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 usually attracts over 30,000 visitors from all over the United States.
Austin, Texas, has a love affair with these chiles during August, the only time they are available fresh. You can smell the intoxicating smoky-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. If you are lucky enough to have stocked up on hatch chiles in your freezer, I have the perfect recipe to showcase this unique ingredient - stewed pork with spicy hatch chiles served with a side of warmed tortillas.
3-4 pound boneless pork butt or sometimes it is labeled as Boston Butt
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 pounds small tomatillos, quartered
4 Roma tomatoes, quartered
1 large yellow onion, quartered
6 garlic cloves
1-2 jalapeno chile, halved
8-12 hatch chiles (or regular poblano peppers)*
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon dried ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried coriander
2 teaspoons sugar
1 can of Mexican beer like Pacifico Clara, Dos Equis Lager, or Tecate
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and roughly chopped
Tortillas (corn or flour)
Queso fresco (Translates as "fresh cheese" — a Mexican cheese, traditionally made from raw cow milk or a combination of cow and goat milk. You will find pasteurized versions in the US. The flavor is bright, milky, and mild.)
Mise en Place
*I usually buy the hatch chile's already blackened, and I put them in my freezer. Use a paper towel to wipe and remove the skin from the chiles. Trim the top stem off and slice open to discard seeds. If you buy fresh chiles or poblano peppers, you need to blacken them on the sheet pan with the other vegetables. Trim stems off, cut in half, discard seeds.
Peel the husks off the tomatillos and wash the sticky outside of them, dry well.
Peel and quarter the onion.
Prep the jalapeno by lopping off the stem, cut in half, and removing the seeds (unless you like SUPER SPICY food).
Wash and dry the tomatoes, quarter.
Trim the butt
Cut off the large portions of fat from the pork butt, and reserve the fat to render down in the Dutch oven. Cut the pork butt into 1-2 inch pieces.
Toss the chunks of pork in a large bowl with a tablespoon of kosher salt and allow to sit in the fridge for an hour.
Toss tomatillos, tomatoes, onion, unpeeled garlic cloves, jalapeno, and chiles (if not already roasted) with a drizzle of olive oil and spread in an even layer on the sheet pan. If you are using fresh chiles or poblano, make sure those are placed skin-side up, so they blacken. Broil 6 inches from the top of the oven until vegetables are softened and black in spots, about 8-10 minutes.
Turn off the broiler, and heat the oven to 325 degrees.
Pull the pan of veggies out of the oven and let them cool slightly on the sheet pan. Peel the garlic and discard the skin.
My personal preference is to have visible pieces of hatch chiles in the stew, so I reserve those and chop by hand.
Carefully scoop the rest of the veggies, pour any liquid from the sheet pan into a food processor or blender, and pulse until the mixture is roughly pureed. It looks and tastes like an award-winning salsa!
Brown the fat
Many recipes call for browning the meat first, but instead, we will brown the pork fat to create a desirable fond on the bottom of the Dutch oven.
Add pork fat and trimmings along with a cup of water to a Dutch oven over high heat. The water will evaporate, and the pork fat will begin to sizzle. Stir and allow to cook for 10-12 minutes. A dark fond will form in the Dutch oven, and the trimmings will become brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, discard all the trimmings, and pour all but 2 tablespoons of fat out of the pot.
Bloom the spices
Heat the reserved fat in the Dutch oven over medium heat and add oregano, cumin, and coriander, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Roast in the oven until fork tender
Pour in the green salsa from the food processor, and add 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar.
Pour over 1 cup of beer and using a wooden spoon, scrape up the fond that has formed along the sides and bottom of the Dutch oven.
Stir in the pork and the hatch chiles, cover and transfer to the oven for about 3 hours. Stir every hour and check for doneness.
What to do if
The stew should be thick but we don't want all the juices to evaporate completely. If the stew starts to dry out more than you like, add some beer, chicken stock, or water.
If there is more liquid in the stew than you would like, make a slurry of 1 tablespoon Masa Harina and 1 tablespoon cold water and gently stirred into the stew to let it thicken and simmer. If you do not have Masa Harina, substitute cornstarch
Once the pork is falling apart, remove from the oven and stir in chopped cilantro. Serve with warm tortillas and optional sides like lime wedges, sour cream, chopped onion, extra cilantro, and cheeses like cojita or queso fresco.
I like to use Mexican Oregano in this recipe because it can hold up to the intense flavors, unlike the sweeter Mediterranean version. Mexican oregano is widely used in Latin American cuisines and the regional cooking of the Southwest. It is a close relative of lemon verbena and shows an intense herbal aroma and pungent oregano flavor.
Lots of people stock up and freeze these chiles to use year-round. The devotion to roasted chile runs deep in the South, and yes, it's with an e never with 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.
Hot chile peppers burn calories by triggering a thermodynamic burn in the body, which speeds up the metabolism. (I love this tidbit!)
Capsaicinoids, the chemical that makes 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.