The 21st annual Pueblo Chile and Frijoles festival hit the streets of Pueblo over the weekend with a celebration of Colorado's finest chiles. The three-day festival blocked off streets and filled downtown Pueblo with trinket hawkers, political booths, heavy-metal cover bands — and, most important, the intoxicating aroma of hundreds of bushels of chiles being roasted over open flames.
There were plenty of cooks serving up green chiles in many different forms: battered and fried; stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon; nestled inside tortillas — some deep-fried and bacon-wrapped; stirred into green chile stew; and even cut into chunks and mixed into funnel-cake batter. There were smothered burritos, Mexican hamburgers, sloppers (the Pueblo invention that's drawn national attention), and simple salsas made with nothing but roasted chiles and salt.
But the main attraction for those who know their chiles was the farmers' market selling a rainbow variety of peppers. Musso Farms, well known to Southern Coloradans for Italian sausage palace Musso's Restaurant (on Pueblo's eastern edge), had the most visible presence, but other farms — Di Tomaso, Milberger, Peppers Plus — were fire-roasting locally grown chiles and selling tomatoes, onions, squash, garlic and lots of other produce from the fall harvest.
The Pueblo, or Mirasol, chile is a meaty, fruity variety that peels easily and stands up well to slow-cooking, making it an excellent local alternative to the more famous Hatch chiles (many of which are no longer grown in New Mexico, anyway). But Pueblo farmers also grow Anaheims and Big Jims, scorching Dynamite and lesser-known varieties like Mosco and Marconi. Farmers were happy to hand out samples of both raw and roasted chiles to customers waiting to buy by the bushel.
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For actual green chile (the sauce, stew or soup, how ever you choose to see it), Romero's was a definite standout. Nearly all of the vendors sold distinctly Colorado-style green chile, tinted orange from tomato and thickened to a chowder-like consistency. Romero's version is distinctly roasty in flavor, with a heat level that rises beyond the mere gravy offered by some of the other vendors.
Although the festival is over (and a three-hour round trip from Denver may be a little long just to stock up on green chiles for the winter), the good news is that the long, warm end of summer means plenty of chile roasters out in Denver, many selling Pueblo varieties. If you're picking some up in town, look for chiles with smooth skins (no wrinkles) and thick flesh — the bigger and thicker they are, the easier they are to peel and seed. Ask for a taste to make sure you're comfortable with the heat level, and buy more than one variety to add complexity to your batches of chile verde. Anaheims tend to be grassy and a little bitter; Mirasols are sweeter but can pack more heat; Moscos are a recent variety spun off from Mirasols that have only been grown officially since 2005, based on seeds from one Arkansas Valley crop in the early 1990s. And, sure, there are plenty of vendors peddling Hatch chiles, but why bother with produce trucked in from another state (or maybe even grown in China and erroneously sold under the Hatch moniker)?
If you're headed down to Pueblo, stop in at Musso's and Romero's. They're both located on Pueblo's east side, on Highway 50. Hit Romero's for a chunky, warming bowl of green and then head farther east to Musso's for the Fuggedabowdit — a housemade Italian sausage sandwich smothered in green chile.
Keep reading for more photos of the Pueblo Chile and Frijole Festival.