When it comes to roasted green chilies, you can't put anything past Julie McIntyre.
The owner of Summerland Gardens, McIntyre is a purist. When it's time to roll out the huge chili roaster, she tosses in only the best-tasting chilies for scorching. And those are the Big Jim Peppers from Hatch, N.M..
While you might have heard of Hatch peppers, that term doesn't refer to a type of chili but the region where the chilies are grown. It's the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico, down by Hatch and about 80 miles from the border with Mexico.
McIntyre says that farmers in that area have spent 130 years breeding chili plants to grow in that specific soil, climate and elevation, continually developing varieties that produce the meatiest and most flavorful chilies.
"Many consider them to be the best-tasting chilies in the world," she said, "but I like them because they tend to be so meaty and there is a deep smoky flavor that I haven't found in other chilies."
The surrounding environment affects the final product.
"It's like Kona, Hawaii, coffee or Vidalia, Ga., onions. The plant varieties have been bred to grow in those specific regions, with those exact conditions," she said. "Kona coffee varieties might be grown elsewhere, but it won't taste the same. Same with green chilies. Everybody grows Big Jims, but they were bred for the Hatch Valley, and that's where they reach their full flavor potential."
According to Jane Butel, a New Mexico-based cooking school teacher who has authored 20 cookbooks on the subject, "New Mexico has been home to the green chilies for eons and eons. In fact, green chilies have been so popular for so long, every man, woman and child on average eats over a bushel per person per year, resulting in almost no excess for export. Green chilies are a passion, almost an obsession with New Mexicans and almost anyone who has ever tried them."
You'll see chili roasters churning in full force at farmers markets and various parking lots around town during the next couple of months. Look for the roasters that are firing Hatch green chilies from Hatch, N.M.
Butel says, "All chilies tattle-tale their spiciness or heat by their configuration or appearance."
The three indexes to hotter peppers are narrow shoulders where the stem is connected, a pointed tip at the end of the pepper and darker color. The reverse is true for milder chilies.
If you've picked up a bushel of the roasted gems, now is the time to clean and freeze them. But first, let the freshly roasted chilies rest in the plastic bag for at least 30 minutes. This will steam off the blistered skin. Don't let them sit in the bag for more than an hour or two as chilies are highly susceptible to bacteria.
Always use plastic or latex gloves to clean peppers or else your hands will burn for hours. Store cleaned and seeded peppers in high-quality freezer bags, keeping out as much air as possible from the bags. Chilies will keep for a year in the freezer.
Susanna Holmes, an employee at Savory Spice Shop who teaches cooking classes at the store, offered some quick ways to spice up dishes with green chili. One of her favorites is adding them to scrambled eggs.
"I like to add some Savory Spice Shop Smokey Hills Cheese Powder to the eggs," she said, "then put them in a tortilla, top the eggs with a roasted green chili and sprinkle with our roasted granulated garlic."
She recommends tossing chopped green chilies into rice, beans, squash, corn or to top grilled chicken or steak.
"They are a more approachable chili because they have a mild to medium heat," she said. "Many people assume that all chilies are only hot and not meant to be enjoyed with other food."
Dreaming of green chili? Got to coloradosprings.com for our story on the Loaf N' Jug Chile & Frijole Festival Sept. 20-22 in Pueblo.
Yield: 4-6 servings
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups, or 2, 14.5-oz. cans of
yellow cream-style corn
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup chopped green
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 375. Combine all of the ingredients in the order listed and pour into a buttered 2- to 3-quart baking dish.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 325 and continue to bake for 15 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Source: Jane Butel
POLLO RELLENOS WITH SALSA GARNISH
Yield: 4 servings
4 boneless, skinless chicken
breast halves, trimmed
of any fat or sinew
2 tablespoons low-fat
2 tablespoons chopped
1/4 cup skim milk or
1/2 cup cornflake crumbs
Salsa Fresca, optional
Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Pound with a tenderizer mallet or the flat side of a heavy knife. Lay the chicken breasts out flat and divide the cheese and chilies among them.
Roll the chicken and fasten with toothpicks or skewers, tucking in the sides to hold the cheese mixture. Dip in the milk to coat uniformly, then dip into the cornflake crumbs.
Place in a microwave-safe baking dish, cover with wax paper, and cook on high for 10 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the Salsa Fresca, if using. Spoon a ribbon of salsa over each serving.
To make the Salsa Fresca combine ½ cup chopped tomato, ½ cup chopped onion and ½ chopped green chilies; mix well.
Source: Jane Butel
Yield: 4 servings
8 white, yellow or blue corn
1 cup oil for frying, optional
1 recipe Green Chili Sauce
3/4 cup 50/50 mixture
of grated cheddar and
Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup or 1 medium-sized onion,
1/4 cup sour cream
Garnish: 1 Tablespoon crushed
caribe chili, 6 leaves each
coarsely chopped Romaine
and red leaf lettuce, 4
tomato wedges each
If desired, heat oil on medium high heat in small skillet. When oil is hot, lightly fry the tortillas. Or use tortillas from package.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees about 15 minutes before serving. For each, place a spoonful of green chili sauce on the plate, then top with a tortilla, followed by a spoonful of sauce, spread to edges of the tortilla. Then sprinkle cheese and onion and add another tortilla and repeat. Heat in moderate 350-degree oven until the cheese melts. To serve, top each enchilada with a dollop of sour cream and a generous sprinkle of caribe chili flakes. Encircle each enchilada with Romaine lettuce first, then red leaf and place tomato wedges facing the same direction equally spaced around the enchilada. Top with additional cheese and reheat until it melts. Add lettuce around edges before serving.
Source: Jane Butel
NEW MEXICO GREEN CHILI SAUCE
Yield: 2 cups
1 tablespoon butter or lard
2/3 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup chopped chicken
1 cup (or more) chopped green chilies
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of ground comino (cumin)
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onion until soft. Stir in the flour.
Add the broth. Then add chilies, garlic, salt and comino. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Just before plating the enchiladas, add the chicken and simmer for another 2 minutes, leaving the broth rather thin.
Source: Jane Brutel