The Real Hatch Chile Festival isn’t until Labor Day, but we’re having ours here in central Texas right now (courtesy of H.E.B. Central Market). But then, you already know we’re ahead of our time here. Anyway, to get into the spirit of the thing I bought some hot Hatch chiles (and a few mild ones) to try out a pepper jelly recipe. These are beautiful, green peppers; unfortunately, the red ones don’t travel well all the way from New Mexico, so we seldom find them here. Unlike other chiles, these don’t ripen well on the shelf either; they often simply decompose. (Not a great ingredient for anything at that point.)
I’d love to try some red Hatch chile pepper jelly, someday. I suppose I could drive on up and get some myself; it’s only 11 hours each way. (And about $200 in gas. Better bring back a whole boatload!)
So I said to myself, “Self! What’s green and goes well with Hatch chiles?” Frogs jumped (get it? Jumped? I knew you wouldn’t miss it.) to mind, but somehow I don’t think they work in sweet spreads. Basil is an option, both ordinary sweet and Thai. They get used in jellies and jams. (Lemon basil works too.) I considered cucumbers; naw. Okra? Hardly. Cabbage? Not even. Lawn grass? (You can see I was getting desperate. We don’t have any of that down here anymore with this drought. So that stuff was right off the list.) Seaweed? Parakeets? Olives? Spinach? Leprechauns? Broccoli? (I was now down to grasping at green straws; I nearly considered asparagus! That shook me badly.)
Then it hit me: Limes! (Why didn’t I think of that?) They’re really green, and they taste good in lots of sweet foods. So I grabbed a few limes at the store too. Since I knew I had all the other ingredients I was ready to
dance the hootchie-cootchie cook.
Well, almost. You see, Hatch chiles have this little problem, hardly worth mentioning: The skins can be tough. As I was planning to purée them, that didn’t seem to matter. But I got to considering how you would take the skins off, and that reminded me of roasting Hatch chiles. That certainly makes it possible to remove the tough skins, and that adds a really nice roasty-toasty flavor as well.
Time to fire up the ol’ grill. I cleaned off the grate (to prevent any sticking) and got the grill really good and hot; about 450° F. Then I dumped the chiles onto the grate and got ready to turn them. It didn’t matter about segregating hot from mild chiles in this case; I was going to use them all at once. I considered using only hot Hatch chiles, but then decided that maybe that would liven things up too much for some of the sweet-spread-lovers in the Clan. Since I’m making this for gifts, I toned it down. About 1/3 of the chiles were mild.
As the skins blistered and blackened, the chiles turned nice and soft. A few of them bloated and whistled as they reached steaming temperature inside; a sweet-hot serenade from the fire! The music only lasted a few seconds each time, and one of the chiles actually exploded. Well, split open. Same thing, right?
I grabbed all the chiles off the grill directly into a large paper bag, rolled the top down on the bag and placed it into the sink to rest for a while. Why the sink? Well, it’s possible (not likely, but why risk it) that the stems are actually burning as you put the chiles in the bag. Which means the bag could catch fire. Which means, if you put the bag on the counter and you’re not paying attention, then your house could be on fire soon. Which, if you’re lucky, will prompt a rapid, surprise visit by the local fire department.
That’s considered poor form, if all you wanted was a few jars of pepper jam. (There are cheaper ways to have an exciting afternoon.)
I took three seedless limes and sliced them across, very thinly. I tossed the little end pieces; they’re all rind anyway. So I had about 20-24 slices of lime ready. Time to make chile-lime jam!
I got all the tools and other ingredients ready: 2¼ cups cider vinegar, 3¼ tablespoons no-sugar pectin, 2½ cups each sugar and sucralose, and some spices (½ teaspoon each ground cardamom, ground cinnamon and ground ginger, in this instance). The spices are optional, of course; but I find they add a nice variety of aromas and flavors without hiding any of the pepper’s zest and essence. You can use more ginger, it’s mild. I wouldn’t go too far with the cinnamon or cardamom, though; they can come on too strong pretty quickly.
I washed the skins off the chiles under slowly-running tap water; just rub with fingers. If roasted enough the skins come off easily. Then I break off the stem end and split open the pepper to wash out the seeds. I could have taken out the membranes too, although there’s usually very little of those in Hatch chiles. Me, I leave’em. The final pieces of roasted pepper flesh I put into a bowl. When all the peppers were ready I drained them of excess water and then processed them in my small Kitchenaid processor. (Thanks, Jess! It’s still one of my top appliances after all these years.) I made a pretty thorough purée of these chiles. Then that purée went into the pot with the vinegar.
I brought the pepper base to a strong boil and added the sucralose and sugar; I retained back about 2-3 ounces of sugar to dilute the pectin. (Why? If you add powdered pectin to boiling water or vinegar, it makes a nasty clump that’s hard to dissolve. Diluting the pectin in sugar prevents this gluey problem.) I added a precautionary teaspoon of butter to the mix, to hold down the foaming action. I’ve found that green chiles (Hatch, jalapeño, you name it) foam like crazy once they’re boiling.
After about eight minutes of boiling I added the lime slices and brought the pot back to a rolling boil. After another minute or two I added the pectin-sugar mix and stirred like crazy. I hate pectin clumps! I added the powdered spices, then boiled the whole thing for about two minutes to be sure the pectin was activated. Off went the heat, and as soon as the foaming stopped I began to fill jars.
I got seven half-pints from this batch, with enough left over for the next morning’s toast. Seven’s perfect for my “canner,” which is really my favorite soup pot; about a three-gallon sized pot. Not a standard canner, but hey, it works. It’s smaller and easier to handle, as well as quicker to heat. I had that pre-heated to almost boiling, and once I put in the hot jam jars I cranked the heat on and processed for about 10 minutes. Take the jars out, let them cool and they’re ready to label and store.
And breakfast was covered for the next day as well; kewl…
Enjoy the (Hatch Chile Festival Jam) Heat!
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