As summer cools down, the Village of Hatch, New Mexico heats up. Labor Day weekend heralds the annual Hatch Chile Festival, a two-day celebration of the world-famous crop that attracts over 30,000 visitors from all over the United States. My town of Austin, Texas has a love affair with these chiles during the month of August, the only time they are available fresh. You can smell the intoxicating smokey-sweet scent of roasted green chiles out front of most grocery stores. Their blackened barrels filled with fresh green chiles turning over open flames just like they do in New Mexico. Local restaurants feature special hatch dishes, and I of course wanted to showcase this special chile in a dish of my own.
The week Eat, Pray, Love came out in the theaters I went with several girl friends to catch Julie Roberts on screen. Of course to watch a movie with “EAT” in the title, we had to go to Alamo Drafthouse, a local theater (although the chain has expanded outside of Austin) that serves dinner and drinks during the movie. I ordered the Puerco Guisada, which literally translates as “Stewed Pork.” It is a spicy stew of green chiles and pork topped with crispy tortilla strips, Monterey Jack and cotija cheeses and fresh avocado slices. Served in a single serving kettle and a side of warm tortillas. I loved how the pork was ultra tender from being cooked for so long, I loved the spicy gravy it came in, and I especially loved spooning this into a warm tortilla and eating it like a taco. THIS was the dish I set out to recreate with our beloved Hatch Chiles.
You could use regular flour in this recipe combined with the cornstarch for a thickener, but I prefer to use the traditional Masa. Masa is the corn-based dough that is used to make tamales, tortillas, empanadas, and many other Mexican and South/Central American recipes. Masa harina – or dough flour - is not the same as cornmeal, which is rougher in texture (and not to be used as a substitute.) The term “masa” means dough in Spanish, although it also refers to corn flour in many regions.
I purchased a new spice for this recipe, Mexican Oregano. This is a great addition to all my hot and spicy recipes because it can hold up to the intense flavors, unlike the sweeter Mediterranean version. Mexican oregano is widely used in Latin American cuisines, as well as the regional cooking of the American Southwest. It is a close relative of lemon verbena and is prized for its intense herbal aroma and pungent oregano flavor.
These are the Roasted Hatch Chiles that everyone in Austin is going bonkers over right now. There are festivals, roastings, lectures and recipe contests popping up all over town. Lots of people stock up and freeze these chiles to use year around. The devotion to roasted chile runs deep in these parts and yes, it’s with an e never with an i.
Here are some interesting facts about Hatch Chiles adapted from the New Mexico Chile Institutes’ “Chile Pepper Facts”
- One fresh medium-sized green chile pod has as much Vitamin C as six oranges.
- One teaspoon of dried red chile powder has the daily requirements of Vitamin A.
- Hot chile peppers burn calories by triggering a thermodynamic burn in the body, which speeds up the metabolism. (I love this tidbit!)
- Teas & lozenges are made with chile peppers for the treatment of a sore throat.
- Capsaicinoids, the chemical that make chile peppers hot, are used in muscle patches for sore and aching muscles.
- Chile peppers are relatives of tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants, all belonging to the nightshade family.
- The color extracted from very red chile pepper pods, oleoresin, is used in everything from lipstick to processed meats.
- There are 26 known species of chile pepper, five of which are domesticated.
The first thing I did was trim a lot of the fat off my pork butt. And although I wanted to buy pork but without a bone, all my grocery store had was bone-in, so I cut out the bone and trimmed the fat.
Then I cubed the pork into 1 to 2 inch cubes (which I later decided to cut down into smaller bite size cubes.)
You know all that fat I cut off? I put it my dutch oven over medium-high heat. We have to start this recipe with an oil or fat of some sort, might as well use what I had on hand.
I removed the fatty pieces from the pot and then added the cubed pork to brown on all sides. Once brown I removed the pork to a plate to rest while I cook up the veggies.
Melting the unwanted fat from my pork butt gave me a perfect amount to begin this stew with. But if this doesn't appeal to you, start with a scoop of bacon grease (if you keep a jar in the fridge like I do) or a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil - enough to coat the bottom of your cookware.
Let me show you how to prep the hatch chiles. If you buy them fresh, then you need to fire up the grill and burn the crap out of them, or turn on your gas stove top and turn the chiles over an open flame until they are completely charred and blistered. Put them in a bowl, seal with plastic wrap and let them steam for 10 minutes.
Okay, that is where I am now.
The next step is to remove the skin. I do this several ways. You can take a paper towel and wipe the skin off.
Sometimes I can peel the skin right off, and sometimes I run it under cool water to help me remove the outer charred skin.
Once skin is removed we slice the chile open and remove the seeds.
Once all 18 chiles were cleaned and seeded, I chopped them roughly into 1 inch pieces. I bought a combination of mild and hot chiles and used half and half in this recipe.
In my dutch oven I put the chopped onion and about six tomatillos that I quartered.
This stew probably didn't need it, but I chopped up a fresh jalapeno to add heat. The Hatch Chiles turned out to be H-O-T.
In the last hour of cooking I added cilantro. I just learned this tip from Chef Alma Alcocer-Thomas who has been the executive chef of some 5-star restaurants in Austin and recently opened TNT Tacos and Tequila. Use a fork to separate the leaves from the bunch of cilantro. Some stems are usually fine to throw into a dish, but for a stew I didn't want the texture of any stems in the stew so the leaves were all I really wanted to use.
Duh! This is a brilliant suggestion, it works perfectly and I can't believe I didn't think of it.
After 3 hours the pork is VERY tender and the stew is SPICY. My favorite way to eat this is rolled up in a tortilla.
The next day, I found the leftovers to be even better. I ladled some of the stew in a bowl and topped with a spoonful of cool sour cream and warmed a tortilla in my cast iron skillet - perfection!