Your Burning Questions, Answered
Tons of these Southwestern chiles go down the hatch in Texas every summer
As if we weren't already sweating enough, things are heating up for Hatch Chile season. These green (and less commonly, red) peppers are all over Austin menus. A Hatch Chile usually signifies a special commitment to Southwestern cuisine beyond that of the pedestrian — if widely loved — jalapeño.
But ask an Austinite what a Hatch Chile really IS, and you'll be met with blank stares. Let them pick it out of a basket at H-E-B and...wait, are there even any in stock? Thankfully, Central Market is on the job with its 28th annual Hatch Chile Festival from August 2-22.
The grocery store will send teams outside for daily Hatch Chile roasts, adding the special ingredient to "everything from pork chops to pound cakes." Locations across the state plan to go through 125 tons of peppers during this festival, including a free tasting event on August 12.
There are plenty of other places to taste Hatch Chiles year-round in Austin, if you want someone else to prepare them: Torchy's famous Green Chile Queso; JewBoy Burgers' latkes with Hatch Chiles, grilled onions, and melted cheese; and Paco's Tacos makes them the star on a tortilla with beans and cheese.
Like Champagne, Hatch Chiles are named for their provenance: the former floodplains of New Mexico's Hatch Valley. An online seller called the Hatch Chile Store places the growing region across 40,000 acres in New Mexico, California, Arizona, and Texas, but some fanatics say it's not a real Hatch Chile if it's not from the valley, which is fully contained in New Mexico.
A real purist would only accept chiles within the lineage of Joseph Franzoy, an Austrian immigrant and commercial farmer in Hatch who grew his family to more than 700 members over four generations of chile growing. Many informational sources about Hatch chiles are sure to mention the Franzoy name.
If 125 tons seemed like a lot, consider the 300,000 people that visit the small village of Hatch along the Rio Grande each year, according to the New Mexico Tourism Department. These visitors dramatically outnumber the villagers; a group of 1556 as of 2021. A local festival even chooses a chile queen each year.
Central Market attributes the smoky flavor of the chiles to a temperature differential in the valley: big shifts been hot days and cool nights. This is in keeping with widely held gardening wisdom that hotter areas generally create hotter chiles — these generally only pack a mild-to-medium punch at 4,500 units on the Scoville scale. That's about the same or milder than a jalapeño.
If pepper fanatics in Austin choose to visit this pepper hotspot, they'll have to plan quite the drive. Hatch is north of Las Cruces and south of the famously named Truth or Consequences. (Yes, that's a real town.) It's about an 11-hour drive one-way, or Texans can fly into the El Paso International Airport and rent a car for the day.
Those who do make the drive may want to check out a copy of New Mexico Chiles: History, Legend and Lore by documentarian Kelly Culler, whose extended family grows chiles in the Hatch Valley. Some things have changed since its 2015 publication, but it doesn't look like people are losing interest in these crops anytime soon.