As a native New Mexican, every fall I have been accustomed to seeing lots of red chile ristras decorating what seems like every street corner beginning in September. Earlier, the signs of the New Mexican chile season are apparent, with the scent of fresh chile roasting becoming almost ubiquitous in cities like Albuquerque.
What is a chile ristra?
A chile ristra is a very common way of drying red chile for later use in New Mexico. It has been dried this way for many generations, but more and more people buy them simply to use as decorations. Personally, I would never use chile simply as a way to decorate, as the flavor they possess is usually fantastic.
In my experience, a chile ristra which is kept well can look great for at least two years. The flavor of the chile doesn’t really fade too much in that time, as it is whole. It keeps its flavor much longer than a red chile powder typically would.
My favorite dishes to make with the red chile that I take off from the bottom of the ristra are posole and carne adobada, pork stewed in red chile. Posole, which is the name for both nixtamalized corn and a hearty soup is a wonderful winter food in both New Mexico and old Mexico.
How to buy chile ristras
My favorite place to get ristras has always been Farmers Chile Market, as they are made with sandia chile, which has a great heat level for most cooking. I’ve heard that they will start shipping in 2022, so hopefully that will be useful for people looking to buy ristras in states besides New Mexico.
Check here if you are looking for a guide to cook up a delicious New Mexican green chile sauce.
If you want to know more about the addictive, delicious and nutritious staple food, check out my post New Mexico Chile Culture too.