Harvest menu Starts August 15, 2022

Hatch Chile 101: Why Hatch Chiles Are Like a Fine Wine

by Terry Craig

Let’s begin with Christopher Columbus, as we usually do. When sailing around and “discovering” the Caribbean Islands in the new world, he was given the chile plant by natives as a gift. The European community discovered them when a sampling was taken back to Spain. They became a spicy replacement for peppercorns when dried. This was a good thing because peppercorns were extremely expensive at the time — even used as currency in some places. Alas, though, the plant was generally ignored for the next 300 years, but the fact that the chiles were indigenous to the New World would never be forgotten.

Jalapeno Inferno Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale and Peoria Arizona showing chef Craig inside of the restaurant
best Mexican food Scottsdale AZ, Scottsdale AZ's best Mexican food, Jalapeno Inferno Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale and Peoria Arizona showing plates of enchiladas and tacos with mexican sides

When Santé Fe, New Mexico was founded by the New Spanish Conquistador Don Juan de Onate in the late 1590’s, he brought chiles to the U.S. from his native country of Mexico. Later in 1907, Dr. Fabian Garcia horticulturist at New Mexico State University began tests on three varieties of the pepper. Many hybrids were “crossed” in an effort to find a sturdy and hearty. After many failures, a pepper called the “College #9” became the clear leader. They were grown with irrigation water from the nearby Rio Grande River. Farmers from Hatch, New Mexico adopted this chile, and eventually these wonderful chiles took the name of their region and became known as Hatch Chiles. The rest is history!

Hatch, New Mexico, a short 370 miles from Scottsdale, Arizona is now known worldwide for its coveted Hatch Chiles. Every year, in late summer, these amazing chiles are harvested after a long season of very hot days and cool evenings. Similar to wine growing regions, Hatch has its own “terroir,” or very specific soil conditions that create a unique flavor in this species of Anaheim pepper, commonly referred to as the “Big Jim.” Chefs from across the country wait all year for the announcement from New Mexico that the annual harvest is in. The sad news is that they are only fresh and available for roughly 4-6 weeks every season from the middle of August to the end of September, depending on Mother Nature. So, you need get them while they are HOT (pun intended).

At Jalapeño Inferno, we consider Hatch a sacred place (owner Terry lived in New Mexico early in his career). Major controversy exists regionally between the Pueblo Colorado chili (misspelling intended), California, and Arizona versions. All claim theirs is the best. We subscribe to the “terroir” concept from our training and experience in the fine wine world. A layman would say the meaning of the French term is that the chiles (and grapes) taste like where they were grown. It is our belief that Hatch Chiles taste unique to the soil around Hatch and that all others, however very tasty, are simply not as flavorful. We do not want to engage in a debate regarding Pueblo vs. Hatch—sorry!

We offer a couple of pointers when choosing your own chiles. Many of the local Phoenix larger chain grocery stores feature them every season First; look for a bright, green color – the brighter the better. Second, check the shape as well, the perfect pepper is symmetrical. Pick one up, the skin should be smooth, and upon squeezing, should be firm. It should feel fairly heavy in the hand for its size, ready to burst with flavor. Too much work? Sit back and let us do all the work – and order another Margarita!

Each year, for the last 20 years, we ask our friends over at Grand Avenue Produce in Phoenix to send a truck over to get these locally famous chiles for us for our annual Hatch Chile menu. We ask them to source the XX HOT ones—usually determined by the pickers in the field. And every year at Jalapeño Inferno, these precious chiles run out extremely fast.

Jalapeno Inferno Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale and Peoria Arizona showing hatch green chilies in a basket
Blackberry Chile Margarita
Blackberry Chile Margarita

We will receive multiple deliveries throughout the short season; they are usually a little hotter as the weeks go by. We steam and roast them ensuring the skin is taken completely off. Many options present themselves for use. A fresh pico de gallo salsa is dramatically transformed by the addition of the chiles. A typical green enchilada sauce, a chile relleno (a New Mexico menu staple), an enchilada will take on a whole new dimension with them added. JALAPENO INFERNO has even infused premium tequila for days with the Hatch chiles, which not only imparts a slow burn heat, it provides a wonderful flavor profile. You will know when you try the HATCHY-WATERMELON Margarita!

We get asked often about growing your own chiles here in the Arizona terroir. We have not experimented with that, but we do know the seeds can be purchased at sandiaseed.com. Alternatives throughout the year in the off season can be found. There are a variety of canned and frozen chiles and salsa on your supermarket aisle. We have found that they just do not compare to the fresh seasonal ones. We have sourced a flash frozen from fresh product from a company in Albuquerque that we utilize on our menu throughout the year—a somewhat reasonable substitution.

This years’ menu is hot off the press and has been implemented at ALL Jalapeño Inferno locations, INCLUDING the new TAKEOUT KITCHEN. The 2022 menu features a combination of crowd favorites and a few new items. Available for dine in or carryout, until somewhere around the end of September. If you can, flag me down, I may even share a recipe or two with you.

Harvest menu Starts August 15, 2022

Take a look at the 20th Annual Hatch Chile Harvest Menu

Listen to Terry talk Hatch Chile Harvest and Take Out Kitchen & Cantina on Money Radio