It’s that time of year again. Hatch Chiles have begun arriving in stores. At least, here in Dallas they have started popping up. If you don’t know if stores in your area have them, try checking out Central Market or Whole Foods to start out with. Central Market goes crazy with them. You can find everything from tamales to crab cakes to sausage to hamburgers made with them. They put them in tortillas and marinades and dips and queso. You can even pick up some Hatch Chile Chocolate gelato (which I was a little disappointed in. I thought it would pack a bit more heat). If Central Market makes it, I can almost guarantee they have a version with Hatch in it right now.
I’m not a big Hatch Chile snob. In fact, I’ve never cooked with them before. What little I do know about them boils down to this: Hatch Chiles are to the chile world what champagne is to sparkling wine. Let me explain a bit. All champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne.You can make sparkling wine anywhere, but for it to be called champagne, it must be from Champagne, France. Same with these peppers. For them to be called Hatch Chiles, they must be grown in Hatch, New Mexico. Anywhere else, and they just aren’t Hatch Chiles. If they are grown in nearby Mesilla, then they are Mesilla chiles. Anaheim peppers? Taken from Hatch chile seeds and grown in Anaheim, Ca.
So what’s the big deal about the Hatch valley? Some say its the volcanic soil. Some say its the climate, the hot days and cool nights. Does it really matter that much? I’m not sure, to me it sounds like one helluva marketing ploy. So why bother with them? Mrs. G loves Hatch chiles and quite honestly, I just got curious about them this year. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And at $0.99 a lb, why not?
For my first use of Hatch chiles, I figured I’d start out with a simple salsa to get the feel…uh…I mean taste for them. I’ve made plenty of salsas before by charring the veggies on the grill first. I thought this would give me an understanding of the taste and heat of the chiles I was dealing with before I moved on to more complex dishes.
- 3 Hatch Chiles (hot variety)
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 4 cloves of garlic (unpeeled)
- 1-2 limes, cut in half
- 3 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- Setup your grill for a direct cook and preheat to 500F (or set your oven to broil)
- Roast the first five ingredients for 2-3 minutes, flip and continue the process until the vegetables are charred on all sides, roughly ten to fifteen minutes. For the limes, grill cut side down for 2-3 minutes if desired.
- Remove veggies from grill. Place chiles in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
- Remove the outer skin from the tomatoes, onions and garlic and toss in a food processor, as well as the cilantro. Squeeze the juice from one lime over the veggies.
- Once the chiles have cooled, remove the outer skin (it should peel right off). Cut off the stem end of the chiles and slice open one side. Open the chiles up so that they are laying flat and scrape out the veins and the seed (reserving the seeds if you like your salsa extra spicy). Toss the chiles into the food processor.
- Give the food processor a couple of quick pulses until it has reached your desired consistency.
- Taste and adjust seasonings by adding salt and pepper and/or more lime juice or cilantro. If it’s not spicy enough, add in some of the reserved seeds.
- The salsa can be eaten warm, or chilled. The longer it sits, the more the flavors will marry and develop.
You may have noticed that the recipe calls for 3 Hatch Chiles and yet the pictures show I roasted 5. What’s up with that? I wasn’t quite sure what kind of punch these chiles would pack. This is our basic recipe for salsa, but we usually use jalapenos or whatever other peppers we have on hand. Never having used Hatch Chiles, I had no idea how many it would take, so I erred on the side of caution and went ahead and roasted extra. Better to have too many than not enough (not to mention my research has indicated that the chiles freeze better if they are already roasted).
So was it worth it? Is the hype and fuss all blown out of proportion? I’m still on the fence about that one. The salsa was chocked full of flavors and had a nice complexity. I’m a big fan of charring the veggies for my salsa, always have been. It adds another dimension of flavor, a nice underlying smokey taste, but not to strong to overwhelm the other flavors. The Hatch chiles, while not super hot, offered up a new and distinctive heat than what I am used to. It produced a burn in a different part of my mouth than say a jalapeno. There was no back of the throat burn, more of a front of the tongue. It was nowhere near as hot as a jalapeno either, nor did the heat linger around half as long. It was there, and then it was gone. It was actually quite nice. I think Hatch Chiles would make a nice substitute for those who like milder salsas.
To evaluate the taste and heat of the Hatch Chiles, I’m not sure salsa was the best idea. With so many other flavors for it to compete with, I guess its kind of hard to pick out and isolate that one flavor by itself. But that is OK, because this was a great salsa by itself, as well as with the tacos we had that didn’t get pictured. It would be great on eggs or breakfast tacos or anything else you like to put salsa on.
And as for the Hatch Chile…well I’ve already got an idea for dinner Friday night using it in a marinade and a sauce and there is still plenty of time to take advantage of them before the season is over. I wonder if I should stockpile some? Roast them and freeze them to use throughout the year? Hmmm…the gears are moving…
So are you a Hatch Chile fanatic? Do you go crazy over them in August? Do you roast them and stockpile them for the rest of the year? What’s your favorite Hatch Chile recipes? I’d love to hear about them.