Hatch Chiles & How to Roast Them
If you’re not familiar with Hatch Chiles you’re definitely missing a culinary delight, having a brief season, these chile peppers are only grown in and around Hatch Valley, New Mexico. A few years ago, while visiting family in Texas, I was introduced to Hatch Chiles and have never settled for anything less. Hatch Chiles are a breed of New Mexico chile which are part of a group of cultivars of the green chile pepper. In 1894, the pioneer horticulturist, Dr. Fabián Garcia, started breeding chile peppers at New Mexico State University, then known as Las Cruces College and the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. He started selective breeding with 14 types of 'Pasilla', 'Colorado', and 'Negro' chile cultivars from across New Mexico and Southern Colorado's old Hispano and Pueblo communities. He selected these peppers because they had larger, smoother, fleshier, more tapering and shoulderless pods for canning. The first cultivar of this group was released in 1913 and was called 'New Mexico No. 9'.
What makes New Mexico Chili's so special
The New Mexico green chile pepper flavor has been described as lightly pungent, similar to an onion or like garlic with a subtly sweet, spicy, crisp, and smoky flavor. The ripened red retains the flavor, but adds an earthiness and bite while aging mellows the front-heat and delivers more of a back-heat. The spiciness depends on the variety of New Mexico chile peppers.
New Mexico chile peppers are grown from seeds – and each of the individual pepper types are specifically bred and grown to be disease-resistant and provide consistent and healthy plants within their specific regions. Altitude, climate, soil, and acreage affect a crop's taste and heartiness, making the New Mexican region unique for plant propagation. The Rio Grande Mountains and high deserts provide the perfect environment for growing chiles. To ensure that a variety's lineage remains disease-resistant and maintains optimal growth within its heritage region, seeds from specific plants are carefully selected, preserved and stored. Farmers of the New Mexico chili pepper reintroduce seeds from their heritage soil since each successive generation becomes susceptible to disease and loses its flavor. To reinvigorate their crop, Chile pepper farmers usually order seeds that come from their heritage soils every few generations resulting in stronger, successful seasonal plant productions. Seed distributors and sellers from New Mexico, California, and Colorado provide this service to farmers.
New Mexico chile peppers grown in New Mexico are the most sought after since their flavor, texture, and hardiness are heavily dependent on their growing environment. The peppers were originally grown by the Pueblo, and each of their distinct Pueblo peppers grows best in its heritage soil. This same trend has continued with other New Mexico chile peppers, those grown by the farmers among the Spanish, Mexican, and American frontiersmen. Among the New Mexico-grown chile peppers, the ones with the most accolades are grown along the Rio Grande, especially along the Hatch Valley.
A certification program was started in 2014, 'New Mexico Certified Chile', attempting to certify the growing of New Mexico chile peppers. The program tries to protect New Mexico chile consumers from falsely labeled products, while protecting farmers from a potential diminishing of demand, and to allow larger amounts of New Mexico chile to be grown within the state. Since the program is rather new, it has garnered some criticism, especially in regard to restricting smaller farmers who have been growing peppers from lineages of more than 400 years of seeds.
About Hatch Chilies
Hatch Chiles are typically ripe in the middle of August each year, their season lasting a few short weeks, in the Atlanta area, the only place I’ve found them is at Sprouts Farmers Market. They come in two varieties, mild and hot, you can make a medium by blending the two different types of peppers. The mild Hatch chiles aren’t as fiery or spicy as a jalapeno more like a green pepper on steroids and are much more delicious. The hot Hatch chiles set my hair on fire, so I always opt to blend both the mild and hot varieties. Since chiles don’t have a long shelf life, I’ve found roasting them, dicing them up and freezing them is an excellent way to enjoy chiles throughout the year.
Toss some roasted Hatch Chiles into homemade macaroni and cheese and you’ll swoon! Add them to a frittata, Pico-d-Gallo, tacos and any Southwest cuisine you can dream of, roasted Hatch Chile peppers will take your recipe to the next level. Make sure you roast them, it brings out a whole level of smokiness to the chile pepper you didn't know existed.
Here’s how to roast Hatch Chiles (or any chile pepper for that matter) in 9 EASY steps:
1. Wash and dry your fresh peppers
2. Set your oven to Broil
3. Cover a cookie sheet with foil
4. Place peppers in a single layer on your foil lined cookie sheet.
5. Broil for 9 – 10 minutes on the top rack as close to your broiler as you can get.
6. Remove from the oven, flip over and roast for 9- 10 minutes, you want them charred on both sides.
7. Once both sides are good and charred, remove from the oven and using tongs throw them in a plastic bag. Let them stay in the plastic bag for at least 20 minutes. The steam from the chilies will help release the skins.
8. Peel the skins from your chilis and place in a plastic bag for freezing. I prefer to dice them up and place them in small, snack size zip lock bags to use as needed. I also include a few seeds for an extra dose of heat and don't forget to label and date each package of chilis.
9. Discard peels.