New food columnist: It's Hatch chile time

By Dennis Patillo
Sept. 12, 2017 at 4:27 p.m.
Updated Sept. 13, 2017 at 6:21 a.m.

Hatch chile polenta

Hatch chile polenta   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

Some of the best peppers in the world are produced in the Hatch Valley of New Mexico. Hatch chiles are so revered that New Mexico has named them their state food. There are festivals in the pepper's honor, not just in New Mexico, but all over the nation. The largest of the festivals were in Hatch, N.M., on Sept. 2 and 3. Chefs and home cooks alike put these peppers in everything imaginable from salsas, to margaritas, to stews, salads, hamburgers, bread. - just about everything and they taste great.

But alas, Hatch chiles are only available fresh for a very short period of about six to eight weeks. The good news is now is the time.

The smell of these peppers roasting is simply intoxicating. The peppers are truly at their best when they are freshly roasted. While you can buy freshly-roasted Hatch chiles in Victoria, they are just as easy to roast at home.

My preferred method of roasting peppers is over an open flame. When Louise and I began dating, she invited me to Victoria to show me the sights. Really trying to impress her, I offered to cook dinner. When I walked into her kitchen I saw this beautiful commercial-style stove and immediately assumed that she, too, was a cooking aficionado. Getting to work, I lit the stove and threw peppers directly on the burners. I looked up to see her staring at me in horror. It was then I learned that her stove was a decorating element and not intended for real use.

That's still the way I roast peppers at home. A few minutes over a gas burner, turning the peppers until all sides are blistered, works great.

If that technique offends your domestic sensibilities or if you have a lot of peppers to roast, put them on a lined sheet pan and place it under the broiler, turning the peppers regularly until all sides are charred. The goal is to blister the skin, making them easy to peel, not to cook the peppers. You can also roast peppers on your grill outdoors.

Regardless of your roasting technique, the peppers should be placed in something that can be sealed while they cool. A paper bag works great, as does a microwave safe dish with a lid, or a bowl covered with plastic wrap. You want to hold in the steam to further loosen the skin.

Once cool, the peppers can be easily peeled under a little running water or you can simply wipe the skin off with a paper towel. It doesn't matter if a few bits of char remain. It's not a bad idea to wear rubber gloves when working with peppers.

Roasted unpeeled peppers freeze wonderfully and can be kept frozen for six months to a year.

There are so many uses for these peppers, but Hatch chile polenta is one of my favorites. Polenta is easy to make and is a perfect foundation for many toppings.

You are only limited by your imagination.

Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines. His passion is introducing people to ingredients and techniques that can be used in their home kitchen. He and his wife, Louise, own two restaurants, The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar and The Sendera.


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