For the second year in a row, I am noticing New Mexico-produced Hatch chile peppers in grocery stores. They seem to beckon, “pick me,” and so I brought home a grocery bag of the peppers. I decided to prepare the traditional Mexican dish, Chile Rellenos. Most contemporary recipes use poblano peppers to make this dish. However, Anaheim and Hatch chile peppers can be substituted. The main criteria is to purchased chili peppers which are large and thick enough to be stuffed with cheese and other fillings. To make this dish, skinned Hatch chilies are stuffed and then are dipped in an egg batter and deep fat fried. And the batter — egg whites which are beaten until stiff and then combined with the yolks — is what makes this dish unique. The batter is light and crunchy and perfectly matches the nice bite of the chili pepper and smooth cheesy filling. This dish is a little tedious to prepare, but the result is so, so delicious! Irresistible.
About Hatch Chile Peppers
The Hatch chile is a unique pepper grown in the Hatch Valley of New Mexico. These chilies are large and slender. They are harvested while still green, but as they sit, they continue to ripen and soften turning orange and red. The Hatch Valley was once a floodplain for the Rio Grande Valley. It has nutrient-rich soil which makes it perfect for growing these chilies. The harvest season for these peppers is from August through September.
Hatch chile peppers grown today were developed in by Fabián Garcia at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now known as the New Mexico State University. All the Hatch Chilies owe their genetic base to this agricultural researcher.
If you come to New Mexico over Labor Day weekend, you will probably notice huge crowds of people. They are attending the annual Hatch Chile Festival.
Here we are driving through New Mexico this summer. Actually, we were no where close to Hatch which is in the southern part of the state. This is just past Taos looking north towards Colorado. But, hey, I was on the lookout for Hatch chile peppers the entire time we that drove through New Mexico. And we did drive in circles after making a wrong turn and going half way up the wrong mountain pass! Unfortunately, I did not see even one Hatch chile pepper for sale.
How do you use a Hatch chile pepper?
Use Hatch chilies in chili, of course, Add them to soups, stews, sauces. Stuff the peppers and fry them. The peppers can be eaten raw or cooked. A local restaurant in Baton Rouge is celebrating “Hatch Chile Month” in September and has a variety of menu items featuring this pepper including Hatch chile margaritas. I’ll have to make a point to stop and try this mixed drink!
The degree of “hotness” varies so be careful. This year’s peppers were quite “hot” making it necessary for me to remove the inner seeds and membrane to tame the Hatch peppers down a bit. Anyway, I really like the flavor of Hatch peppers. They have a milder flavor compared to other chili peppers, such as poblano peppers, which makes Hatch peppers delightful for cooking.
Hatch Chile Relleno Recipe
In this very traditional recipe, Hatch chilies are peeled and then stuffed. Next they are dipped in an egg batter and deep fried. For stuffing mixtures, queso asadero (white Mexican cheese), is traditionally used in chile relleno recipes. Any mild, white cheese can be substituted such as Monterey Jack, Fontina or Munster. Alternatively, stuff the peppers with sausage, ground beef, shrimp, rice, cream cheese or a combination of ingredients.
I tried several variations — of course I had to make this recipe more than once. Below is a sausage, rice and cheese stuffing. I also used a ground beef with taco seasoning and cheese filling. My favorite filling, however, was Hatch peppers stuffed with just Monterey Jack cheese. Keep it simple. These peppers really don’t have space for much filling; I had a lot of sausage and rice left over and my final recipe reflects smaller quantities of filling ingredients..
For this recipe, select Hatch chiles which are green, long and straight (not curved). As the peppers ripen and turn to orange and red, they also become soft and fall apart when broiled and peeled. It is wise to plan to use these green peppers within several days of purchasing before this happens.
Removing the outer skin of the Hatch pepper
This recipe has several steps. First, The outer skin of this chili pepper is tough and chewy and so you must remove it. This step can be done a day or two ahead of time. The easiest way to accomplish this is to broil the Hatch chiles until they are black and charred — turning so that all the sides are charred. Don’t worry — the inner pepper does not burn. Then carefully transfer to either a paper bag or bowl filled with ice water to let the peppers steam until cool enough to handle.
The skins will easily peel and slip off. Try to leave the stem intact.
After removing the skins, slit the side of the pepper like a “T” across the top near the stem end and down one side. Remove most of the seeds and inner membrane.
Stuff with desired filling and pull the sides of the chili up to encase the filling. Don’t try to use a toothpick to hold the pepper together, it will just fall apart. Actually, letting the cooked filling cool down so that the juices evaporate will help things along. So, make the filling earlier in the day or the previous day and refrigerate. Here’s the sausage and rice stuffing.
Here are the cheese and ground beef/taco fillings in progress.
