Wednesday, August 13, 2014

NM Green Chiles (aka No Such Thing as a Hatch Chile)

It's that time of year..... for 1) New Mexico green chiles (or Hatch chiles) to come into season, which leads to 2) my annual soapbox on the aforementioned topic. Let me please direct you to a blog post I wrote at this time three years ago. And if you don't want to click on the link (though you should!) here's the brief soapboxy synopsis: there's no such thing as a "Hatch" chile. They're all varieties of New Mexico green chiles -- Big Jim, NuMex 6-4, and Sandia to name a few -- each bred for different qualities.  The green chiles are grown in southern NM, in the rich agricultural region in Dona Ana County between Las Cruces and Hatch, 40 miles north. "Hatch chiles" is a marketing misnomer (though clearly it works), as there is no varietal called Hatch.
Yes, it's the same picture from the blog post I wrote three years ago which I took in 2005! 
That's Picacho Peak in the background, which is a landmark in northern Las Cruces. 
Why does this topic roast my peppers, so to speak? Because my mother's family is from Las Cruces and they farmed all kinds of produce (green chile, pecans, cotton, onions, lettuce....) for over 50 years. Additionally, the agricultural department at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces did chile research and cultivation of new varieties. My great uncle, Roy Nakayama, was one of the key horticulturists, and became known as Mr. ChileThe Chile Pepper Institute at NMSU is devoted to the research and education of different types of chile peppers. So there was a lot of my family's blood, sweat and tears involved in green chile production.

In New Mexico, they call them green chiles, because that's what they are. The term Hatch has become over-commercialized in my eyes, and people in New Mexico would probably look at you a bit strangely if you asked for Hatch chiles. Our local grocery stores here in Austin have all kinds of products with "Hatch chiles" in them -- popcorn, crackers, brownies, cookies, dips, pestos, chocolate bars -- and these are just the shelf-stable ones! Central Market (and I assume Whole Foods) has a whole array of their own freshly-prepared Hatch items, from baguettes to guacamole and queso to ready-to-eat enchiladas. Not that any of these products are bad (well, a couple of them are!), but they propagate the illusion that all the chiles are from the tiny town of Hatch (population 1600 +/-) when they are not.

A couple examples of New Mexican places using green chiles in their dishes (and calling them green chiles!). The Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio, NM boasts the #7 best green chile burger out there (it's huge, messy and delicious). And Caliche's, a frozen custard drive-though spot on North Valley Drive in Las Cruces, with their green chile custard. Not so crazy about the green chile custard.... I'll stick to more traditional flavors for my desserts! (All pictures of mine from 2012.)
Maybe I am just a purist, both in chile nomenclature and palate-wise; I just don't really care for most of the commercial products as the flavor is never quite right to me. I do catch a bit of green chile fever this time of year (August and September is when the chiles get ripe and are harvested, so that's why there's all the "Hatch festivals this time of year), so allow me to share what's pretty much a family green chile recipe. This is also called "Green Chile" though I suppose you could add the word "sauce" to the end, though we never do; I guess it's just implied.
See the difference in size? The two chiles on the left are long skinny pointy ones, quite possibly the Sandia variety (known for their heat), while the one on the right is big and fat, and not as hot. The varietal Big Jim is milder, and was developed for its thick walls and length to make them easier to stuff for chile rellenos.

Green Chile
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup white or yellow onion, diced
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup roasted New Mexico green chiles, heat level of your choice, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/4 - 1/2 cup tomatoes, seeded and diced (can use canned)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, optional

-- In a skillet or sauce pan, heat the oil over medium/medium-low heat.
-- Add onion, saute 2 - 3 minutes.
-- Add garlic, saute a few more minutes until both onion are garlic are soft but not burned.
-- Add green chiles, tomatoes, cumin (if using) and 1/4 - 1/2 cup water (or tomato liquid if using canned).
-- Stir to combine and simmer gently about 10 minutes.
-- Use on pinto/charro beans, tamales, burgers, scrambled eggs... wherever you need a little extra kick!
-- Cool and store extra in sealed container in fridge for several days, or freeze for future use.

Thanks for letting me rant a little about green chiles. I hope you'll see them now as more than just a "Hatch chile"!  Happy New Mexico green chile season!


  1. You're wrong, Hatch chiles are prized because they are grown in the Hatch valley, NM which is known for its chile terrior. Not for being a specific variety. Variety is personal preference I prefer the more mild ones because I don't think you give up any flavor versus the hot ones. This wiki link explains it

    1. Hi atxjess, thanks for reading & commenting! Yes, the Hatch Valley is known for its terrior, but in my experience, most consumers at least here in Austin tend to think that "Hatch chiles" are a varietal (I work at CM).