Here Are 8 Ways to Use Hatch Green Chile Peppers
New Mexico chefs share their favorite methods for preparing this seasonal treat.
New Mexico takes its chiles seriously. The official state question is “Red or green?” and it may be the only state that discusses Christmas—the colorful practice of adorning your plate with both red and green sauce—no matter the time of year. New Mexico State University even has a Chile Pepper Institute, a nonprofit organization dating back to 1992 that’s devoted to pepper-related research and has us seriously considering going back to college.
When late summer and early fall roll around, pepper obsessives turn their attention to hatch chiles, the seasonal green pepper that grows locally in Hatch Valley, a fertile strip of land in Southern New Mexico that includes the town of Hatch, home to an annual festival celebrating the eponymous pepper.
“For a native New Mexican, the hatch chile is an important crop we grew up on,” says Gilbert Aragon, executive chef at Heritage Hotels and Resorts, which has properties and restaurants in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, and Las Cruces. “It’s not only a main food ingredient, but an ingredient that’s in recipes that have been passed down for generations. It runs in our blood.”
Hatch chile peppers are a generic form of green pepper that shares traits with the Anaheim pepper, but its location imbues it with terroir. To be labeled “hatch,” a chile must be grown in New Mexico.
“The climate we have in Southern New Mexico lends to having a different flavor than other peppers,” says Russell Hernandez, chef and owner of Salud! de Mesilla. He says the heat varies, ranging from mild to very hot, partly because the university runs a breeding and genetics program that grows modified strands. This helps the peppers become naturally drought tolerant and resistant to pests, but it can also dial up the heat profile.
The Hatch chile is a versatile pepper that balances sweetness and heat, and its aroma and flavors are dependent, in part, on when the crop is harvested. Green and red chiles are actually the same pepper picked at different times, explains Hernandez. When plucked from the fields early and then roasted, hatch green chiles are vegetal and smoky. As the chiles mature, they turn red and develop a sweeter flavor profile and a more earthy taste.
“The applications are numerous,” Hernandez says. “Once we put hatch chiles with some other ingredients in traditional New Mexican food, you just can’t go wrong.” Try these chef-approved preparations at home to harness the power of the Hatch chile.
Green or red enchiladas
“Enchiladas are a great, traditional item you can experiment with,” says Hernandez. “Use the chiles in the sauce and smother the enchiladas, or put them directly into the tortilla.” At his restaurant, he makes seven-layer enchiladas in a casserole dish, layering corn tortillas with chile and cheese. Everyone has their own tweak they put on the sauce, he says, noting that his preferred sauce is the one he grew up eating and learned from his great grandparents. “I carry on that tradition—it’s a generational thing.”
Use it for chile relleno
Hernandez suggests subbing in hatch chiles for the usual poblano pepper. “Roast the chile and stuff it with cheese, then lightly batter it and fry it to make a chile relleno,” he says. For good measure, he likes to cover the dish with more green chile sauce for some extra heat, or you can just eat it as is.
Spice up your mac and cheese
Hernandez also likes to infuse roasted and chopped green chiles into mac and cheese, which results in a creamy pasta with just a hint of spice. Adding bacon can only help, he says.
Use chiles as a condiment
“They’re a perfect topping for a burger or added to an aioli for a club sandwich,” says Aragon. “Growing up, we even put them on our pizza.”
Add them to dips
Aragon likes to spice up dips by adding hatch chiles to queso, salsa, and hummus. He says you can also throw a handful into a saute or stew for an extra kick of flavor. “The cool thing about hatch chiles is their overall versatility, since you can use them in any dish,” he adds.
Brine some meat
Aragon has been experimenting with hatch chiles at his forthcoming rotisserie chicken restaurant, Roti N.M. “One recipe we have developed is what we call the ‘Hatch Brine’ for the rotisserie chicken,” he says. “We use the hatch chiles here to marinate the smoky-sweet flavor into the meat of the chicken.”
Have them for breakfast
Chiles and eggs are a tried-and-true combo, says Hernandez. You can throw some chopped chiles into breakfast tacos to improve any morning, but he likes going a step further and making huevos rancheros, the dish combining eggs with tortillas and salsa. Top the dish with a hatch chile sauce for a simple and tasty tweak.
Rim your cocktails
Think beyond salt the next time you’re making a drink. At Salud, bartenders adorn margaritas and Bloody Marys with a dried chile rim, so patrons get a spicy, savory kick with each sip.