Why We Love (and Hate) Hatch Chile Season

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As the temperatures of the long days of August start to rise, two things become immutably clear. One, summer is slowly but surely trying to murder each and every one of us in South Texas, and two, Hatch Chile Festival is upon us. Hailing from the Hatch Valley in New Mexico, the unique, unmistakable flavor of the hatch chile is as widespread at this time of year as pumpkin spice things are in the fall. 

But not everyone's a fan. Writers Eric Moreno and Mark Stenberg take a stab at explaining their love and hate, respectively, of this popular pepper. 

Hatch Chiles – Little Green Bombs of Goodness

The Heat: When roasted, the Hatch chiles offer up a smooth, sultry kind of heat that is different from what a lot people who are fans of say Tex-Mex chiles or Thai flavor profiles are used to. The heat lets you know it's there, but it never overpowers any dish. I have found the best way to enjoy this type of heat is with the rich, fatty, greasy flavor on top of a cheeseburger. My suggestion of where to find the best example is the green chilli cheeseburger at the reigning king of SA burgers, Chester's. It's spicy, it's messy, it's awesome.

The Sweet: What truly sets the Hatch chile apart from others in its “family” is the subtlety with which it brings its sweetness. It is this unique flavor that is the real signature of the Hatch chile. There is no denying the almost elemental appeal of pairing sweet with spicy. In the Hatch chile, the two primal flavors are already built in and when used as ingredients in a dessert, they make for true taste bud-shattering experiences. If you're looking for a real gateway into the Hatch world, H-E-B (the local patron saints of the pepper) offer a Hatch Chile and Sweet Lime sandwich cookie. Think a slightly spicy, slightly tart Oreo.

The Versatility: I believe what has truly made Hatch chiles the current darling of the culinary world is how malleable the pepper truly is. It can be the star ingredient or simply a bit player in a complex dish. It is at home in American comfort food, in Southwestern and Tex-Mex dishes, and in trendy, upscale salads. You can stuff them, deep fry them, grill them, sautée them, or roast them; what I'm saying is you can do just about anything with them and they will still taste great. Again, if you're looking for an entry point into its versatility, Chuy's is also a big participant during Hatch season. Enchiladas, burritos, quesos, and even martinis all have the Hatch flavor this time of year.

  • Jessica Elizarraras
  • Why tho?
Die, Hatch Chile Season, Die! or

4 Reasons I Hate Hatch Chile Season and You Should Too

There is No Such Thing as Hatch Chiles: Ideally, the nonexistence of a thing should be the No.1 reason to not care about it, but it is well established that fact holds little water in the realm of belief, so despite the fact that I am telling you that Hatch chiles do not actually exist, you will likely continue to eat them.

Still, it must be said: Hatch chiles are merely any number of capsicum annuum cultivars grown in Hatch, New Mexico, not a specific type of pepper. Is the terroir of Hatch well-suited for growing peppers? Most definitely. Does that compensate for the fact that you are eating entirely different breeds of chile? Not really.

Importing Seasonal Food Subverts the Purpose of Seasonal Food:
Let’s crunch the numbers: Hatch Chile Fest predicates its appeal on seasonality (August 10-23), which is rooted in the bygone practice of eating food when the seasons dictate it should be eaten.

For millennia, people ate seasonally because they had to; now they do it — if they do it — for one of four reasons: To eat food at its freshest (excising transportation reduces pluck-to-mouth time); to soften their carbon footprint (again, less transportation); to support local business/community; or, to do a cute, trendy thing. Given that Hatch, New Mexico, is 634 miles away, guess which of the four it is.

You are Being Mercilessly Played: Guess what? All produce has a growing season. So yes, there’s a Hatch Chile Fest, but why is there only a Hatch Chile Fest? What about a Gala Apple Gala? A Frisee Fete? A Cantaloupe Carnival? Why did marketers decide to pimp out a phallic green pepper?

Think about it: What does Hatch chile — the actual chile — taste like? You probably don’t know. They’re rarely eaten raw, which means they’re incredibly marketable. Whereas other seasonal foods (watermelon, crawfish) can actually be consumed as is, Hatch only finds its way onto your plate through familiar forms, such as enchiladas, cheese dips, roast chickens, etc. So although you go to Central Market to buy Hatch chile, you come away with an armful of other ingredients that you’re told are necessary to enjoy the pepper. In reality, the whole thing is just an orchestrated scheme designed to get you to buy food you normally would not buy.

It is 2016: What do Hatch chile, mango chutney, blackened tilapia, Hypnotiq and Wolfgang Puck have in common? They were all trendy more than a decade ago. If you are a self-respecting connoisseur of food, someone who truly follows in the foodie footsteps of @UlteriorEpicure and heeds the dernier cri of Rene Redzepi, then please, stop buying Hatch chiles, you’re embarrassing yourself.

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