Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hatch Chile Fever

I’m a Poblano and Serrano girl myself, but the Hatch chile has an amazing number of aficionados out here. Not sure why.  I mean, the Hatch is OK, if you need a mild and somewhat neutral, or at least very understated, chile flavor. It is similar to, although somewhat meatier and richer than, the widely available Anaheim, a close relative to the Hatch. Much of its popularity may be that it is, in fact, a mild chile, with a Scoville rating for the traditional variety around 1000 or even lower (a Serrano is 10-15 times hotter). This makes it palatable both to a lot of sensitivities to “hot,” and easy to incorporate into a wide range of dishes without making a particular statement. But really, I think its popularity is a lot about it being “local.” Hatch chiles hail from the area in and around Hatch, New Mexico, and their brief season from late August until a week or two ago makes them special to those who live within striking (or fast direct shipping) distance. Similar varieties are grown in Texas and other southwestern states.
I did not get into the genuine frenzy that is Hatch season, but as it waned, I did feel as if perhaps I was wanting in local spirit if I didn’t buy any and show a little enthusiasm. So I bought the very last bag of roasted hatch chiles—the very last of the season, it turned out—from the chile roasters at the farmer’s market. As I paid for them, I was told that I had gotten the last ones, and there would be no more until next year. I tried to exhibit a suitable combination of gratitude and regret, but was secretly more pleased that I had also picked up the last bag of roasted roma tomatoes.
Many people use Hatch chiles to make chiles rellenos, but I neither like their shape for that—too long and skinny—nor their flavor (remember: only Poblano for chile rellenos!). At the farmer’s market I had also bought a gigantic bag of freshly made tortilla chips, so decided to use my tomatoes and chiles to make a super-quick, rustic salsa. All the roasting work had been done, so it took about 3 minutes including the peeling and deseeding. Feel free, as I did, to add a little heat with a hotter chile of your choice in the privacy of your own home; it will retain the round smoothness of the Hatch while satisfying your conception of “chile.”
Hatch Chile Salsa
1 lb roasted Hatch chiles
1 lb roasted Roma or other tomatoes
2 tea, generous, salt
3 whole peeled cloves garlic
1 small Serrano chile, minced (optional) or even a little hot sauce of your choice
Chopped coriander for garnish (optional)

Rub the skin from the chiles and gently pull away the stem and seed pod; rinse out. Pull the skin from the tomatoes, but leave a little; I like some charred skin in a rustic salsa. Put all the ingredients except the Serrano into the food processor. Process for about 45 seconds until it is a kind of thick, slightly chunky puree that resembles a fine relish. For a little heat, stir in some Serrano or hot sauce to taste. Serve with chips, to garnish meats, or stir into soups, stews, eggs, or other dishes for a little Southwest flavor. This freezes well.