Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gloria's Hatch Pepper Green Chili

My year-long wait is over: Hatch peppers are back at my favorite grocery store! The name refers to a specific growing region in New Mexico, and because their season is brief, fresh hatch chilies can be difficult to find outside of New Mexico and Texas. When they show up at our local Whole Foods store here in Durham, they're quickly snapped up by eager cooks and chefs who have been waiting for them. Last year I made the mistake of not buying some hatch peppers the day they arrived at the store. By the time I returned a few days later, they were ALL gone. This year I was determined to snag a few the moment I saw them so that I could try my hand at Chile Verde, or New Mexico Green Chili.  

Hatch peppers are the key ingredient needed to make authentic New Mexico green chili (chile verde), a hearty and spicy-hot stew with roots firmly planted in traditional Mexican cuisine. Made with pork or chicken and not as heavily seasoned as "red" chili (i.e., Texas style and other beef/bean chili), New Mexico green chili usually has no tomatoes--although some cooks do add tomatillos--and is made from a deceptively simple list of ingredients. The secret to its complex and yet comforting flavor is in the long, slow cooking, and in the unique flavor of the hatch peppers: Similar in size and shape to Anaheim peppers, Hatch chilies are paler in color, with a subtle tang and "fruity" brightness, and with heat ranging from mildly piquant to as hot as a hot jalapeno. When roasted, their flavor deepens and rounds out, with an earthy richness that's a natural with pork or chicken. Hatch peppers are excellent in many Mexican and Southwestern recipes including chile con queso and in verde sauces, stuffed as chile rellenos, roasted or used raw for salsa.

New Mexico Hatch Peppers
It's said that every New Mexican cook worth his or her salt has their own signature chili verde recipe. My recipe uses chicken breast instead of pork, but you could certainly substitute an equal amount of lean pork (and saute until browned). Most recipes call for roasted hatch chilies, but some cooks prefer the brighter flavor achieved with the fresh, raw chilies. Because I was pressed for time, I opted for using raw hatch peppers instead of roasting them first, and I let the chili simmer for good, long time over low heat. Next time I'll try roasting the peppers, and/or making this in my crock pot. My recipe makes 4 to 6 servings, and can be served with tortillas, corn bread or rice.

1 Tbs plus 1 Tbs vegetable or canola oil (not olive oil)
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
2 Tbs flour (whole wheat will work)
4 large Hatch chili peppers (approx. 1/2 lb), diced (approx. 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp Mexican oregano or Marjoram (don't use Mediterranean oregano)
2 cups water
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
Optional garnishes: Lime wedges, thinly sliced radishes, chopped avocado, chopped fresh cilantro

Simmering Chile Verde (Green Chili)
In a large, deep saucepan, saute the onion & garlic in 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. When onion is translucent, add chicken and cook, stirring frequently, for 4 or 5 minutes until surface of chicken is cooked but the chunks are not yet cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken, onion & garlic into a bowl and set aside, then add remaining tablespoon of oil to the saucepan.  Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, to make a light brown roux. Slowly add the water, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Return the chicken, onion & garlic to the saucepan, stir in the remaining ingredients except the salt, and bring to a boil, stirring regularly. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until peppers are tender and chicken is cooked through. Uncover, stir and continue to simmer (adjust heat if needed) until desired thickness is reached. Stir in the salt, taste for balance and adjust seasonings if desired: e.g., add more salt or cumin or oregano/marjoram. If desired, serve garnished with lime wedges, radish slices, avocado and/or chopped cilantro.

Zestfully yours,

Note: My late-season hatch peppers were definitely on the hot side, and my green chili turned out to be quite spicy. If, however, your Hatch chilies are too mild for your taste, you can bump up the heat by adding a few splashes of a jalapeno hot sauce like El Yucateco Jalapeno Hot Sauce or Blair's Heat Jalapeno Tequila Hot Sauce. Another excellent hot sauce choice, especially if you like tomatillos and cilantro, is Under the Influence Tomatillo Hot Sauce.

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