Over the years we have received numerous requests for a wide variety of products that, at the time, we did not carry. The Chimayó Chile, Capsicum annuum, is one that we have been searching for, high and low, for almost 5 years, and we were thrilled when we finally tracked down a reliable supplier of this hard-to-find chile powder.
The tiny town of Chimayó is located about 25 miles North of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it is home to one of the rarest chiles in a serious chile head’s arsenal. The Chimayó chile pepper has been described as a “twisted, knotted beauty”. This is a chile that faithful chile lovers will travel for - and like its cousin, the New Mexico Hatch chile pepper, the Chimayó has an almost cult like impact on the local culture.
For years Chimayó, New Mexico has been best known for two things - the locally grown chile pepper and its “holy dirt”. Each year, more than 300,000 Hispanics, Native Americans and people of other cultures visit a small Adobe church located just outside of Chimayó. Some arrive following their faith, some because they're curious, but most are searching for a miracle cure for their physical ailments, emotional pains or illnesses. They come to scoop a reddish dirt from a small pit in the church floor that they rub on afflicted areas of their bodies.
Church workers replenish the dirt from the nearby hillsides in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It is estimated that visitors to the church carry away an estimated 25 to 30 tons of this red dirt each year.
Stories of the miracles from the church and the chile are closely linked. Since the early 1800’s, many have made the pilgrimage to the area, where they would leave with buckets of holy dirt, vials of holy water and sacks of Chimayó chiles.
The appearance and flavor of the Chimayó chiles has to do with the mountainous area in which they grow. Chimayó, New Mexico is in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. This arid area gets more than 150 days of 80°+ heat each year, while only getting 29 days of any amount of rain. The result is a chile that naturally looks sun-dried, and is often knotted or twisted. Most other chile peppers in similar heat ranges to the Chimayó chile have smooth skins. The chile matures from green to red in color.
The Chimayó chile was most likely brought to the region in the 1500’s by Spaniards. By the late 1990’s, only five elders were still growing the chiles, mostly for their friends and family. Good seed stock had dwindled over the years, and in 2003 a group of local farmers and activists created the Chimayó Chile Project. This quasi cooperative has more than 50 growers who are sharing seed stock and mentoring young farmers on how to best grow this heirloom chile.
Earthier and smokier than New Mexico Hatch chiles, they also aren’t as buttery smooth as the Hatch chile. The Chimayó Chile’s flavor is complex with a noticeable depth and richness, as well as hints of citrus.
Seeds and stems were removed prior to grinding to rid the powder of any bitterness.
These are considered a medium heat chile and come in at 4,000 to 6,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units).
Why have we had so many requests for this almost magical chile? It makes an out-of-this-world blood red sauce. The best description I came across was, ‘when adding a couple of spoons of Chimayó Red Chile Powder to a little salt and water, it creates a sauce that brings to mind an all-in-one mole sauce. It’s dark and gleaming like red river mud, and almost sparkles as if flakes of gold have been stirred in.’
We like to add this Chimayó “sauce” to grilled chicken, steak and vegetables. It also works well in a New Mexican style skillet stir fry.
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