Green Chile Alert

By on 25 August, 2014 in Food, Kate and Stephen with 5 Comments

What does home smell like for you? I’m from New Mexico, and for me home has two very distinct smells. First among these is pinon, usually burned as wood or incense. It’s a very unique smoky and ancient odor which you really should experience if you haven’t already. After all, you’ve only got five senses. The second of the signature New Mexican scents is roasting chile. Every August, the chile crop comes in. For my entire life, August has been the month where the whole state is bathed in the smell of chile. Note: That’s chile with an “e,” not the meat-and-beans kind.

What am I talking about? well, there’s a variety of chile (pepper) that grows primarily in New Mexico, mostly around a town named Hatch. The chiles themselves look like poblanos, or a giant jalapeno. But they’re not crazy spicy (generally) — instead, they are long and meaty, suitable for many uses in cooking. In my home state of New Mexico, we use these special green chiles on everything. Scrambled eggs, pizza, ice cream – you name it, the flavor pervades our cuisine. That’s because green chile is amazing, with a taste that’s nothing like the everyday peppers we know elsewhere. It compares to, say, a green bell pepper the same way that rice milk compares to tequila. Green chile (along with its red cousin) are signature food (and fundamental question) of New Mexico. For a long time, keeping Hatch chile in your Alabama kitchen meant either driving/flying it back from the homeland on dry ice or ordering it online for a hefty fee.

And then our local Winn-Dixie changed the game. We’d popped in for a few staples and saw the newly-erected Hatch stand. They had beautiful, robust peppers in mild, medium and hot. We weren’t sure if other shoppers would know the many uses of this item, nor how great it was that you could now buy it by the pound. We filled a bag with the hottest variety and checked out, totally ecstatic with our find. Once home, we immediately roasted them.

If you’re interested, here’s the deal: Hatch chile is best roasted – over an open flame, if you can manage it, either on a gas stove or a grill. If you lack those technologies, you can still blister the peppers in an oven on broil. It might seem counter-intuitive, but what you want is to blacken the skins of the peppers until they are rupturing and loosened. After you blister the skins, pile the chiles in a brown paper bag to steam together. This will detach the rest of the skins so you can peel them. It sounds like more work than it is – even almost three pounds of chile took only 15 minutes to blister over a single burner. They should chill out in the bag for half an hour or more – once they are cool enough to handle, you can get to work peeling. The goal here is to get as much skin off as you can, revealing the fleshy “meat” of the pepper beneath. If you bought a lot (like we did) you might freeze some of them. Those chiles can be partially skinned, and the rest of the skin will pop off in the freezer. For the ones you plan on immediately using, you should pretty much try to get all the skin off.

For freezing, it’s best to pack 5-6 chiles in a flat bag and stack in the freezer. That way you are defrosting the perfect amount every time – you really never want to keep chile in the refrigerator (especially all roasted and delicious) for more than a few days.

Once they’re done, you can scoop out the middles for the best ever chile rellenos (stuff with cheese, dip in batter and fry until awesome) or simply chop to put in every single thing you eat. This is not much of an exaggeration. Diced green chile enhances pizza, spices up scrambled eggs, amps up salsa or pretty much any Mexican food, and, well, the list of recipes is astonishing and ever-expanding. Oh, by the way, they’re good for you. One Hatch chile has more vitamin C than a few oranges.

The flavor is something that simply cannot be duplicated – just like home. Thanks to our local Midtown Montgomery Winn-Dixie for making it possible for me to taste a little bit of home!

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, nine fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Maureen says:

    I bring a similar August ritual from New York — roasted red bell peppers is an Italian tradition. Same process, intense pepper result that evokes childhood, home and the wonders of creation all at once.

  2. Nolykay says:

    Which Winn Dixie? Do they still have any by chance? I am from NM and husband is Air Force at Maxwell. Would die for a chile fix!! 😉

  3. Barb says:

    Thank you for this article! I am from Colorado, and living in AL now. Have been having green chile withdrawels for many years. Am baffled that Mexican restaurants here in AL, do not serve it, never heard of it, or look at me like Im crazy!! Could not even get any of the local Markets to stock the Bueno Brand frozen green chile!! ( “Oh, thats from Albuquerque, we cant order that! ” Aaurgh! So glad to know that Fresh Market is shipping these in! Had no idea! Fresh Market is on the other end of town, but beats driving 1300 miles! Thank you again!

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