‘Tis the Season (for Hatch Green Chiles)

hatch green chiles

I’ve come to enjoy all the different “seasons” in Flagstaff:  monsoons, when the dark clouds roll in and grumble before their release; winter, which brings the smell of juniper burning in woodstoves; summer, with its intense rays and even more intense tourist traffic. But my favorite season?  It just might be Hatch green chiles season.

Each August, Hatch green chiles are brought by the truckload from their birthplace, New Mexico, to roasting stands on the streets of Flagstaff. They are there for three weeks, more or less—until the chiles run out. When you go to a stand to buy green chiles, you order by the crate and by the spice level. Extra hot and even hot are not for the faint of heart. The spice level varies year to year based on the growing conditions, so if you’re not sure, the roasters are great people to get insight from.

Getting green chiles has become a tradition for my husband and me. We love watching the chiles being dumped into the huge roasting spit, feeling the heat as the giant flames engulf them, and smelling the burn as they go through their transformative process. The entire experience of buying them only takes a couple of minutes, but it’s a precious and much anticipated couple of minutes every year.

In the near decade we’ve been together, we’ve missed green chile season twice. Once was the year of our wedding. Married on September 2nd, we simply got too wrapped up in logistics and celebrating to make time for our tradition. (Ah, the sad irony.)  Then, last year, I kept passing the stands solo; my husband, on a different work schedule than me, did the same. Neither of us could fathom buying them by ourselves, so we just kept putting it off until we could find a time when our schedules aligned and we could go together. Pretty soon, the roasting trucks had packed up and returned to the Land of Enchantment, much lighter in their load. Our freezer, too, seemed sadly empty.

green chilesWe managed to survive the year chile-less and bereft of spice. I know you can buy Hatch chiles in the stores and roast them yourselves, but that’s not the same. A few times, I broke down and bought some canned diced green chiles, but that’s only a band-aid too. Now I see that grocery stores have capitalized on the green chili goodness and have green chile sauces and salsas in prominent places on the shelves. They’re delicious—don’t get me wrong—but they don’t fill the void of being physically present for the chile roast.

A few years ago, we bought 40lbs of green chiles. Excessive, you might think?  Well, that lasted us a year, with a couple jars left over. I’ve offered them to people, or suggested they experience the magic of buying them themselves, and sometimes I get the response, “I just don’t know what to do with them.”  Well, if you’re also at a loss, this is what we do:

What you’ll need:

  • Mason jars (4 oz work best)
  • Food processor
  • Gloves
  • Soap and water
  • Knife
  • Cutting board

After the chiles have filled our car with their potent fragrance (which lasts several days if you’re lucky), we bring them in and set up our station. On a cutting board and with gloves on (DON’T FORGET THE GLOVES!), we cut off the stems and remove the outer (charred) skin. You can also take out the seeds, depending on how hot you like them. We then throw them into the food processor in batches. We used to dice them all, but found that pureeing them cuts down the prep time and they’re just as easy to use, if not more so. We may leave a jar or too diced, but we puree everything else. Once pureed, we fill the Mason jars and, if we have different spice levels, label them. They get stored in the freezer except for the one currently being used.

What do we put them on?  As a puree, you can spread them, so on the weekends, we’ll make toast with a layer of cheese, chilies, avocado, and top it with a poached egg or two. We put generous dollops in soups, stews, mac and cheese, and quesadillas. Be creative–anything that benefits from a little spice is a great contender!

Signs advertising Hatch chiles “Coming Soon” begin appearing in Flagstaff at the beginning of August. Within a few days, roasting trucks pop up on street corners and in parking lots. When you see them, don’t procrastinate. These ghost roasters will silently slink off in not too much time, leaving you to wait an entire year for the Hatch green chile Flagstaff fun. My husband and I have plans to go this weekend, and this year, I’m extra excited because I get to introduce our tradition to our 19 month old daughter. She already loves “shalsha.” Even if the chiles themselves are a bit much for her, I’m sure she’ll love the roasting experience. After all, the tradition is most important part.

Feel free to list roasting locations and hours, and/or foods that you add hatch green chiles to in the comments!