Posted by: cassymuronaka | August 23, 2009

Chile today, hot tamale

Roasting the chiles1

After spending the better part of Saturday waiting in line outside a local La Habra market to purchase and have roasted a giant burlap bag of New Mexico’s famed Hatch chiles, my house, which previously smelled of paint, now smells entirely of chile.

It took me through early afternoon today to skin, seed, stem, cut up, freeze, and begin dehydrating 30 lbs. of fresh roasted chiles which eventually be used in chile verde, rellenos, tamales, eggs and any other food which will be enhanced by their addition.

Eventually, I will grind up some of the dried chiles into Cassy’s soon-to-be-famous “Hatch Green Chile Powder,” which I will then sell for $1,000 an ounce to interested parties, because this is all a lot of damn work.

When I wasn’t amicably killing time exchanging recipes with other Hatch zealots outside the supermarket yesterday, I was photographing the roasting process and people in the long line that snaked around the market’s parking lot. Some enthusiasts came from 60 miles away, showing up as early as 6 am for one of the very few August Hatch chile roastings in the county.

Supposedly, this was a two-day roasting, scheduled from 8 to 2 pm each day. However the store sold all 400 bags of chiles before the roasters were even fired up. Fortunately for the late sleepers, another 300 bags arrived at 10:30. These were spoken for in less than 45 minutes.

Blackening a bag of chiles in a giant drum roaster only takes minutes. But most Hatch lovers — who are primarily from Latino families — purchase 2-3 bags. And while bags are limited to three per person, there is no cap on how many family members may individually fill their shopping cart full of chiles.

This day began short-handed on roasters and manpower. Another roaster showed up mid-day, before the natives got too restless, but unless you were one of the first in line, the average wait to get your chiles roasted was about 3-4 hours on a damp, hot day.

Waiting for chiles 1

Experienced shoppers arrived with bottles of frozen water and folding chairs. I stocked sunscreen, heavy camera equipment, a copy of Syd Field’s “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting,” and a Fresno State University “GO BULLDOGS” visor.

At one point, I talked the distracted manger of the supermarket into letting me climb onto the building’s roof, so that I could catch an aerial view of the roasting and the long line of shopping carts containing burlap bags of crisp green chiles. But I got more than I bargained for when I was presented with not one but two 20 to 25-foot narrow fire escape-type ladders to ascend. With the aid of a far younger, thinner and more nimble store employee named Vanessa, I managed to drag myself up.

Unfortunately, the roof had a 3-foot wide, burning aluminum lip. This presented too precarious a situation to photograph anything other than what the newspaper business calls “Hail Marys.” These are images are caught when you hold a camera out or aloft, prefocus it, and then pray for an image after you press the shutter button.

By the time I had painfully lowered myself down the two levels of ladders, my cart had almost arrived at Roasting Central, courtesy of watchful care of two ladies who were among those who had the foresight to bring colorful parasols, and were thoughtful enough to shoo me off to shoot photographs while they kept my place in line.

It was with no small amount of satisfaction that I finally watched my chiles tumble out of the roaster, blackened and smoking of chile oil at exactly 1:55 pm. I also felt like I’d just dodged a bullet. Because of the slowness of the operation and the late arrival of additional chiles, many of those in line had been informed by store management that they would probably have to return early Sunday to put in more hours in yet another long line. But, by the time I had loaded cameras and chiles in my trunk, I heard the far-away roars and cheers from the hot and grumbling crowd on the other side of the large parking lot. The roasting apparently would continue until the last chile had been blackened.




  1. Mmmmmmmm, Hatch long greens!

  2. very interesting and great photos. i’ve never heard of this ritual.

    • Thanks. Apparently, it was happening over New Mexico this past weekend.

  3. Is that Albertsons on the corner of Beach and Whittier? Chile roasting?! Who would have guessed! What fun. And I’m inspired by your attempted photos from the roof. I’ve just started a blog myself (but without your background in journalism), and I find myself eyeing photo vantage points and wondering if I’d be allowed up there.

    • It is indeed, Cindy. If you have any interest in either chiles or just watching the circus, they will be roasting at the Montebello Albertson’s next weekend. I may show up again, just to shoot more photos this time.

      To find out about more roastings:

      I’m on my last trays of dehydrated chiles. And the freezer is all full. I make Chile Verde tonight!

      What’s your blog address????

  4. Right now my blog address is, but the poor thing is limping along while I retool. I’ve just started a class in HTML. In the next few months I hope to move to and jazz up the format a bit with my new skills, then concentrate like mad on content.

    • Cindy,
      It’s a year later. I don’t know if you are interested, but the last Albertson’s chile roasting of the season is August 21th in La Habra again.

  5. […] year I made the commitment and lined up with several hundred people outside the La Habra market. I later wrote about my highly entertaining experience. Most of the consumers who were stocking up on up to three bags of chiles allowed per person were […]

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