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Like Pumpkin Spice Lattes and McRibs, Hatch chiles are a hyper-seasonal food item that have their own legion of loyal devotees. But unlike that unnatural cup of joe, or the pseudo pork sandwich, a batch of Hatch chiles are indeed worth seeking out. (Okay, I'm a hypocrite. I love Pumpkin Spice Lattes and McRibs too, but let's keep that between you and me).
Grown in the Hatch valley of southern New Mexico, Hatch chiles have a short growing season spanning from August and into September. During these few weeks of late summer and early fall, New Mexicans go crazy for the green capsicums—buying up bags, boxes, and bushels of the chiles, roasting them and then throwing them into all manner of dishes ranging from chili verde, to burgers, to apple pies.
Luckily for the rest of the country, fresh Hatch chiles have become more widely available outside of New Mexico. In Southern California (my neck of the woods), masses of chileheads queue up outside a handful of select grocery stores and gourmet markets that sell the special chiles. These stores even offer to fire-roast the long green pods in steel drums rotated over open flames.
I usually skip the fire-roasting line because roasting the chiles at home is a cinch. Although you can roast the chiles directly over the open flame on a gas stovetop, I prefer to roast them, just until the skin chars and blisters, right on my barbecue grill.
After I've roasted, peeled, and chopped my Hatch chiles, I like to throw them in between a couple of tortillas, along with some grated cheddar and jack cheeses, and some grilled chicken thighs that were previously bathed in tequila and lime juice. The heat and earthiness of the Hatch chiles are a great match to the citrus tang of the chicken thighs.
In general, roasted Hatch chiles have a nice bit of spicy heat to them (though some Hatch varietals can range from mild to very hot). Hatches are also bittersweet, grassy, and smoky and have an overall flavor (some say) that are unlike any other chile pepper. That said, I do find that Anaheims or Poblanos are suitable substitutes—so don't fret if you don't have fresh Hatch chiles available to you.