Make the batter(s)
The batter and frying process actually involves two breadings/batters. First I dredged the stuffed peppers in seasoned flour. Then I dipped them in the egg batter and finally fried them. So, get everything set up before the frying begins. Here are the ingredients:
My preference is to dip the peppers in seasoned flour rather than the egg batted. Why? Because you want the seasonings on the peppers — it is not really necessary to taste seasoned batter. So, I add onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, salt and black pepper to the flour.
Use an electric beater to make the egg batter. Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Beat the egg whites on high speed of the mixer until stiff. Then carefully fold in the egg yolks. This takes a little cooking skill and patience, but it is worth the effort.
Get the stuffed peppers and both the flour seasoning and the egg batter lined up ready to go. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet to 350 degrees or until almost smoking. Dip the peppers in the seasoned flour then the egg batter — shaking off extra egg batter. Fry the peppers and flip to the other side after several minutes, adjusting the frying temperature of the oil as needed. Amazingly, the peppers hold together. These peppers fry quickly as you are simply cooking the egg white/yolk batter.
The peppers are best when served hot. Get the fixings ready ahead of time, too. I served these with sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce and green onions. Of course, salsa and guacamole would be great, too.
These Hatch Chile Rellenos were a treat. Absolutely delicious! The recipe is not something that I would cook every day; but occasionally it is worth the effort. And now I have a better perspective about the part of the country where these peppers are grown. And driving from Baton Rouge to Taos, New Mexico, (rather than flying) gave us a chance to see scenery in other parts of our country. Although I didn’t find any Hatch chile peppers for sale in New Mexico, we did wake up to a beautiful New Mexico sunrise. A different part of the world — but that is what makes us special.
Hatch Chile Rellenos with Sausage Stuffing
- 8 large (approx 2 lb, total) Hatch peppers
- 1/2 cup dry, long grain rice
- 1 tsp salt, divided
- 1 cup water
- 1/3 lb bulk sausage
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 4 oz shredded Mexican cheese blend]
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/8 tsp black pepper, optional
- 3 large eggs, separated
- cooking oil, such as peanut oil or canola oil
- Sour cream, guacamole, Pico de gallo, and other condiments of choice for serving
Method and Steps:
- Char, peel skin and seed the Hatch peppers: Place Hatch peppers in single layer in large roasting pan. Place 6″ from broiler and broil peppers on all sides until skin is blackened and charred.
- Remove peppers from broiler and place in large paper bag for 15 minutes to steam.
- When cool enough to handle, remove peppers — one at a time — and peel charred skin off peppers. Then make a “T”-shaped slit in each pepper (down the center of one side and across the top close to the stem end). Do not remove the caps or stems. Carefully open the cut side of each pepper and scrape out the seeds using a spoon. Continue until all are skinned and seeds removed. Remove the membrane inside the pepper, too. Set aside
- To make filling, cook rice. Add rice, 1/2 tsp salt and water to small pot with tightly fitting lid. Bring to boil on stove, then turn heat to low. Let rice steam for 25 minutes until water is absorbed and rice is puffy. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, brown sausage, along with onion in large skillet over medium heat.
- Stir in cooked rice, chili powder and shredded cheese. Stir well to combine and remove from heat. NOTE: The filling may be made earlier in the day and cooled to room temperature.
- Fill each pepper with several tablespoons of the filling. Carefully close the pepper back up, lifting the sides up and over the filling. Set aside until ready to fry.
- Make flour coating. In a small bowl, mix flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, black pepper (optional). Set aside.
- Make breading. Separate eggs into yolks and egg whites. Make sure no egg yolk is accidently mixed with the whites. Beat egg whites in medium bowl of electric on high speed until stiff peaks form. Using a wire whip in a small bowl, stir egg yolks to blend them up. Then, by hand, carefully fold egg yolks into beaten egg whites with a spatula. Use a lifting motion.
- Get everything ready for frying. Transfer part of the flour coating to a flat plate. Have the egg breading close by.
- To fry chili peppers, to add oil to heavy 10″ cast-iron skillet. Heat oil to 350 degrees.
- Carefully take a chili pepper and roll in flour coating. Then carefully coat with the egg yolk/white batter. (You may need a fork to help spread the egg coating over the pepper.) Slide the pepper into the hot oil. Cook on each side for about 3 to 4 minutes until the breading is browned. Cook about three battered peppers at a time, replenish plate with flour coating as needed. When cooking is complete, transfer to a large plate covered with a paper towel. Continue to bread and fry until all peppers are cooked.
- Serve with condiments of your choice including sour cream, guacamole, Pico de gallo and salsa.
NOTE: For alternate stuffings, 4 oz Monterey Jack can be substituted for the sausage filling. Slice block cheese into long strips and stuff peppers. For a second alternate, brown 1/2 lb ground beef (cook thoroughly) and add taco seasoning according to package instructions. Stuff with beef/taco filling and cheese.