Hatch a plan

New Mexican Hatch chiles have a fleeting season, but roasting preserves the harvest.

New Mexican Hatch chiles have a fleeting season, but roasting preserves the harvest.

It’s Hatch chile season in the Southwest, and those in the know are stocking up.

You may not know Hatch chiles by name, but you’ve almost certainly eaten them if you’ve enjoyed the distinctive fare of the Southwest. The green chiles come from the dinky town of Hatch, N.M., and are a key ingredient in the area’s cuisine. The Hatch is prized for its meaty texture and subtle heat. The chile, which grows to about 6 inches, looks just like its descendent, the California Anaheim, but boasts more complex flavor. Hatch chiles are a seasonal bargain–about $2 a pound, which is a whole lot of flavor for very little cash.

But here’s the thing about the Hatch: It has a fleeting season, harvested from late-July to (maybe) early-September, which contributes to its mystique. If you don’t stock up now, you’ll have to wait until next year’s harvest. All over New Mexico and the Southwest, people will buy 10, 20, 30 pounds or more and have them roasted. Then they freeze the chiles to use throughout the year.

The folks at Melissa’s Produce are on a bit of crusade to make the Hatch a national obsession by distributing the chiles far beyond New Mexico and arranging chile-roasting events at supermarkets. Where I live, in Los Angeles, people line up at Bristol Farms or Albertson’s to have their chiles roasted.  That’s handy if you’re loading up with, say, 25 pounds of chiles. But if you’re new to Hatches and just buy a few pounds, you can roast them at home. That’s what I did with a box of the chiles sent to me by a friend who works at Melissa’s. Here’s how:

Preheat the broiler, and move the oven rack to the top level. Arrange the chiles in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with foil. Broil 15 minutes or until the skins are blackened, turning halfway through the cooking time. Toss the chiles in a plastic zip-top bag or paper bag (I was roasting several batches of chiles so I used a big paper grocery bag). Seal, and let stand for 15 minutes to allow the chiles to steam, which loosens their skins. You can peel the chiles at this point, but I just wrapped them up, refrigerating some for the recipe below and freezing the rest. You can peel the chiles as you use them. In fact, I think they’re even easier to peel after they’ve been chilled.

Hatch Chile Romesco Sauce

Hatch Chile Romesco Sauce

Hatch Chile Romesco Sauce

Traditionally, Spanish romesco sauce is made with roasted red bell peppers and almonds. I used roasted Hatch chiles and pecans instead. It would be interesting to try this with roasted tomatillos instead on tomatoes, too, but, hell, Trader Joe’s didn’t have any when I was shopping the other day. Hatch chiles lend this version mild heat. The sauce is great with grilled fish or chicken, for dipping bread, or tossed with hot pasta.

6 Hatch chiles

2 medium tomatoes

1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices

1/2 cup toasted French bread cubes

1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans

3 garlic cloves

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Chopped cilantro (optional)

1. Preheat broiler. Move oven rack to top position.

2. Arrange chiles, tomatoes, and onion in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with foil. Broil 15 minutes or until blackened, turning halfway through cooking time. Transfer chiles and tomatoes to a large zip-top plastic bag or paper bag; seal, and let stand 15 minutes. Peel chiles and tomatoes.

3. Combine chiles, tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a food processor; process until chopped. Add bread and pecans; process until chopped. Add oil, vinegar, and salt; process until smooth. Garnish with cilantro, if desired. Yield: about 2 cups.

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