Green chile roasting season is to New Mexico as berry season is to the Pacific Northwest: a joyous time of year celebrating local flavor, food, and culture, best enjoyed outdoors. Throughout August and September, in grocery store parking lots around New Mexico,freshly harvested green chiles are tumble-roasted over roaring flames in large, barrel-like circular drums, infusing the crisp fall air with a smokey, spicy scent. It’s a smell New Mexicans crave; chile is an integral, beloved part of the local cuisine and culture. For New Mexicans who move out of state, as this reporter did, it’s a smell and time of year you desperately miss.
Luckily, a local company is making sure this Portland transplant, and others like her, are able to get their green chile fix.
For nearly a decade, the St. Johns–based Los Roast has been bringing this cherished New Mexico culinary and cultural tradition to the Pacific Northwest with their annual roasting season.
“Roasting is this spectacular experience; it’s a whole show with the flames and the smell,” says founder and Santa Fe, New Mexico, native Marshall Berg. After moving to Portland for college, Berg started Los Roast in 2012 when he noticed Portland’s lack of green chile, even at Southwestern food spots like the now-closed Nuevo Mexico food truck.
“It’s our portal back to New Mexico ... and a great way to introduce more people to it,” says roasting season manager Carson Smith, who originally hails from Albuquerque.
For a brief period in the late summer, Portlanders can head to Los Roast's warehouse near Cathedral Park to enjoy the smells and sounds of their roasting machines (which Berg designed and developed himself and sells as a side-business called A La Maquina! Roasters) and take home bags of roasted green chiles to make everything from classic New Mexico dishes like burritos and tamales to toppings for mac and cheese or burgers.
“It’s a staple,” says Smith. “It makes simple foods like eggs so much better; it really elevates them.”
Sourcing its chiles from several family farms around southern New Mexico, this year Los Roast is bringing about a thousand pounds’ worth of fresh green chiles for roasting, with heat levels of mild, medium, and hot. The varieties vary each year depending on what the farmers are growing, but popular ones include 1907 (mild), Big Jim (medium/hot), and Ms. Junie (hot). Smith says that their best-selling heat level is medium.
Outside of New Mexico, these green chiles are sometimes referred to as Hatch chiles in reference to the Hatch Valley’s famous products. But Los Roast calls its chiles by the more scientifically accurate name of New Mexican chile (Capsicum annuum 'New Mexico Group'), a cultivar group that encompasses 50 different varieties. These chiles are descended from heritage types grown by Pueblo and Hispano communities before being developed into today’s distinct varieties by Dr. Fabián García and researchersin the late 1800s at what is now New Mexico State University, including the heirloom New Mexico no. 9.
Both red and green chile originate from the same plant, but green chiles are harvested underripe for roasting, while those left on the plants turn red and dry out to be turned into chile ristras (hanging red chile pods strung together) or ground up for use in cooking.
In addition to the brief roasting season, Los Roast makes small-batch traditional New Mexico red and green chile sauces, salsas, and chopped chiles year-round, available online or at local stores including New Seasons. Its green chile can also be found on the menus at restaurants including Scottie’s Pizza Parlor and Ex Novo Brewing, and even in local beer, like Salem-based, Latinx-owned Xicha Brewing’s 505 Pale Ale.
Preorders for this year’s reserved roasting are now open for time slots on the following dates: August 20, 21, 25, 27, and 28, and September 1, 3, and 4. Order sizes are a peck for $25 (5–7 lbs), half bushel for $50 (10 lbs), and a full bushel (20 lbs) for $75.
If you want to do as New Mexicans do, order the largest amount you can fit in your freezer to last until the next roasting season. Or be peak New Mexican and get another freezer specifically for green chile.
Los Roast will also be doing some first-come, first-serve roastings at supermarkets and events around the Portland area. Dates are not yet confirmed, but follow Los Roast on Instagram @losroast to learn more.