Weekend Dish column: The best green chile in the world
What's in a name, and would a chile by any other name taste as spicy?
The Weekend Dish
While chiles can be grown all over the world, an extraordinary variety is cultivated right next door to Colorado in New Mexico. Chiles are a big deal there, and their importance is reflected by the official state question: “red or green?”
First cultivated by Pueblo and Hispano communities, New Mexican chiles can trace their lineage back to early Spanish conquistadors who first glimpsed the red mesas of New Mexico.
In 1583, Baltasar Obregon wrote, “They have not chile, but the natives were given some seed to plant.” The seeds that these natives planted thrived in the dry air of the high desert. Chile pepper production exploded in New Mexico.
Many varieties of chile pepper have prospered there, including early variants of pasillas, jalapeños, serranos, and anchos. One type of chile seemed to do even better than the others. These long green chiles that turn red in the fall, sometimes called Anaheim chiles, became a significant export of New Mexico.
The Anaheim chiles have their name because they are also grown in California. But make no mistake, they are New Mexican through and through.
The New Mexican chile we know today was further developed by the horticulturist, Fabián Garcia, at New Mexico State University. He helped to cultivate “hotter’ chiles to satisfy the palette of New Mexicans. His selective breeding program created 14 lineages, including Colorado and Pasilla chiles. The naming conventions of some chiles depend upon which region of New Mexico they are grown.
The Hatch chile, grown in or around Hatch, New Mexico, are a species of the genus Capsicum. They are very similar to Anaheim Chiles and are renowned for their smoky, sweet and crunchy flavor. The soil and local environment shape this unique flavor profile.
Hatch chiles are at most stores, but sometimes they are not even grown in New Mexico. Chiles can be complicated. In 2012, New Mexico state legislators passed a law that prohibited the sale of chiles described as “New Mexican” unless they are grown in New Mexico.
Although these chiles can be purchased locally, I like to get them directly from the source. My friend, Tim Bradley, who is also the bassist for a well-known local band, The Mix, is quite the Hatch Chile connoisseur and provider.
The drummer in Bradley’s band has family in Hatch, New Mexico. Every year, he helps his family harvest the chiles. He brings some of these fresh roasted Hatch Chiles back to Colorado with him. Bradley has been getting his peppers from his drummer for some time now.
“For the last few years, I usually buy 70-pound bags of them,” Bradley said. “They are the best chiles in the world. I start eating them in my truck as soon as I pick them up.”
Bradley graciously shared some of these chiles with me. He also gave me some suggestions of what to make, including soup, spaghetti, wraps, and green chile. Bradley recently made 13 gallons of green chile, so I decided that was a good bet.
I enjoy green chile, but I have had mixed experiences with it. The best green chile seems to come from a nondescript, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The worst experiences have been at mainstream franchises, where the green chile tastes tinny and too sweet. Fresh peppers make all the difference, and Hatch chiles seem to be the best for green chile.
“How do you describe the flavor? It’s just right,” Bradley said.
To make this recipe, I did a little research on other recipes available online. There are many variations, and I even found a Colorado green chile version. I took the best parts of each recipe to make my own.
Serves six to eight people
1 pound Hatch green chiles
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeño peppers, sliced
1 onion, diced
1 can tomatoes, crushed
16 ounces tomatillo salsa
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups broth, vegetable or chicken
1 package meatless crumbles
1 cup flaxseed flour
1 cup corn flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon chile rojo powder
pinch of ground black pepper and oregano
- Peel and mince onion and garlic cloves, and then thinly slice jalapeño peppers. Remove skin from roasted chiles and set aside.
- Add olive oil to a large pot over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until they begin to brown. Stir in jalapeño slices and continue to sauté for less than five minutes.
- Add another splash of olive oil, then stir in meatless crumbles or meat of your choice. Continue to cook over medium high heat for several minutes.
- Stir in undrained tomatoes, tomatillo salsa and broth. Stir flour into the broth water before heating it.
- Add spices and reduce heat. Simmer for about two hours while stirring occasionally.
I started with the fresh Hatch chiles that Bradley provided. They did not require much effort to prepare since they had already been fire-roasted. If you buy them before they are roasted, then I recommend roasting them on a barbecue grill or directly on a rack in the oven. Roast them until the skin starts to darken and blister. Roasting them matures their flavor while also making it easier to remove the skin.
Many green chile recipes also call for pork or chicken meat. By cooking the meat in the green chile sauce, it comes out tender and juicy. If you do not want to use animal products, then you can also use a plant-based substitute. I included meatless crumbles by Morningstar Farms to satisfy my meat cravings. I also replaced the chicken broth base with vegetable broth made from bullion.
Green chile recipes also usually include tomatoes, garlic, onions and tomatillo salsa. I found some recipes called for unusual ingredients like cloves and cornflour. I decided to use both, since cloves will add an exotic flavor, and the flour can help thicken the chile. I added some flaxseed flour for extra nutrition. I also threw in some sliced jalapeño peppers, since some like it hot.
If your chile is too spicy, you can cut through the heat with an acid like lime juice. A dash of sour cream can also tame the heat.
Green chile can be in many recipes such as in soups, dips, eggs, burritos and more. If Hatch chilis are the best in the world, then this is the best green chili, too.
Jordan Callier is an avid foodie and business owner in Glenwood Springs.
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