Traveling to New Mexico for the Perfect Pepper

Credit: Photo by Christopher Testani

Wine snobs often speak of the terroir of French vineyards — that ineffable combination of soil and climate that produces singularly outstanding grapes. Chili pepper connoisseurs say much the same about New Mexico, especially when rhapsodizing about the state’s Hatch green chilies, which are in peak season right now. Hatches resemble poblanos but when roasted are meatier and more nuanced, with a smoky and sweet kick. Preston Mitchell, whose family has been growing Hatch chilies for five generations, likens them to Italy’s plum tomatoes. “You can grow a San Marzano–type tomato elsewhere,” he says, “but it won’t taste the same — just like these chilies.”

For years, non–New Mexicans have had to settle for canned Hatches. But a growing number of farms now pick their chilies and immediately roast and freeze them. Mitchell, who runs the Hatch Chile Store, his family’s mail-order business, offered to send me some.

Hankering for a pork-and-green-chili stew, I asked him who in New Mexico makes it best. He did not hesitate: “My mom,” he said. Fortunately, Barbara Mitchell was willing to share her recipe. Best in the world? Who knows. But we found it pretty damn tasty.

 BARBARA MITCHELL’S HATCH GREEN CHILI STEW

Serves 4 to 6

  • 3 lbs pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato bouillon granules
  • 2 tbsp chicken bouillon granules
  • 2 lbs roasted Hatch green chilies (thawed if frozen), peeled, seeded, and chopped, with juice
  • 1 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Freshly ground pepper

1. Season pork all over with salt. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat until smoking. Add half the pork and sear until browned, about 3 minutes a side. Remove from pot and repeat with the other half. Remove and set aside.

2. Drain all but about 2 tbsp of rendered pork fat from the pot and add onion, stirring until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute.

3. Add tomato and chicken bouillon, stirring to combine. Return pork to the pan and add half the green chilies. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer until pork is tender, about 3 hours. When about 10 minutes remain, add the remaining chilies.

4. Remove from heat, adjust seasoning if necessary, stir in cilantro, and serve. (Stew can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days; the flavor will improve over time.)