Monday, August 17, 2009

At Market...Chiles

These lovely green beauties are New Mexico's pride and joy. Coming to market only in the late summer, they are snapped up in 50 pound boxes by those who call this arid desert home. The so-called Hatch Chile, or New Mexican green chile is celebrated each year, with a huge festival, drawing thousands to sample its heat.

Technically, these chiles can only be called "Hatch" chiles, if they are grown in or very near to Hatch, New Mexico, not unlike the sparkling wine grown in Champagne, France, that is the only kind that is properly dubbed "Champagne." They resemble the Anaheim chile, and taste kind of like the dark green poblano chile (which many around here use for chiles rellenos), but New Mexicans swear that those other chiles don't even come close to the flavor and texture of their native ones.

I personally, had never tried a Hatch chile...not even when we were in Santa Fe earlier in the summer. They weren't ripe yet, so we had to "settle" for the dried red New Mexican chiles, which are delicious of their own accord, by the way. So I was beyond thrilled when I saw that our local Bristol Farms was not only selling them, but also roasting them for no additional cost. Afraid to commit to a 25 pound case, I went in on Sunday morning after the farmers' market, and bought just 5 pounds. Because they weren't roasting them at the store right then, I took them home and roasted them myself on our gas grill, which was a piece of cake. 5 pounds of chiles fit our gas grill perfectly.

Chiles, like all peppers, are easily roasted and can be done outside (which I recommend) or under your broiler. Get the grill good and hot, toss on the chiles, and turn occasionally until they are blackened and blistered on all sides. Remove and cover with a dishcloth until cool enough to handle. The skin will then rub off easily. Naturally, we had to partake in the traditional lunch of a chile roaster....a hot, thick corn tortilla, topped with melted Mexican cheese (queso fresco) and a freshly roasted chile.

You should know that the smell of the roasting chiles was intoxicating and I was drooling well before my first bite. But the taste is completely out of this world. Though we were planning on only eating one taco, we had to make another, they were so good.

The chiles come in hot and mild, though we seemed to end up with a mixed batch. The heat that they generate comes on slowly, kind of like falling in love with that someone who's "just a friend." At first, the two of you are just palling around, having a good time, then suddenly, out of nowhere, you are all hot and bothered and there is a catch in your throat and you're breaking out in a sweat. That's exactly how it is with these chiles. It's a thrill, really. An incredibly delicious thrill.

After our lunch, we proceeded to tackle peeling, seeding and deveining the rest of the chiles. Though I thought a 5 pound bag would be enough, after they were cooked and prepared, the pile shrunk considerably.

To prep them for recipes first peel off the skin, once the chiles have cooled. Then cut off the stem, slice open one side and open the chile up. Scrape off the seeds and veins with the side of your knife, and set the chile aside.

I used about half of the chiles to make a traditional Chile Verde sauce, the gravy of New Mexico, based on the recipe from the renowned Pasqual's Restaurant in Santa Fe. It can be used as a topping for quesadillas, omelets, enchiladas, huevos rancheros, tacos and to slow simmer cubes of pork. I'll post the recipe below, which I thought was quite rich and spicy.

I suppose you're wondering what I'm planning on doing with the rest of my chiles? Well, the prepped chiles can be frozen and used any time a recipe calls for diced green chiles or roasted chile peppers, like this one. But I have so few left, I'll probably just eat them wrapped in a corn tortilla for lunch for the next few days. Of course, I'm going to head back out to Bristol Farms and get some more, now that I understand what all the fuss is about. If you can find these chiles at your market, you should won't regret it.

For our dinner, I made carnitas, Mexican rice, and refried beans, and served it with that delicious and spicy Chile Verde Sauce. It was a perfect foil to the rich pork and added plenty of heat to an otherwise pleasantly cool summer evening.

Green Chile Sauce
makes 3 1/2 C

If New Mexico chiles aren't available in your area you can substitute the more widely available poblano chiles.

1 1/2 pounds of fresh mild green New Mexico chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, deveined, and chopped to measure 2 C
3/4 pound of fresh hot green Nex Mexico chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, deveined and chopped to measure 1 C
4 C water
1/2 white onion, cut into medium dice
2 t dried Mexican oregano or marjoram leaves
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 t kosher salt

2 T vegetable oil
3 T flour

Place all the ingredients, except for the oil and flour, into a large saucepan and simmer, over medium heat, until juice is thick and opaque, about 20-30 minutes. Stir occasionally, to make sure that the chiles don't stick to the bottom of the pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil and flour, then place in a medium non-stick skillet, over medium heat, to make a base for the roux. When hot and bubbling, stir frequently, until mixture becomes a golden brown color and has a nutty flavor.

Add 1/2 C of the chile mixture to the roux and stir well, then add the roux mixture to the pot with the rest of the chile mixture. Stir to mix well. Simmer for about 15 minutes more to get rid of the flour taste. Taste for seasoning. Remove from heat, let cool, cover and store in a non-reactive container in the fridge for up to 4 days, or freeze for 2 months.


CApe Cod Judy said...

Incredible! Here on Cape Cod, we had the same carnitas meal Monday night (before having seen your post). I picked up a container of fresh Hatch Chile Salsa today at the Whole Food in Hingham - nearest to Cape Cod - and brought it home not knowing what it (Hatch Chile Salsa) was - perhaps made by the Hatch family, early founding family of Hingham who are perhaps still around? Why was it called "Hatch"? Now I know! I also bought the regular fresh salsa (which is always parked by the entrance door at Hingham's WH along with tubs of fresh guacamole and bags of tortilla chips). HE liked Hatch Chile salsa better than the regular, finding it maybe sweeter?

Although we are a continent apart, we are still enjoying the same foods! Bon Appetit!

Apples and Butter said...

Mmmm. I made my first trip to New Mexico this year. The chiles are amazing! Thanks for all of these tips. I'll have to run out to my Bristol Farms and see if they are carrying Hatch chiles right now.

Karine said...

Great dinner! I love mexican dishes!