“Chicos” is the name given to dried corn. The word “chicos” seems to be used mostly in New Mexico, but corn is dried all over the Southwest and undoubtedly wherever traditional corn-eating cultures exist. The dried kernels are small and wrinkled in appearance, and if the corn was roasted before drying, it can be very dark as well. When they are cooked, usually in combination with beans (a handful to a pot), they swell up to their former size and taste like fresh or fresh-smoked corn. They are also cooked alone, but as they are very labor intensive to produce, this is seen more rarely.
Chicos are made in two different ways (and there is a third way in which the corn is roasted, not dried). In no case is the corn slaked with lime or culinary ash, as is done for another form of dried corn known as posole or pozole. In the first method, field corn is picked, shucked, then tied into ristras (strings) and hung to dry, or it might be dried on screens or perhaps a metal roof. Once dried, it is rubbed off the cob. The kernels are clear and, when cooked, taste like fresh corn. In the second method, white or yellow field corn is picked but not shucked, then put into an horno (adobe oven) to roast overnight in the ambient heat that remains from a previously burned fire. It is then tied into ristras and hung in the air to dry. Once the kernels are completely dried out, they are rubbed off the cobs and stored until ready to use. The kernels are dark from being roasted, and the roasting enhances their taste, giving it a smoky flavor. While not dried, corn that has been roasted in the horno (with water for making steam) until it is soft can also be called chicos. It is considered a delicious treat to enjoy when the first corn comes in, and it is eaten as corn on the cob.
Chicos are traditional to native corn-eating nations of the American Southwest. They are also made and eaten by the Hispanic culture that settled in the Southwest hundreds of years ago. Chicos are available commercially in the Santa Fe area. Both the roasted and unroasted kinds are sold in New Mexican farmers markets. Some farmers grow enough quantity to sell in larger volumes or though grocery stores.