Thursday, August 31, 2006

I Can Actually Say I Love Something about New Mexico

Despite the amount that I mock New Mexico, I did live there for five years and there are actually things that I miss about the place, not the least of which is the police and drinking. But this is not about drunk cops. Living in Texas, the two primary cuisines are barbecue and Tex-Mex. Barbecue, excepting the possibilities of Kansas City and Memphis, is done better nowhere. Tex-Mex is a good dining option, don’t get me wrong. But I miss spice and flavor in combination. Chili powder and Tobasco can only add so much to a dish.

A couple of nights ago, a friend of mine asked me for use of my grill to roast some raw New Mexico chiles he had bought from the primarily Hispanic grocery store we shop at (if you want twenty pounds of tripe and beef tongue, there’s only one place to go). I’d never really roasted chiles en masse, but it seemed like fun and he promised free chiles, so he brought over a fifteen pound burlap sac full of beautiful peppers. After letting some of them grill for a second, the air was filled with a scent I hadn’t smelled in a long time. It was Proust’s synesthesia in action. I was on Palace Ave in summer buying a pretty mediocre looking breakfast taco; mediocre, that is, until the seller opened the cart and ladled a pile of steaming green chile, whose fumes made me tear up, over the rubbery eggs. New Mexicans are alchemists; they can turn crap to gold with a simple sauce. Amazing.

So, we roasted the chiles and drank a lot of Busch; I burned my hand a little over the exceedingly hot flame and picked out the best looking specimens (especially the ones that hadn’t gone all the way red yet and were orange, looking like little burned carrots) to eat fresh off the grill. Raw, hot chile is such a great experience. First, a subtle flavor, then the heat kicks in and the endorphins from the pain start pumping and you have to sit down. Got a couple pounds of chiles and some good nostalgia out of the deal, to boot.

Anyway, it was nice to remember one of the really fantastic things about a place that, looking back, I’m shocked I didn’t run screaming from after my first year.