New Mexico hatches a welcome plot to invade New Jersey

What's the big deal, they're just peppers, you say? Well, no, actually they're not JUST peppers!
What’s the big deal, they’re just peppers, you say? Well, no, actually they’re not JUST peppers!
Hatch, N.M., located about midway between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences, is Mecca!
Hatch, N.M., located about midway between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences, is Mecca!

I have good news and bad news for New Jersey residents. The good news is that New Mexico green chile is finally available in this state. The bad news is that by the time you read this, it’s probably already gone.

For natives of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern regions of the United States, a legitimate question might be, “What the hell is New Mexico green chile, and why should I care?” To answer that, you need to discover what the rest of the country already knows — New Mexico green chile is god’s gift to humankind!

Some might say that to truly understand the appeal, you would have to visit New Mexico and sample its cuisine in the proper setting. I’m going to take a broader view, and suggest that the arrival of green chile east of the Delaware is like receiving an emissary from a faraway land, one who offers new tastes and smells to brighten our otherwise dreary existence.

Yesterday I traveled 45 miles from my house to a grocery store parking lot where green chile was being roasted in a carnival-like atmosphere. I would have traveled farther if necessary. Two years ago I drove more than 200 miles to find it, and counted myself lucky!

You can roast yourself at home, but it's so much easier when you have them do it for you when you buy it.
You can roast chile yourself at home, but it’s so much easier when you have them do it for you. Check the video at the end of this post to see the roaster in operation!
A nice little movie from 2003 was Off the Map, and though it wasn't about green chile, it goes a long way toward explaining why New Mexico is called The Land of Enchantment.
A nice little movie from 2003 was Off the Map, and though it wasn’t about green chile, it goes a long way toward explaining why New Mexico is called The Land of Enchantment.

Green chile is at the very foundation of New Mexico cooking. Having once lived in Santa Fe, I acquainted myself with the state’s sights, smells, flavors and mystique to the point that I made a solemn vow that no matter where I lived, green chile would remain a part of my life until the end of time.

Yesterday, while waiting for my crate of green chile to be roasted, I chatted with the representative of Melissa’s Produce, who told me this year’s visit to New Jersey is all about educating the public and expanding the market. From the quizzical looks on most customers’ faces, I observed that Melissa’s has a long way to go before achieving that goal.

One woman took a look at how much I was buying and asked, “Are you having a party?” I had to explain that no, I was just buying enough for my wife and I, and that it would bring gladness to our hearts through a cold New Jersey winter.

Indeed, we took home our steaming box of chile, salivating over the delicious smell, then spent the afternoon processing it, bagging it, and placing the little packages of green gold into the freezer. Well, we might have also sampled a bite of two!

Processing green chile is a labor of love. Here, I peel off the skin under a trickle of water. The skin was first blackened in the roasting process, then loosens as it steams during the drive home.
Processing green chile is a labor of love. Here, I peel off the skin under a trickle of water.
After removing the stem, the seeds and veins must be removed before chopping.
After removing the skin and the stem, the seeds and veins must be removed before chopping.

Although Melissa’s is doing its best to introduce people to their product, I don’t think they were quite prepared for the utter lack of understanding they encountered here. Some foods were available for people to sample, but I saw little in the way of anything people could take home, like recipe cards or processing instructions.

It was a little sad, and I told the representative that so many people simply don’t know what they’re missing. I told him I’d do my small part by blogging about it, hoping that every little bit helps.

New Mexico cuisine is its own thing. It differs substantially from Tex-Mex. Feast of Santa Fe is my go-to source.
New Mexico cuisine is its own thing, differing substantially from Tex-Mex. Feast of Santa Fe is my go-to volume among many sources, but The Complete New Mexico Cookbook, inset below, was one of my very first cookbooks, and its chicken enchilada page bears the scars of hot chile, oil, and many happy memories.

IMG_0317In the spirit of spreading the Green Chile Gospel, below is the recipe I use for a nice green chile sauce. It’s been lifted from Feast of Santa Fe by Huntley Dent. That cookbook wasn’t my first New Mexico cookbook, but it’s one of my favorites, and is still available on Amazon.

A mound of roasted, peeled and seeded green chile, ready for chopping.
A mound of roasted, peeled and seeded green chile, ready for chopping.
Packages of freshly chopped green chile, ready for the freezer.
Packages of freshly chopped green chile, ready for the freezer.

Chile Verde 

2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 small white onion
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp. flour
1/3 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1.5 cups chicken broth
1 cup chopped green chile
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat the oil in a saucepan and cook the onions and garlic together for about five minutes, just to wilt the onions. Stir in the flour, cumin and black pepper, stirring for two minutes to cook the rawness out of the flour. The onions may ball up into clumps at this stage, but that does not matter. When the onions/flour mixture starts to brown a little, remove pan from heat and gradually stir in the broth. Stir constantly with a wire whisk to prevent lumps. Add all the rest of the ingredients, turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The finished sauce should coat a spoon. If it’s too thick, gradually add more broth until reaching the desired consistency.

Variation: When the sauce is cooked and still warm (but not overly hot), gradually add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of heavy cream, then puree in a blender until very smooth. Reheat gently, but don’t boil or the sauce will curdle. This is excellent on chicken enchiladas.

⇓  ⇓  ⇓

The schedule for Melissa’s and Wegmans is getting down to a precious few days, but if you hurry, you might still find some fresh green chile. At any rate, save the link and look for it to be updated next year. The smell and taste of fresh green chile from New Mexico is something you won’t want to miss!

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8 Comments

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  1. They’re delicious! Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so glad we did this! Yum!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never heard of the hatch chili but it sounds awfully good!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Breaking Bad did a very poor job of portraying this part of life in New Mexico to a broader audience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think Breaking Bad was both good and bad for New Mexico. As you pointed out, it offered a pretty one-sided portrayal of the state and its residents. On the other hand, I think there are plenty of geography-challenged Americans who never heard of our country’s 47th state before the TV show. That’s tragic because it really is a very special place, and not just because my wife and oldest daughter were born there!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t say I’ve seen the whole place, but it is certainly one of the more unique states (or at least, I think so). Any state that manages to have Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Los Alamos is going to be somewhere with something for everyone!

        Liked by 1 person

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