the novelty category,” he said. 

“Ours has green chile flavor and warmth, but it’s drinkable. We want people to drink one and want another, not get burned up by too much spice, too much alcohol — everything comes together to make a really nice balanced beer.”

Indrehus said it takes about 100 pounds of chiles — a blend of mild and hot Anaheims — to make every batch of lager.

Scented, not spicy

Beer’s not your bag? Green chile lovers who prefer a touch of the grape, rejoice. 

Lescombes Vineyard has you covered. The New Mexico winery has been making Hatch Green Chile Wine since the late 1980s. Sandra Pacheco, national sales director at Lescombes, said the wine isn’t spicy. 

“It’s more in the bouquet,” she said. “You’re getting the heat from the aroma, like the essence of a roasted chile, in the nose of the wine.”

Several stores in the metro area stock Hatch Green Chile Wine, if you’re so inclined.

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