The chile roaster outside the Los Altos Ranch Market on 16th and Roosevelt streets gets ritual use this time of year. Black and cylindrical, flecked with burnt skins and ancient bits of char, the roaster spins at least four times a day. When you smell the pungent perfume of peppers blistering and hear the snap and crackle of pods tumbling like lottery balls in the chamber, which scorches at north of 600 degrees, you know that, at last, Hatch season is upon us.
Every August, millions of peppers, picked while still green, are trucked to the Valley from fields in Hatch, New Mexico. Last season, Ranch Market received four truckloads bearing a total of 115,000 pounds of peppers, one farmer’s entire stock. This year, the same farmer couldn’t meet demand, so Ranch Market had to turn to other sources.
Los Altos Ranch Market is just one Hatch roaster, and the Los Altos Ranch Market on 16th and Roosevelt streets is just one Ranch Market of many, in a town where the number of Hatch chile roasters are uncountable.
Those Hatch chiles pack a nice current of heat, and roasting seems to deepen other flavors latent in the pepper, imbuing them with campfire musk, which rises to tango with the burn. Roasted, Hatch chiles are a glorious pepper by the standards of any heat seeker.
The cauterized chamber of the chile roaster clangs a little. Jose Pimentel, produce manager, is dumping in two 25-pound boxes of Hatch chiles. He fires it up. The chamber starts to spin, throwing the peppers off the curved walls, like seaweed caught in a strong tide.
The roaster emits a mechanical whinny, causing the head of people in the parking to turn. For two or three minutes, the roaster gathers heat. Once it has topped out at full blaze, the peppers start to pop like firecrackers. A deep vegetal smell emanates. You can feel a curious tingle in the air. Pimentel says that, by day’s end, he often “feels like his skin’s on fire.”
When the peppers start to blacken and really blister, Pimentel cuts the power and the peppers tumble to a stop. Wearing rubber gloves, he rakes them into bins.
The roasted Hatch chiles will go home with customers, both home cooks and restaurant buyers, for $2.49 a pound. Many buy 25 pounds at a time, freeze their peppers, and cook with Hatch chiles deep into the next year.
That's because Hatch season is fleeting, lasting only the month of August and early September. Which is why now is the time to seek out these blistered, 6-inch peppers that will power enchiladas, chiles rellenos, burgers, tacos, fry bread, and velvety green chile sauces all over the Valley.
Five Places to Get Your Hatch Chile Fix
Los Altos Ranch Market’s Cocina
The Hatch experience in Ranch Market’s kitchen area comes via “add-ons” — meaning you can spike huevos rancheros, chiles rellenos, and other hearty plates with roasted Hatches. Over at the cremeria, score Hatch-spiked crema to load into your fridge.
Fry Bread House
The James Beard Award winner is renowned for its green chile, a recipe passed down from owner Sandra Miller’s mother (who was the restaurant’s founder). Miller buys 100-pound gunnysacks of Hatch chiles, roasts the peppers, freezes most, and simmers with them into the winter.
Rito’s Mexican Food
At this family-owned Mexican standby open since 1977, you can experience Hatch in three forms: green chile sauce, green chile enchilada (cheese or beef), and green chile enchilada sauce, which, for the ultimate “green on green” meal, you can smother on a green chile enchilada.
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Rehab Burger Therapy
Rehab serves a Hatch Burger with the pepper draped atop a patty made from a blend of chuck and ground sirloin, with cheddar melted over the whole show. To take the burger to the next level, sub out the standard beef blend for chorizo.
Maria’s Fry Bread and Mexican Food
Maria’s has only been open since 2016. The eatery nevertheless taps into the Southwestern tradition of Hatch chiles in a veteran way. Chef Maria Salidas has been stewing the same green beef chile for decades, using a recipe with native New Mexican origins.