It’s hot in here and it’s not just the chilies

Have you seen the Hatch chilies coming into stores lately? They first hit my radar a year ago when Whole Foods heaped them up right in front of their door. It was impossible to walk into the store without catching a nose tickling whiff of their peppery perfume.

Being a born and raised Northwesterner I am relatively new to cooking with chillies. I prefer the varieties that offer a bit of sweet to balance their heat. Buying fresh chilies was an activity that stressed me out so I stuck to what I knew and purchased them chopped in cans when I was planning a dish with a nod to Southwestern flavors.

That is until last year when these Hatch chilies caught my eye. At the time they were all over the food sites I frequent, I couldn’t help but get swept up on the bandwagon. Just for fun I did a little reading up on how to fire roast chilies and set out to try it myself.

I began with a few from the bin claiming a mild heat. It turns out that roasting and skinning the chilies is pretty dang simple. Once the skin is peeled off and most of the seeds removed the remaining vegetable looks a lot like the ones I was buying in cans – except more vibrantly colored and a whole bunch more flavor. (see below a step-by-step description of roasting peppers)

After a taste test I realized what all the fuss was about. The meat is sweet with a peppery smokiness that pleasantly warms the back of the throat. After roasting they are soft and easily mix into sauces or soups. You could wrap a long strip around a piece of meat before roasting or toss some into eggs.

The best part became clear after I went back and scooped up several pounds of chilies in a combination of mild and medium heat. Once roasted and peeled these chilies freeze beautifully. I prepared a second larger batch (this time wearing gloves while peeling and seeding) and froze the diced chilies in ice cube trays – as is, no additional ingredients. Each cube measured around 1 tablespoon of diced fire roasted chilies. Once frozen I popped the cubes into a freezer bag to store until I wanted to use them. Thanks to the freezer stash I haven’t had to buy the canned variety since.

If you are intrigued but intimidated by produce your grocery store is promoting I encourage you to ask some questions in the store or poke around on the web. Your new favorite food could be a click away!

Fire Roasted Relish

Hatch chilies are the star of this spicy and sweet relish. When it comes to the tomatoes, try to avoid the hot house or on the vine variety. If possible snag some firm, just barely ripe, tomatoes out of the garden. Use the relish as a condiment with grilled meats, on sandwiches or burgers, and anywhere you want a fresh burst of flavor. The heat level can be adjusted by including more or less of the seeds in the chilies. The vitamin content is high and the calorie load is negligible so heap it on!

Should make 1 – 2 pints of relish.

Ingredients

  • A heap of Hatch Chilies (I used about 7 smallish mild heat and 5 larger medium heat)
  • 1-2 large Red Bell Peppers
  • 1-2 large slicing tomatoes
  • 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt

Method

Fire Roasting

1. Get your grill blazing hot, around 500 degrees, and arrange your peppers and tomatoes so there is space for the heat to circulate around them. Lower the grill cover but check frequently.The skins will begin to blister and crack. Turn them every few minutes until the outsides have fully blistered and charred.

2. Remove as they finish roasting and place into one or more plastic bags with the tops twisted or zipped shut. Allow the roasted peppers and tomatoes to steam in the bag for at least 10 minutes. This loosens the charred skin from the soft flesh.

3. After 10 minutes have passed and they are cool to the touch; peel away the tough outer skin.

4. Be cautious handling the chilies as the chemical that makes them taste spicy may irritate skin and care should be taken to keep it away from your eyes. You may want to wear gloves as an added precaution or when processing a large batch.

5. Carefully slice peppers so the seeds may be mostly scraped away. Leaving some seeds will give your relish a bit more of a kick.

Preparing the relish

1. Once the desired amount of seeds are removed, chop the bell pepper and the chilies into 1/2 inch or smaller squares.

2. Chop the tomato until it looks more mashed than chopped. This is the saucy bit that holds the peppers together.

3. Combine all three chopped ingredients in a jar, top with salt, cover, then shake to mix. Eat immediately or refrigerate to be used within 7 days. Freeze for up to several months.

This recipe first appeared as It’s hot in here and it’s not just the chilies on Our Lady of Second Helpings, September 2012

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