Local Spotlight

Bring on the Hatch Chiles: Central Market's 17th Annual Festival

The 17th annual Hatch Chile Festival is currently in full swing at Central Market, featuring specials throughout the store, Hatch chile classes at the Central Market Cooking school, Hatch chile prepared goods in the cold prepared-foods section and weekend lunch cookouts with live music and Hatch chile grill items. It's your chance to try all things Hatch, but only for the next couple of weeks.

Hatch chiles are about four to five inches in length and bright green in color, with a kind of misshapen, squiggly look to them. Harvested for a few weeks a year in the city of Hatch, New Mexico, the delicious peppers are somewhat spicy and smoky, somewhere in between a jalapeño and a bell pepper. Central Market is the largest purchaser of Hatch chiles in the U.S., and the festival is a celebration of not only the chiles themselves but the distinctively Southwestern flavor they add to everything from salsas to quesadillas to cheese, and even beer and lemonade.

I happened by Central Market during their kickoff happy hour last Thursday, when they were roasting Hatch chiles on the gas-fired grill and offering samplings of Hatch tortilla chips, salsas, cheeses and more. You could also buy hot prepared items like Hatch chile sliders, Hatch sausages, Hatch fish tacos and Hatch-butter-smeared corn on the cob.

$10 bought me three generously portioned Hatch chile-infused all-beef sliders topped with Hatch chile queso, served on honey-wheat buns. The Hatch chiles added a sweet, smoky, peppery flavor to the slider, which was enhanced by the cheesy queso.

Cooking demonstrations and samples will be available throughout the store for the duration of the festival, and recipes are available on the Web site. A sample macaroni and cheese recipe is provided here for inspiration.

Hatch Chile Verde Skillet Macaroni and Cheese Author: Elaine S. -- 2009 Plano Hatch Recipe Contest Winner 8/31/2009 Servings: 10

INGREDIENTS 1 lb elbow macaroni 2 tbsp butter 3/4 cup chicken broth 8 tomatillos, husked and chopped 6 Hatch chiles, peeled, seeded and chopped 1 medium white onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed 1 tsp salt 1 tbsp vegetable oil 1 1/2 cups half and half 2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded 1 cup white cheddar cheese, shredded 4 oz cream cheese, cubed 2 cups chicken breast, cooked and shredded 3/4 cup tortilla chips, crushed 2 tbsp butter, melted 1/2 cup pecans, chopped 2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated

PREPARATION Cook pasta until al dente and drain. Butter 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Heat broth with tomatillos and Hatch chiles and cook for 10 minutes. Transfer to food processor and pulse. Add onion, garlic, cilantro and salt. Heat oil in saucepan. Add tomatillo mixture and cook over medium-low heat for six minutes. Stir in half and half and cheeses until heated through. Toss in pasta and chicken and place in cast-iron skillet. Mix last four ingredients for topping and spread over pasta mixture. Place skillet under broiler for 15 minutes until golden brown.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham