The 2016 harvest of New Mexico Hatch green chiles is right around the corner, and if there was ever a time to be excited about a new arrival at the farmers market, this is it. But what is it that makes hatch green chiles so great? To find out, I talked to Nate Cotanch, founder of the Zia Green Chile Company, the sole supplier of authentic roasted hatch green chiles year-round in New York City. Here's why the Chile Guys think it's time for you to get excited about green chiles.
1. The harvest happens once a year, in just one place.
Most produce is readily available year-round from easily accessible sources. Authentic New Mexico green chiles, by contrast, are only harvested in the autumn months, beginning as early as August and lasting as late as mid-end October. They are only able to be grown in the New Mexican soil due to the dry climate and high altitude. Because of its seasonal attributes, New Mexicans and chile lovers will stock up on large quantities during the harvest in order to have stock to last until the next one. It is also a rarity, scarcely found (or known of) outside of the Southwest region.
2. Green chile is more than just a pepper — it's a food of enchantment.
New Mexico wears the garbs of a long and colorful history. It's a land of breathtaking contrasts, of bone-white desert dunes and snow-white mountain summits, of pleasant villages and sunlit plains, of quiet riverbanks and small arroyos that widen into beautiful canyons that encompass all known eras of geologic time. Different regions of New Mexico are able to grow different strains with different characteristics, although in only the Southern part of all this, known as the Hatch Valley, the most celebrated strain of Hatch green chile is grown.
3. Their versatility is endless.
Hatch green chiles bring an unmatched flame-roasted, smoke-kissed, spicy flavor to just about everything they touch. After hatch green chiles are picked from the fields of New Mexico, they're roasted, peeled, sometimes diced, then often used for sauces and relishes. You'll also find them in sautés, stews, or breakfast dishes, or simply topping off a pizza or a burger. Green chiles also go surprisingly well with sweeter flavors — try adding one to an apple pie recipe!
4. Their scent is unbeatable.
Throughout the harvest, fresh green chiles are thrown into barrel roasters and cranked over burning flames. When you're in the vicinity of a roasting site (often on street corners, in grocery store parking lots of New Mexico, and at NYC's Smorgasburg), you'll know it just by the scent in the air, which is immediately apparent, drool-inducing, and even heartwarming. Thankfully, this scent remains with green chiles — from roasting to freezing to thawing.
5. You get to answer the "Red, green, or Christmas?" question.
While Southern New Mexico is known for its harvest of the Hatch green chile, Northern New Mexico (Chimayo being its "hatch") is synonymous with the red chile, due to the higher elevation and more rocky terrain. Every New Mexican and chile lover has their own preference of red, green, or "Christmas," a unique and complementing combination of the two. Each harvest is the perfect time to revisit and discover your own personal answer to this question.