Chile’s heat can be hard to handle

By Grant McGee: Local columnist

The smell of green chiles roasting — ahh, it’s in the air now.

I was walking by a Clovis supermarket the other day and had a whiff of those chiles turning round and round over an open flame. It’s one of my favorite New Mexico aromas along with pinon smoke on a crisp fall evening and that glorious smell of the grasslands when it rains.

New Mexico’s chiles and I have had a close relationship ever since I got here years ago. It’s the flavor, it’s the heat.
How much heat can I handle? Better than some folks, not as well as others.

The first red sauce that ever set me on fire was at Sadie’s, a Mexican food restaurant in Albuquerque. I ordered Carne Adovada, pork hunks marinated in red chile sauce sounded mighty fine to me.

With my first bite I knew I was in trouble. Suddenly I was sweating, I couldn’t get enough water, my tongue was on fire. My dinner pals quickly called for a glass of milk and some sour cream. The milk cooled my innards and the sour cream eased the heat in what felt like an atom bomb crater on my tongue.

Santa Fe’s Old Mexico Grill was where I had my next chile adventure. I didn’t get that memo about some chiles are for eating and some chiles are just supposed to be a garnish for your entrée.

So when my main course came I sliced off the tip of the tiny dark green chile pepper on the plate, thinking it would go well with the meat.

The heat of the red chile sauce at Sadie’s had nothing on this little pepper. I had just met up with a Serrano chile. Flaming spicy heat roared through my nostrils, eyeballs and brain. The head waiter and two assistants ran over when they saw I was having some kind of problem. They thought I was choking. They ran back with chile-burn first aid: milk and sour cream.

Then there was that time when my momma came to visit her boy out in New Mexico and I exposed her to the “joys” of chile. I was so excited she was coming to the Great American Southwest to pay me a visit. I picked her up at the Albuquerque Sunport and immediately headed for a Mexican food joint.

“You’ve gotta try this green chili, Mom,” I told her.

We pulled up to one of those native New Mexican fast food places that dot the Duke City.

“I want your mildest stuffed sopapilla,” I asked the woman behind the counter. The lady even let me try some of the chili meat. It didn’t seem hot to me.

But the moment Mom bit into that stuffed sopapilla she started turning red and sweating. She looked at me with big, wide-open eyes. It was a look that said, “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO YOUR MOMMA?!”

I went back to the counter and got some sour cream for my mom. I finished what was left of her sopapilla then took her to a hamburger place for some regular chow.

I was born back east and from time to time I miss family, woods and rolling mountains. But I know if I lived back there I couldn’t get good green chile or a decent red sauce. They’re a couple of the big reasons I stay right here in the Land of Enchantment.

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: