Get Your Hatch Chili Peppers Right Here
For folks in the Southwest, Hatch chili pepper season is six weeks of special culinary heat. Experts consider them about the best peppers grown in the United States. They’re named for Hatch, N.M., where they were first cultivated in this country. As production expanded, growers moved to the section of the Mesilla Valley that is near Las Cruces, N.M.
Harvested during late July and August, Hatch chili peppers are said to account for that “certain something” in Southwestern dishes. The fruit may look long and curvy like Anaheim chili peppers, but they are firmer and have a greater range of flavor (good for stuffing a la chili relleno; from mild to medium). They smell great raw and deeply wonderful when roasted. Hundreds of thousands of pepperheads have attended the Hatch Chile Festival, held during Labor Day weekends for the past 36 years, where the freshly roasted peppers are peeled and eaten out of hand. (Hatch brand green or red enchilada sauces are my go-to when I need the canned versions; I find them at Whole Foods Market and they're also available through Amazon.com.)
The big news is that fresh Hatch peppers have come to East coast retailers. In our area, you’ll be able to find them at Wegmans stores in the Washington area starting Wednesday for the next two weeks, at $1.99 per pound. The chain partnered with Melissa’s Produce to make it happen. With the peppers' relatively short window of availability, the stock sent here is expected to go fast.
Mini Hatch chili pepper festivals will be held at two Wegmans: in Fredericksburg (2281 Carl D. Silver Pkwy.) next Thursday through Sunday, and in Woodbridge (14801 Dining Way Rd.) from Aug. 27-30. Each one will have about 300 to 400 cases to sell, says Wegmans regional produce specialist Steve Thiergart, and will fire up two huge roasters outside for seven hours per day. The roasters can char 28 pounds in three minutes, he says, and judging from the test runs his crew has done, he figures the aroma of roasted Hatch peppers to draw folks all the way from Bethesda. (Well, I’ll be there, anyway.)
“We were eating them whole, just peeling back the charred skins,” he told me. “Man, they were good. That’s how we want to see people enjoying them.”
The roasted peppers will sold by the pound ($3.99 per pound) or by the case ($35; about 25 pounds pre-roasted weight), so the latter is quite a deal. During the four-day gigs in Fredericksburg and Woodbridge, the stores will feature the roasted peppers in various foods made in-house – on top of pizzas, for example. Talk of mariachi bands is in the air.
What might you do with pounds of roasted peppers? Freezing them’s an option. Robert Schueller of Melissa’s says they can be frozen for up to a year; freeze the peppers spaced apart on a tray, then place in heavy-duty plastic bags in groups of five or six. FYI: They are easier to peel once frozen. The fresh peppers will hold at room temperature for five days, or for 10 days refrigerated. Roasting directions and recipes are available on the Melissa's site.
-- Bonnie Benwick
The Food Section
August 14, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: Shopping | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, chili peppers, shopping
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