Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hatch Chile Frittata



I don't live in New Mexico, but nevertheless I get absurdly excited when hatch chile season pops up in late summer. This year Labor Day barely passed when I came across them at my local Sprouts--on sale for 99 cents a pound (I've also seen them in past years at Albertsons, Bristol Farms, and various farmers markets). I scooped up a couple of pounds of these long, firm green chiles and headed back to my kitchen for the annual roasting session.

I wish I could tell you I had some fantastic hand-cranked fire-roasting contraption that you see at the farmers markets. Nope. It's just the chiles, heavy cookie sheets, and the oven broiler. There's no special trick to it. Just line them up in a single layer and fire them up. Let your nose tell you when they're ready to be turned--once--and then removed from the oven. You'll get the distinctive aroma of burning chiles and, indeed, they should be well charred.


Then it's time to gather them into plastic or paper bags, close the opening, and let them steam for about 10 to 15 minutes. This helps loosen the thick skin from the flesh. Then peel off the skin, remove the stem and seeds, and chop or slice them. I bag what I don't use immediately and put them in the freezer, so I have them to use the rest of the year. Which means I'll be heading back out to Sprouts again soon to stock up.


You could rightly ask at this point, "What's the big deal about Hatch chiles?" Clearly, there's some superb marketing going on. The chiles, known as Big Jims, are grown in one region, the Hatch Valley, along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. Maybe it's the elevation that gives them their distinctive flavor; maybe it's the volcanic soil. Or the hot days and cool evenings. Or the combination of all three. Our Anaheim chiles are descendants of the Hatch chiles, but Anaheims don't have nearly the allure or the flavor. The Hatch chiles have a uniquely smoky, earthy scent and flavor.

Traditionally, your prepped Hatch chile can go into posoles and enchiladas. I have long used them in a pork stew, corn bread, and tomato sauces. They can run from mild to hot, so gauge your accompanying ingredients accordingly, whether its for a savory dish or even desserts like cookies and brownies (you'll want to use a puree for those to create a uniform flavor).

No time to fuss over a big recipe? Then how about a Hatch Chile Frittata? That's what I did with a couple of the chiles I had after packaging the rest. There's no recipe here, just some suggestions.

Take a look in the fridge and see what's in need of being used. I had a quarter of an onion, a couple of boiled red potatoes, and a wedge of Pondhopper farmstead gouda that I'd just picked up at Venissimo. It's a goat milk that's slightly yeasty thanks to being steeped in beer. It would easily match the flavors of the chiles.


You'll need a well-seasoned cast iron pan. I have several but my favorite is an eight-inch Lodge pan I bought about 30 years ago at a hardware store on Broadway on the upper west side of Manhattan, where I lived once upon a time. It's in perfect, shiny condition from years of use.

Heat up the broiler. Slice the onions, chop the chiles and potatoes, and break the eggs. Beat them with a little milk till frothy. Heat the pan on the stove and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. Then add the onions and sauté until they start to brown. Then add the potatoes and do the same, adding some salt and pepper. While they're cooking, dice up some cheese. Once the potatoes and onions are browned to your liking, reduce the heat and add the beaten eggs. Let them just start to cook, then sprinkle the chile pieces over the forming omelet. Let it cook for a minute or so, then top with the cheese. Use a thick towel or oven mitt and carefully move the pan to the broiler. It'll just take a minute or two to finish it off.

The result will be a puffy, almost souffle-like egg dish. For me, two eggs and an egg white made a complete solo dinner. More eggs, more servings. Add a salad, a glass or wine or beer and you've got an easy meal.





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