Chile-heads can tell you that the heat from August is directly related to the beautiful green chiles dangling from plants throughout New Mexico — namely Hatch, N.M.
Local grocers caught on several years ago, and now we can enjoy this seasonal delicacy to excess here in Oklahoma.
Yes, this same varietal of chile can be grown in Oklahoma. In fact, it can be grown pretty much anywhere. Anaheim, Calif., grows a mild variety that can be found in produce departments yearround.
But there's something magical about the soil in Hatch, N.M., that produces a chile with significant heat that still produces a soul-soothing flavor usually reserved for comfort foods. Truth is, New Mexico-style green chile is comfort food. Ask anyone who lived in New Mexico or has been a regular visitor.
For years, I've been fetching Hatch chiles at the first opportunity and converting them into various dishes. But the last couple of years, I've concentrated on how to make one harmonious sauce that can be stored and used in a multitude of dishes.
The typical treatment for green chiles is to roast, peel and de-seed them, make a stew base, add cubed pork and a little flour or slurry toward the end, and you've got a representative green chile pork to eat with potatoes or rice with warm flour tortillas and roasted corn. Still an excellent approach.
But because we only get these chiles once a year, I decided to buy a whole case, which amounts to somewhere between 15 and 20 pounds. A lot of stores now offer roasting at the store, which will save you a lot of time. However, I like to separate the greens from reds, roasting the greens and drying the reds for later use.
Roasting is essential. The skin on these chiles is pretty tough and don't do well in raw preparations. Plus, roasting is responsible for the transcendent green chile flavor we seek.
To do it at home, I like to toss the chiles with a little olive oil, which helps the chiles roast in a more uniform manner. You can roast oiled chiles either under the broiler, over hot coals or on your propane-fueled grill. Simply blister the chiles on each side, and store in resealable bags for at least 20 minutes. Skins peel off easily, then flip the chile and scrape away seeds. The membrane the seeds tangle within can stay as that is where the chile's heat resides. If you want the chiles at a lower octane, remove seeds and membrane.
These chiles will keep in the refrigerator overnight. You can also freeze them for up to six months if you store them in an airtight container.
Those leftover red chiles can be placed on baking sheets and dried in the oven. Simply set the oven to its lowest temperature and let the chiles bake until they've dried out and darkened. Hot days in Oklahoma don't offer enough consistently dry heat to efficiently sun-dry chiles. Dried red chiles can be stored in a jar or bag for months.
To make green chile sauce, I decided to borrow a technique I use to make Italian-style tomato sauce. It's a simple little procedure of sweating onions, garlic and grated carrot then adding the roasted chiles and blending. Since chiles don't have as much residual water as tomatoes and their heat requires a dilution for palatability, we add chicken stock to this slow-cooked mixture and allow it to cook low and slow as long as we can stand.
I've included recipes for a huge batch of chiles plus one for those who just want to make enough for dinner.
Thanks to our westward neighbors for growing these beauties, you can find them at Homeland, Crest, Sprouts and Whole Foods Market.