Dreaming of New Mexico
“There is so much to tell about the western country in that day that it is hard to know where to start. One thing sets off a hundred others. The problem is to decide which one to tell first.”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Hatch chiles are a once a year treat not unlike the fleeting delights of cherries or apricots. An authentic Hatch chile must be grown in the Hatch Valley in southern New Mexico. The Hatch Valley blazes with sun 350 days a year and yet has cool nights. This unique terroir or climate and geography encourages the flavor development in all the chile varieties grown in that region. Hatch chiles are of many varieties and can be mild, medium and hot.
New Mexico, especially the area around Santa Fe and Taos are a favorite vacation destination of mine. The desert air and bright clear light makes for a stunning change of scenery from coastal California. Each fall I long to return and visit again. I’ve yet to travel to southern New Mexico but attending the Hatch Chile Festival would be a trip worthy of any chile lover. There is also The Chili Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces to explore. There are southwestern themed cooking classes at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Classes offer the opportunity to learn both red and green chile sauces which are the foundation of southwestern cooking. When dining at a restaurant in New Mexico one is simply asked “red or green?”. If you want both red and green chile you ask for “Christmas”.
My mom became a corn bread baker after we lived in North Carolina. She also made corn fritters with fresh corn. She was happy to use the recipe on the back of the cornmeal box but always added an extra tablespoon of sugar to the batter. I have grown to enjoy the taste of sugar paired with cornmeal and added a touch to the recipe I used from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, by Marion Cunningham. There isn’t enough added sugar that the bread is sweet. Evocative of sweet fresh corn the sugar softens the taste of the milled cornmeal.
I roasted a dozen medium hot Hatch chiles and used three in the corn bread. The rest were chopped and frozen. Added to a stew, soup or another batch of corn bread on a cold rainy evening their spice will be a welcome find in my freezer this winter. I bought the corn husks on a whim to see if I could mold them to the shape of my baking pan before scooping in the dough. And yes it does work as long as the husks are softened in warm water and then dried before shaping.
I usually add a pat butter to my warm corn bread but found this recipe so comforting it was better without anything added. Warm from the oven we scooped it with spoons and devoured each sweet corn and spicy chile filled morsel. I warmed leftovers in the microwave the next and broke off pieces to enjoy with my salad at lunch. I started daydreaming about adding chunks of goat cheese to the batter and flying into Albuquerque’s Sunport for my next vacation.
|20||dried corn husks (optional)|
|2C||fresh corn (from 3 ears)|
|4T||unsalted butter, melted and cooled|
- If using, soak the dried cornhusks in warm water while preparing the corn bread.
- Roast the Hatch chiles either over an open flame on the stove or in the oven with the broiler set on high heat. Turn the chiles so that each side blisters and browns as evenly as possible. Once the chiles have blistered place them in a closed paper bag to steam for ten minutes. Peel the blistered skin away from the flesh of the chiles. Cut the tops off the chiles and slit them open on one side. Lay the chiles flat on a work surface and gently scrape out the interior membrane and all the seeds. Chop the chiles in bite sized pieces to include in the corn bread batter.
- Heat the oven to 425°. Cover a sheet pan with parchment. Add the corn and olive oil and toss to combine. Roast the corn for 5-7 minutes; just until some of the corn begins to brown. Cool before adding to the batter.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350°. If using, dry the cork husks and then line the baking pan(s) or muffin tin with the husks. Push the husks down into the contours of the pan(s), overlapping them to cover the sides of the baking pan(s). I lightly buttered the husks before adding the batter. If using just a muffin tin or other pan, lightly grease before adding the batter.
- In a medium size bowl sift or shake through a large sieve the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- In a small bowl mix together the eggs, melted butter and buttermilk. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold together to combine. Do not over-mix. Add the chopped chiles and roasted corn, folding to combine. Fill the baking pan(s) 3/4 full and bake for 20-25 minutes. Judge the baking time according to the size of the pan(s) used. When done, a cake tester inserted in the center of the corn bread will come out cleanly.
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