Digging the Dirt: Why Hatch Chiles
Are So Damn Good

For cynics wondering whether the hype surrounding Hatch chiles is justified, here's the Santa Fe School of Cooking's culinary director's take on the pepper:

"I'm not saying they're better, but they are to me," Rocky Durham told members of the Association of Food Journalists at a meeting in Santa Fe on Wednesday. "They have deep, profound, delicious flavors."

Durham says consumers sometimes shortchange chiles by focusing exclusively on their heat: "That's like talking about how much alcohol is in a wine," he says.

Like wine grapes, all chiles are of the same genus and species. That means terroir is as relevant to peppers as Pinot Noir.

"Hatch is a village," Durham explains. "If you take a Hatch chile seed and plant it in Chimayo, you get chimayos. If you plant it in the parking lot of Disneyland, you get Anaheims. What we are talking about are regional distinctions."

According to Durham, Hatch's dirt, water, thin air and sunshine all contribute to the local pepper's superior flavor, which he swears he could recognize in a blind taste test.

The Hatch chile harvest has just begun, and Durham says farmers are "expecting a voluminous bounty."

"Now is the season," he says. "Can you beat freshness? Can you beat local? You can only get them here, or maybe at Central Market in Dallas."

Go get 'em, Dallasites.

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