If you've ever spent any time in New Mexico in fall you will be familiar with the smell and sight of roasting "Hatch" (New Mexico) green chiles. In late summer through early fall, on nearly every street corner, you will encounter a smoking, rolling black canister of New Mexico's famous "state vegetable" perfuming the air. (Yes, technically, chiles are a fruit but don't tell that to N.M. legislators!) When those grated black roasters start popping up you know hatch chile roasting season has arrived and fall is right around the corner. It's New Mexico's version of the pumpkin patch but it brings a lot more heat to the season!
Photo Courtesy of Gourmet Delights.com
Similar to the familiar Anaheim (which is actually the California child of the New Mexico chile), New Mexico chiles come in a range of heat levels, are green when young and turn red as they ripen. Grown in and around Hatch, New Mexico, Hatch chiles are from the New Mexico No. 9 chile developed by Dr. Fabián Garcia back in 1888 at what is now New Mexico State University (NMSU). While New Mexico chiles are grown throughout the state, the Hatch chile truly comes only from the Hatch area, though the lines have gotten a little blurred over time and the name "hatch" stolen by other chile growers to trade off its culinary caché.
There are a number of varieties and hybrids of the New Mexico and Hatch chiles developed by NMSU's College of Agricultural including: NuMex Big Jim, NuMex Sandia, NuMex Joe E. Parker New Mexico 6-4, NuMex Heritage 6-4, NuMex Heritage Big Jim, Barker Extra Hot and NuMex R Naky. Each has it's own flavor and heat level which is then influenced by the soil and growing conditions, but the New Mexico No. 9 is the heritage (heirloom) of them all.
Hatch chiles are a staple of New Mexican cuisine. You'll find them in and on everything everywhere there's food or drink being served in the state. They are so ubiquitous that when you order nearly any dish in New Mexico you are invariably asked, "Red or Green?" meaning red chile sauce or green. The green ones are usually roasted and the red ones are usually dried before they are used in cooking. Supposedly green is milder and red hotter but that all depends on the chile so when in doubt, ask. If you can't decide which sauce you want then you order Christmas and you get both.
I spent quite a few summers in New Mexico doing art shows where I was exposed to many Hatch chile seasons. Prior to this time I had a somewhat serious reaction to capsicum in chilis, my whole mouth would blister and my palate could go dead for hours, sometimes days. This made my dining experiences in New Mexico a bit of a hazard for the first few years, but thanks to continued exposure I was able to acclimate my mouth to the heat and even begin to enjoy it. Even though I'm still not going to pop a raw pepper in my mouth, I fell in love with the flavors of roasted chiles, in particular the New Mexico varieties, and started to incorporate them into my food and drink.
When I was bemoaning my lack of true, authentic beloved Hatch chiles last week, Frieda's Produce kindly stepped in and sent me a huge box filled with the sweet and spicy, green lovelies for my cocktail endeavors. I immediately roasted them and put them (some, others are being hoarded for cooking) into tequila!
You'll notice I added honey to my infusion below so, technically, this makes it a "liqueur" and not simply infused liquor. Why did I add honey? Because I did want to use some of my chile tequila for shots and honey will soften the punch of the heat from the chiles. It's not really enough honey to make this very sweet, just enough to cool down the heat. Remember I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to peppers and these Hatchies were getting pretty close to my pain threshold! Why do you think honey is always served with the sopaipillas as the traditional New Mexican dessert? Because honey will cool the heat from the dinner you just ate!
ROASTED HATCH CHILE CILANTRO TEQUILA LIQUEUR
(Inspired by Frieda's Hatch Chile Tequila)
5 Roasted, Peeled Hatch Chiles
(Roasting instructions below)
1 - 750 ml. Bottle of Añjeo Tequila
3 Sprigs of Fresh Cilantro
Zest of 1/2 Lime
2 Tbsp. Honey
TOOLS: Quart infusion jars, Funnel, Metal Strainer, Cheesecloth
Combine the roasted Hatch chiles, lime zest and honey with the tequila in one of your quart jars.
Gently squeeze the cilantro to express the oils over the jar then drop the cilantro in.
Allow to infuse for 3, and up to, 5 days, shaking the jar often.
Start taste testing after the second day for level of flavor and heat, the longer it infuses the stronger, and hotter, it becomes. (I did 3 days, I still have that lingering fear of blisters.)
Strain through a cheesecloth lined metal strainer into a clean jar, toss the detritus and enjoy in some of my cocktails below.
HOME ROASTED HATCH CHILES
First, PUT ON GLOVES!!!
Clean your chiles then place in a single layer on a baking sheet and broil each side just until the skin turns black. Mine took about 12 -15 minutes on the first side at a distance of 4 inches from the broiler. The second side was much quicker. Keep a close watch or your chiles will be mush.
Immediately place the roasted peppers into a plastic bag to steam for 20 minutes. This will make the skin easier to remove.
To peel, grab the chile by the stem and pull it off, this will remove the majority of seeds as well. Then slid the chile between your fingers to push it out of the skin. Discard stem, seeds and skin. Do NOT rinse the chiles or you will remove the flavor oils.
Don't be worried by the small amount of char that might be left in your chili, that's just a flavor enhancement.
Use or freeze, the chiles supposedly get hotter with freezing but I couldn't really tell, they're hot either way to me!
A FEW N.M. CHILE FACTS:
- Chile is the pepper, chili is a stew.
- Those dried red chile wreaths you see hanging from nearly every doorway are called ristras and are a traditional drying method of chiles.
- The drier and hotter the weather, the hotter the chile.
- The official "state question" of New Mexico is "Red or Green?", adopted in 1999.
- Hatch, New Mexico hosts The Hatch Valley Chile Festival on Labor Day weekend every year.