Stock up on Hatch chiles at Mesa festival - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Stock up on Hatch chiles at Mesa festival

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Mandy Zajac writes and edits arts, entertainment and lifestyle content for the Get Out section of the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6818 or azajac@evtrib.com

Posted: Saturday, August 18, 2012 3:45 pm | Updated: 9:36 am, Wed Aug 29, 2012.

The key to tasty chiles is all in the roasting.

So says T.J. McCuin, who’s been turning chiles over open flames for years, blistering their skins just long enough to soften the flesh, impart a smoky-char flavor and make them easy to peel.

You can see McCuin at work Sept. 15-16 at the ninth annual Hatch Chile Festival at Power Road Farmers Market in Mesa. McCuin, who owns the market, is bringing in 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of the peppers from growers in Hatch, New Mexico.

Known as the “Chile Capital of the World,” the town of about 1,700 is famous for the peppers, which are in season from about mid-August through mid-September.

“We’ll have mild, medium, hot, extra hot, double extra hot and triple extra hot,” says McCuin.

While the selection of heat profiles attracts folks, the real magic happens over the fire.

“The thing we do the best is roast. After 10 years and thousands and thousands of bags of chiles, it just comes with experience — knowing how to roast the chile you’ve got in front of you. It’s kind of an art, something to take pride in,” says McCuin.

Roasting must be done with finesse, he says, because most people buy two or three 38-pound sacks of chiles and freeze them.

“When you’re needing something to last you through the year, you want them to be roasted right. If they’re not roasted correctly, they don’t peel easily; it’s a ton of work.”

Since serious chile lovers tend to use their stash liberally, in dishes from soups and grilled cheese sandwiches to casseroles and mac-n-cheese, the last thing they need is hard-to-peel peppers slowing them down.

“Green chile is the one thing that I’ve had people come from Page, Yuma, Lake Havasu to get,” says McCuin. “They come from all over the state. You can’t really explain it until you’ve eaten it and gotten hooked on it. It has the ability to make you want to drive five hours to get enough to get you through the year. Once you’ve had it, you’ll have it on your eggs in the morning. You’ll get to a point where you put it on everything.”

The market has already started selling and roasting chiles, so you don’t have to wait until festival weekend to get them. Last year, they sold more chiles on the first day of the festival than they usually do in three or four days of sales, and quickly sold out of their stock on the second morning.

However, during the festival, local vendors who make sauces, relishes, salsas and other foods for sale in McCuin’s store will be on hand.

“We bring them out to sample their products and let people meet them. These folks can tell you exactly what to do with a mango salsa or a Hatch green chile rub,” he says.

McCuin and his crew will also roast chiles you already have for a $10 fee.

“We get a lot of people who bring them in because somebody went to New Mexico and brought them some back,” he says.

If you go

What: Hatch Chile Festival, where you can buy chiles fresh from Hatch, N.M., and have them roasted on site. Mom-and-pop vendors will also offer samples and sell foods like salsa, spice rubs, barbecue and Indian frybread.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16

Where: Power Road Farmers Market, 4011 S. Power Road, Mesa

Cost: $35 for a 38-pound sack of Hatch chiles; roasting fee is $10

Information: (480) 497-0706 or PowerRoadFarmersMarket.com

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