Nothing presages the turning of the seasons for New Mexicans quite like the smoky aroma of Hatch chiles roasting in a spinning barrel–tickling nostrils into a sneeze with its unleashed heat when prepared. The long, green chile is the Southwest’s gift to the world during its harvest season with local grocery stores stocking up during August and September. At Panxa Cocina in Long Beach, Hatch finds a home year-round in its New Mexico favorites like stacked enchiladas. But Chef Art Gonzalez prepared a special tasting menu for patrons in honor of the chile all-month long.
The offerings begin with a hefty serving of cornbread topped with a slice of butter that quickly melts into its starchy interior. The Hatch turns up the heat inside, but it’s a controlled burn – unlike the chile con queso my mom recently made with the potent peppers that ruthlessly attacked upon first bite. Throughout the dishes, Gonzalez wisely pulls back on Hatch’s prowess to enchilar just enough so that non-fire eaters can endure and enjoy the chile’s sabor that’s just as much a part of its lore.
Hatch-infused cocktails are on hand to pair with the special dishes served during lunch and dinner. Nothing says Hatch chile chingón quite like a fiery raja hanging off the side of a drink!
Now onto the plates that await!
Sweet meets heat with the roasted Hatch jam that encircles Panxa Cocina’s quesadilla appetizer (pictured above). A blue corn tortilla folds in half concealing its house queso fresco offerings. The cheese is made creamy with buttermilk, giving it all the texture of its goat milk-made primo but without the pungent aftertaste. The flor de calabaza adds another layer of flavor to the dish, setting the tone with a picoso pero delicioso start.
I’ve always preferred chile rellenos on the slender side, eschewing the usual chile poblano stuffed fare for home cooked meals. Panxa similarly ditches the bigger chile pasilla for the willowy Hatch as the base for its German-New Mexi inspired chile en nogada take. The best part comes by way of the whipped, foamy walnut sauce that coats it. The consistency accentuates every bite of Hatch, plump prawns and corn kernels. Perfect for a light dinner, the prawn and Hatch chile rellenos come two per plate to double the yum!
Chef Gonzalez’ ambitious Wagyu chicken fried steak is pure South by Southwest. Going beyond its regional inspirations, the steak belongs to the Japanese Wagyu cattle breed and makes for succulent bites beneath the crispy exterior. The Hatch-infused gravy takes on a mint green appearance, stays light enough and bathes each morsel with enough heat to induce beads of sweat. The breading is a bit on the salty side albeit with an underlying layer of greasy goodness. The savory gravy and tender steak arises a curiosity of what the plate might be if refashioned as an experimental take on chile verde con carne. Maybe next Hatch season.
If only Panxa had a bigger cocina in the back, the absence of sopapillas from the dessert menu would be no more. Thankfully, in honor of Hatch chile’s peak harvest month, a form of the fluffy pockets of fried dough are summoned and stuffed for September’s celebration. Looking more like an empanadita than the usual puffy pillow drizzled with honey, the dessert merges sweet and spice once more. This time, diced pears meet Hatch chile within the powdered sugar-topped sopapilla. The scoop of smoky vanilla ice cream not only serves to ease the heat, but bests its hipster nitro counterparts.
A gooey cajeta underpins and binds the flavors together, capping a dining experience exclaiming: all hail the Hatch!
Panxa Cocina, 3937 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 433-7999; panxacocina.com.
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.