It’s that time of year again. If you’ve walked into the produce section of a grocery store, there’s probably been a gigantic bin of Hatch chiles that have nearly jumped up and attacked you. Even if you haven’t been in the produce section, there’s a good chance you’ve been assaulted anyway — Hatch burgers, Hatch salsa, even Hatch cookies. You can’t avoid it. But what are these overwhelmingly popular peppers, and what on earth are you supposed to do with them?
Hatch chiles are from the Mesilla valley near Hatch, New Mexico. They’re only in season for a short time, usually August to mid-September. They range in spiciness from the mildness of a poblano pepper to more heat than a jalapeño. While zesty and enjoyably tart raw, roasting them infuses a smoky flavor that intensifies their heat.
As to what you should do with them, well, cook with them. Here’s a few ideas:
1) Roast them. Sprouts, Central Market and a few other grocery stores sell flame-roasted Hatch peppers at a markup, but usually in larger quantities than you need and for more money than you want to spend. Instead, grab some raw peppers and roast your own. You can throw them on a grill to mimic what you’d get from the grocery, or you can sacrifice some of the smokiness and go my lazy way: Set your oven to 425-450ºF, spritz them with oil, and throw them in. Bake them for 15 minutes, pull them out, turn them over, and put them back in for another 15 minutes. Your goal is to get the skin to blister and the pepper flesh to caramelize. You can also accomplish this in a skillet or on the broil setting in your oven. I prefer the “bake” option because I can prep the rest of my meal without worrying about what’s happening to the peppers, but as long as you get them hot and blistery, you’re good to go. Afterwards, peel the skin off, chop them up, and put them in a casserole, on a burger, in a burger patty, in a quiche. … Enjoy!
2) Do something peppery and cheesy. My father grew up in New Mexico, and chile rellenos were usually prepared with Hatch chiles. (The first time he ordered a chile relleno in Houston, he was served a stuffed green bell pepper, which prompted him to walk out of the restaurant with his meal uneaten.) Southwestern cuisine and its cousins are natural fits for using Hatch chiles. Stuff chiles with beef or beans, chop them into enchilada fillings or do what I’ve done and bake them with chorizo and cheese. This Hatch chile bake is decadent and simple: layers of roasted Hatch chiles, chorizo with garlic and onion, cheese and chipotle-spiced eggs. Serve with tortillas to take some punch out of the heat and to wipe up the remnants in your skillet.(You won't want to leave anything behind.)
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3) If calorific Tex-Mex sounds too decadent for your diet, opt for a stir-fry. I modified this recipe by using sesame oil instead of olive oil and adding carrots, but you could substitute bell peppers in any stir-fry with these versatile chiles. Tip: If you order your Thai food as mild as possible, use the mild Hatch peppers. If you prefer two or three stars of hotness, find the hot Hatch chile at Central Market. If you like even more heat than that, screw the Hatch and go for the habanero.
Hatch season arrives in a whirlwind, and it disappears just as quickly as it arrives. Enjoy these peppers while you can. Get creative. If you have a Hatch chile recipe to share, post it in the comments.