The Classic Mexican Sauce Steps Up It’s Game
It’s the chile pepper with a cult-like following. Every August and September (the hatch season) droves of chile pepper fans take to the supermarkets and area farmer’s markets, with the devotion of Deadheads at a Grateful Dead show, in search of the hatch chile. What makes this chile pepper special? Location and terroir. Terroir is a fancy pancy term, often used to describe wine grapes, that refers to the soil and climate that gives food it’s unique flavor and characteristics. Not unlike Champagne coming from a specific region of France, only New Mexican peppers from the Hatch Valley (which stretches along the Rio Grande in the southern portion of the state) can truly be called Hatch Chiles. The flavor of the chile can be described as sweet, tangy, fruity, smoky, with levels of heat ranging from mild to medium hot.
On the flip side of the coin, many claim that the hype around the hatch chile is nothing more than a marketing ploy designed to stimulate sales and the local economy, and the flavor is hardly discernible from a typical New Mexican pepper or an Anaheim. Time to pick a side. I, for one, am on board the hatch chile train. As a firm believer in terroir, and my own side by side tastings, I know there is something to this, but I encourage anyone to taste and find your own answers.
What better way to showcase hatch chiles than to put inside of a salsa verde? This is one of my favorite sauces because of it’s freshness and versatility. This salsa is typically made with jalapenos and/or serranos, but I am subbing in the much superior merica born hatch in this recipe. This recipe includes: 5 tomatillos, 3 hatch chiles, 1/2 white onion, juice of one 1 lime, 4 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro, 2 tbsp olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
This sauce is often served raw, but we’re going to take it a step further and roast the ingredients to add dept of flavor. Because it takes the chiles a little bit longer in the oven, I start them off at 400 degrees, and let them go for about 15 minutes without the other ingredients. While the chiles are roasting, halve the tomatillos, rough chop the onions, then add them with the peeled garlc to a mixing bowl, and toss all ingredients with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Throw them in the oven and roast them with the chile peppers for another 20 minutes.
Remove the chiles, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. The steam will loosen the skin, making it easier to peel. Next, remove the seeds and ribs of the chile. Contrary to popular belief, most of the heat is found in the ribs, not the seeds. As much as 85% of capsaicin (the chemical compound responsible for heat in chiles) are found in the ribs. As always, you could leave the ribs and seeds if you like to live dangerously. Place all ingredients with the lime juice and cilantro in a blender, and process.
There we have it! As I was saying earlier about the versatility of salsa verde. This makes an excellent topping in tacos, stew it with pork to make a pork chile verde, or top it on enchiladas or tamales. If you want to get a little more creative, you could spoon it over an omelete, use it as the base for a Mexican style pizza, or use to dress an interesting potato salad. Above, I placed a seared flank steak over the sauce, then topped with pickled radishes and micro greens.
Hatch Chile Salsa Verde
5 tomatillos, halved
3 hatch chiles
1/2 white or yellow onion, peeled and rough chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Place the peppers in a 400 degree oven and roast for 15 minutes. While the peppers are roasting, combine the tomatillos, onions, and garlic in a mixing bowl. Toss the vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Add on the baking sheet with the peppers and roast for about 20 minutes then remove. To remove the skins, place the peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. After about 15 minutes, remove the peppers, place under cold running water, and peel off the skins. Remove the ribs and the seeds from the peppers. Place all vegetables with the lime juice and cilantro in a blender, or food processor, and blend until chunky and well combined.