As the temperatures of the long days of August start to rise, two things become immutably clear. One, summer is slowly but surely trying to murder each and every one of us in South Texas, and two, Hatch Chile Festival is upon us. Hailing from the Hatch Valley in New Mexico, the unique, unmistakable flavor of the hatch chile is as widespread at this time of year as pumpkin spice things are in the fall.
But not everyone's a fan. Writers Eric Moreno and Mark Stenberg take a stab at explaining their love and hate, respectively, of this popular pepper.
Hatch Chiles – Little Green Bombs of Goodness
When roasted, the Hatch chiles offer up a smooth, sultry kind of heat that is different from what a lot people who are fans of say Tex-Mex chiles or Thai flavor profiles are used to. The heat lets you know it's there, but it never overpowers any dish. I have found the best way to enjoy this type of heat is with the rich, fatty, greasy flavor on top of a cheeseburger. My suggestion of where to find the best example is the green chilli cheeseburger at the reigning king of SA burgers, Chester's. It's spicy, it's messy, it's awesome.
What truly sets the Hatch chile apart from others in its “family” is the subtlety with which it brings its sweetness. It is this unique flavor that is the real signature of the Hatch chile. There is no denying the almost elemental appeal of pairing sweet with spicy. In the Hatch chile, the two primal flavors are already built in and when used as ingredients in a dessert, they make for true taste bud-shattering experiences. If you're looking for a real gateway into the Hatch world, H-E-B (the local patron saints of the pepper) offer a Hatch Chile and Sweet Lime sandwich cookie. Think a slightly spicy, slightly tart Oreo.
I believe what has truly made Hatch chiles the current darling of the culinary world is how malleable the pepper truly is. It can be the star ingredient or simply a bit player in a complex dish. It is at home in American comfort food, in Southwestern and Tex-Mex dishes, and in trendy, upscale salads. You can stuff them, deep fry them, grill them, sautée them, or roast them; what I'm saying is you can do just about anything with them and they will still taste great. Again, if you're looking for an entry point into its versatility, Chuy's is also a big participant during Hatch season. Enchiladas, burritos, quesos, and even martinis all have the Hatch flavor this time of year.