At this time of year chilli (spelled chile when in the Land of Enchantment) roasting festivals of all sizes are taking place all over New Mexico, the Southwest and across the US. As I sit here in my London kitchen, rain coming down and cool September air circling through the open door, I too am celebrating with the smell of freshly roasted Hatch Green Chillies, famously from Hatch, New Mexico wafting through the room. Chillies which I grew from seed in little pots that I walked around my garden trailing after the sunshine. Chilli plants that I would put out into the garden during the day and pull in at night so they wouldn’t catch cold. Plants that I walked over to my neighbours house to watch the week we went away, despite the fact she was also coming over to water the plants. Plants that I tended to like others would a pet, in hopes that one afternoon, I would pluck their fruits, roast them, and freeze them for use this winter.
Now, in my head I had predicted I would have hoards of them, enough to share to all my neighbours. The reality is, I have seven in total. Not enough for more than a taste. But my kitchen is still filled with the smell that transports me back to North Forth Street on a sunny September day; nose tingling with delight from smoky, sharp the smell in the air, ears filled with the humming sound of the metal tumblers spinning round, filled with chilles. My mouth salivating, and the idea of a smothered breakfast burrito the only thing I could possibly think about.
With a scant seven chillies, and only three being Hatch, four if you count Big Jims, I will have to be extra selective about what I choose to cook with them. I could mix them in eggs, snuggled into a cheese and potato filled burrito, on top of chicken filled enchiladas, loving spread on top of a meaty burger, or stirred into green chilli stew (if I have enough). I am practically paralised by the weight of this decision.
Though disappointed by the size of the crop this year, I also know that this is only the beginning of my life with chilli babies, as I lovingly referred to them as this summer. And from what I’ve read, 2nd year chillies produce much more fruit. I can only hope for a repetition of the usually hot New Mexican-like summer we had this year.
So – while I perfect the art of growing the chillies themselves (and here’s an open call to any Hatch chilli company that would like to send some to England in the interim! As you can see I am desperate!) what I do know and can confidently share, is how to roast them at home if you aren’t privy to a giant tumbler full of the stuff.
Here’s what I started with again, like I said not many.
Over a high heat I placed the chillies, in two batches so as not to mix them up, into a pan. The crackle they produce when they first hit the pan is so exciting! Then, much like growing the chillies themselves, it’s just a waiting game. Waiting for their skin to blister on each side, turning them over with tongs until you’ve blistered as much of the surface area as possible without burning them completely.
Once blistered and gloriously fragrant, remove them from the heat and immediately pop them into a ziplock or seal tight bag, pressing out the air and wait for them to cool down. If you’re working with a good size crop, now is the time where you might want to consider getting yourself some gloves so you don’t end up with chillie burn under your fingernails (or other places if you aren’t careful!)
One they’re cool, remove the stems and give them a little roll around in your fingers, which should loosen the thin film of skin so you can easily peel it right off. You can de-seed if you like, but I chose to keep mine, in hopes of creating a bit more heat. Chop, pop back into the baggie, seal tight, label and freeze.
What does five months worth of care, nurturing and tending to equal? Well approx 2 tbsp. and a few hours of living inside a traveling New Mexican kitchen. Now to figure out how to use my precious fruits of my labour…