Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hatch Chiles!

Hatch Chiles are traditionally roasted in large drums over gas heat.

It's that time of year again.  It's freaking hot outside but foodies in Texas know it means one thing: time for Hatch Chiles! 

Wait, what? Hatch Chiles are specific peppers that are grown in the tiny town of Hatch, New Mexico.  Every Labor Day Weekend the small town hosts a Hatch Chile Festival celebrating the harvest of their best known crop: Hatch Chiles. Botanically the chiles grown in the Hatch Valley of New Mexico are the same as the Aneheim pepper, but the specific growing conditions and hybridization work done at New Mexico State University have led to several cultivars resulting in unparalleled flavor. They have names like Nu Mex 6, Rio Grande  21, Big Jim and Nu Mex Joe Parker (source).  Of course you'll only find those names if you purchase seeds or plants from the growers.  In the grocery store they're known as Mild or Hot Hatch Chiles.

In a stroke of marketing genius Central Markets across Texas host a Hatch Chile Festival every August.  Like moths to a flame, foodies across the state flock to Central Markets, and some HEBs, to stock up on these unique chiles for the year.  They're only available fresh and freshly roasted during the festival: August 8-21.  Store employees spend hours every day roasting the chiles in large metal drums over a gas flame by the caseload.  You can purchase by the pound or by the case and you can choose whether or not to have the store roast them for you, at no extra charge, or take them home fresh and roast them yourself. And you can choose between mild or hot chiles.

In addition to the chiles themselves Central Market has a large variety of items throughout the store featuring the peppers, that is, if you can find them before they sell out.  And they sell out of the best items fast.  I highly recommend the strange-sounding-but-delicous Hatch Chile Dolce de Leche Ice Cream.  Found only in small, freshly made batches in the freezer section.  The Hatch Chile salsa is delicous and can be found in the salsa section of the store (yes, there's an entire section of Texas grocery stores dedicated to salsa).  The fresh-made Hatch Chile Cheese Bread in the bakery is OMG amazingly good.  And bread freezes really well - just sayin'. :-) The Hatch Chile potato chips are actually quite good.  I would avoid the Hatch Chile Brownies.  They're exactly as awful as they sound.

NO! Can't say I didn't warn you.
The in-house food section is gearing up to have unique and newly created dishes featuring Hatch Chiles available as well.  Last year there was a huge selection of salads, meat dishes and other items using the ingredient quite well. 

We usually purchase a case of roasted hot chiles.  We take a huge cooler with us then pack them on ice for the drive home.  Once they're home we remove the skins and seeds and vaccum pack them before freezing them in about 1 cup bags.  The chiles work very well in omelettes, potato pancakes, polenta, mashed potatoes, black eyed peas, cornbread, or just about any other savory recipe that can benefit from a bit of heat. The peppers also impart a complex flavor that can't be found in peppers that are cultivated just for heat's sake. It is normal for the chiles to vary in color from very green to yellow or even red.  It's recommended to not freeze them over a year, but we've had no problem with peppers frozen for 2 years or more.

[All of these images came from a google image search.]

Edited to correct the university mentioned above.

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