The heat rises off the desert floor in visible waves, a tumbleweed blows across the landscape and a cherry red 1959 Cadillac convertible comes screaming down the highway, its driver’s leathery face obscured by sunglasses and a cowboy hat. The perfume of roasting chiles hangs heavily in the air. It’s Hatch chile time.
If there’s ever a movie set against the backdrop of Hatch chile season, that’s how I imagine it would start. (I mean hey, it would be to chiles what Sideways was to wine). Meanwhile, back here in the real world, the Pacific Northwest is finally having its warmest days (on the west side of the Cascades), topping out in the 80s. To make it feel even more late-summery, Whole Foods is bringing in chiles from Seco Spice near Las Cruces, New Mexico and doing roasts locally. Transplated New Mexicans didn’t even blink an eye at the idea of buying 25 lbs. at Whole Foods last weekend. I hedged (waffled?) instead just getting a couple of pre-roasted packages, but I’m thinkin’ I’m gonna pull the trigger this week.
Hatch chiles come from the Hatch Valley in New Mexico and are related to the Anaheims I grew up with but they’re like the great-great grand-papa. And with multiple varieties out there — Big Jim, Sandia, Joe E. Parker, etc., one long green chile does not a New Mexican chile make. There’s an element of terroir that’s hugely important to chile aficianados. New Mexico State University offers a good primer here.
The chiles I picked up this past weekend, allegedly mediums, were NOT hot at all. I hear Hatch chiles seem to heat up and get more complex over time, even when frozen, something about the molecules breaking down when they thaw, so I’m looking forward to going back and getting me a case of the hots…which, in the Pacific Northwest is relative. I’m sure they’re not bringing in the variety that will knock your socks off. I’m no capsaicin thrill seeker, but I do like chiles with a little kick. You can roast your own over a gas flame, or under the broiler, but I think the propane roaster really does the proper job, so it’s worth having them roasted and then bringing them home. At Whole Foods, the fresh ones were $1.49 a lb., the roasted $1.99.
I’m still working on what exactly I’ll do with them — last night I did a little experimenting with Hatch chile and poblano mini frittatas — delicious, but they didn’t pop out easily of the muffin tin I used. Guess I gotta use shortening or vegetable oil, not just non-stick spray. Whole Foods offers some other alternatives here.
The chiles will be celebrated in their namesake town over Labor Day at the Hatch Chile Festival. Melissa’s is also doing roasts in SoCal and parts of Virginia and Maryland. If you’re none of those places, there are a number of sources in New Mexico who will ship frozen chiles. I haven’t purchased from any of them, but Pepperfool has options here.