The time is ripe to order New Mexican Hatch chiles
Despite the late-summer heat, Henri was actually in the garden helping Colette harvest the tomatoes last week. Mostly, they’re overgrown now, and I had to keep repositioning my lawn chair to watch her work.
I was just about to call it a day when a UPS driver dropped off my chile peppers.
Several summers ago, I worked at an art gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., and became absolutely addicted to green chiles, which in that part of the country are served with just about everything, from scrambled eggs to hamburgers. Every summer since, I’ve ordered 40 pounds and roasted and frozen them to use all winter. The ones that arrived that afternoon were so pungent I could smell them before I even opened the sealed box. I went to the store for briquettes, freezer bags and tequila while Colette dusted off the Weber on the patio.
Grown in large numbers in fields along the Rio Grande (Hatch, N.M., bills itself as the “chile capital of the world”), New Mexico chiles resemble the Anaheims you find in stores here in California, but they have a distinctive, and addictive, flavor that sets them apart. The three most common varieties are Big Jims (mild and medium), Sandias (medium) and Barkers (hot).
They’re best used in green-chile stew, which is nothing like the red-beans-and-hamburger dish most people associate with the word “chili.” In fact, the main ingredients in green-chile stew are the chiles themselves, as well as potatoes, onions, and meat—in New Mexico, you can get it with chicken, turkey, beef, pork, and even venison or goat. It’s served in restaurants as both a side and main dish, often for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I like mine very hot.
Right now, it’s harvest time for green chiles. We order ours in mid-September. In addition to making a batch of chile stew about every other week all winter long, we’ll put them in soups, on sandwiches and hamburgers, and in salsas and breakfast burritos.
Several companies sell and ship New Mexico green chiles—usually in the range of $125 for a 25 pound box. Shipping (included in price) is usually Tuesday for Friday arrival (the chiles should not be warehoused over a weekend), perfect for a Saturday-night roasting, which, by the way, should be accompanied by copious 100 percent blue-agave margaritas. The key to roasting the chiles is to scorch the skins without overcooking the flesh, so that you can peel them more easily later. I keep a bucket of ice water next to the grill and drop the chiles in as soon as the skins are blackened, so they don’t continue to cook.
It’s best as a three- or four-person operation, but Colette and I did a pretty good job, just the two of us, though we didn’t finish till close to midnight. We took a break about 10 and cooked some cheeseburgers, which we dressed with Big Jims and sliced Better Boy tomatoes and washed down with shots of Patron. We woke around noon, and I made breakfast burritos, partial deliverance from our hangovers.
Among the many New Mexico companies that will ship chiles are The New Mexican Connection (www.nmcchile.com; 800-933-2736) and Hatch Chile Express (www.hatch-chile.com; 575-267-3226). In addition to fresh chiles, you also can get already roasted frozen and canned chiles as well as dried chiles and pre-made chile stew. The New Mexican Connection also sells cookbooks and has links to a wide range of chile- and New Mexico-related sites.
Henri’s green-chile stew
2-3 lbs. meat of choice2 cans Sierra Nevada Old Chico Crystal Wheat3 large onions, chopped5-6 garlic cloves, minced1 tsp. cumin seed pinch of dry oregano pinch of dry sage 2 lbs. green chiles salt and pepper several red potatoes, cut into one-inch chunks
The day before serving, cover meat with beer and simmer three or four hours. Let cool in liquid. The next day, shred the meat into the liquid. Add onions, garlic, cumin, oregano, sage, chiles, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for at least an hour. Add potatoes and simmer another 45 minutes. Serve with salad and flour tortillas or cornbread.