The month of August brings with it a celebration of the season’s best produce, like peaches, tomatoes, and corn. But in New Mexico, the real excitement is all about one regional hero: the mighty Hatch chile. Scientifically speaking, the Hatch chile is a cousin of the Anaheim, though its sweet, floral flavor and status as a cultural icon distinguishes it from any other pepper. “Idaho has its potatoes, Georgia has its peaches, and New Mexico has its chile,” says Nate Cotanch, founder of Zia Hatch Chile Company.
When summer rolls around, New Mexico’s obsession with the spicy crop becomes even more obvious. Supermarkets import massive crates of the stuff, and roasting drums pop up in parking lots and roadside trailers statewide. Lines that rival those at Disneyland form around the roasters, packed with locals eager to bring home pounds of peppers to char and freeze, stocking up for the year. Sitting down as a family to roast and pack chile into plastic bags is an experience that unites many New Mexicans, including Cotanch and Chef Eric See, who runs the New Mexico–inspired restaurant Ursula in Brooklyn. “It’s part of your birthright,” See says. “Seeing my mom at the kitchen table peeling chile for hours and stuffing it in the freezer is a full sensory memory.”