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Maine and New Mexico "Hatch" a Cocktail Sauce

Maine and New Mexico "Hatch" a Cocktail Sauce

“Do you know the difference between a spicy Hatch chile and a sweet one?” asked a deep voice on the other end of the line.

I hesitated, half-remembering I planted peppers in my garden last year. Maybe I should know this. 

“It’s time. Time is the secret.” 

“That’s the secret for a Maine oyster, too,” I responded. “It’s worth the wait.”

New Mexico and Maine have a lot more in common than we think. They’re two corners of the United States that are rich in American history, culture, and landscapes—all of which influence their renowned cuisines. From sea to valley, Maine’s seafood and New Mexico’s chiles are more than just distinct flavors – they’re an expression of heritage and tradition.

So imagine my delight when Randy McMillan, founder of The Fresh Chile Company, a New Mexican Hatch chile producer, reached out with an idea that kept him up at night. What if we could marry a treasured American terroir, the Hatch chile, with Maine’s world-class fruits de mer in a bright, zesty, cocktail sauce recipe? 

I was in. After six years of documenting shellfish stories, tasting hundreds of oyster varieties, and feeding a relentless addiction to Maine seafood, I couldn’t imagine a better collaboration. This was my chance to unify America’s soil and sea with brightness and balance.

Two weeks later, I cleared my kitchen counter and lined ten different ramekins next to a cutting board. Tablespoons, teaspoons, and cups were at the ready. Fresh oysters chilled in a tin bowl, topped with a wet towel. Heaps of Hatch chiles, garlic cloves, lemons, and spices cluttered my kitchen island. I’ve never been an organized cook, much less an accurate one, so keeping notes would be a challenge. I kept one goal in mind: honoring the Hatch and Maine’s beloved oysters.

I scooped a spoonful of fresh Hatch chile and ate it straight. It was invigorating. Southwestern soil sprouts a chile so profound, you can taste its earthy, smoky, sense of place. This smooth and buttery chile pepper was the ideal partner for an Eastern Oyster (
c. virginica), which is a canvas for briny, herbaceous, and sweet flavors from the waters in which they reside. The coveted Hatch chile already translated perfectly into savory salsas, roasts, rubs, mustards, and more. Marrying the two felt right.

The McMillans have been making recipes with New Mexico’s Hatch chile for decades; a family tradition that transformed into a prized, red enchilada recipe. Their flagship Fresh Red Chile, harvested only in Fall over a six-week period, produces a radiant, scarlet sauce that’s sweet, spicy, and tastes like you picked it straight from your garden.

Randy himself is a renaissance man. Born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, he became a commercial real estate success story who later partnered with Hatch chile farmers to turn his family’s creations into a business. It all began with a simple desire to give his real estate customers something authentic for Christmas. He and his wife, Carol, began by canning all of the Fresh Red Chile themselves. Demand for more was so high, he bottled 10,000 jars the next year. It sky-rocketed from there.

I began the project with a simple question. What makes a great cocktail sauce? For me, it’s about apportioning the sugar, acid, and heat using simple ingredients that add vibrance to seafood. Almost all cocktail sauces have ketchup as the base, but today’s store-bought options involve unfavorable ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and hidden preservatives.

To keep the Hatch at the center of this infusion, I asked The Fresh Chile Co. to send me their version of ketchup as my first component. It’s a product called, “Hatchup,” which was concocted with local New Mexico ingredients like raw honey, vine-ripened tomatoes, and sun-dried, Hatch red chiles. The blend was a striking flavor all on its own.

I spent hours toggling, rationing, and praying my palate wouldn’t diminish from the taste tests. The first time, I added too much Worcestershire sauce, which doubled the sweetness. Then I overdid it on the lemon which made it too sharp. My horseradish measurements were a debate between me and my husband, who loves a sinus cleanse. The final trick? I should have known! More Hatch red chile. It balanced the flavors perfectly. With a clove of minced garlic, a pinch of pepper, salt, and onion powder, the combinations were singing. By the end, I had exhausted every proportion and littered my countertops with garlic casings, lemon juice, and streaks of red sauce.

Like a day-old bolognese, I chilled the cocktail sauce to enrich its flavors and summoned my friends to a Saturday night tasting party. Twelve hungry seafood fans entered my kitchen to find three bowls of spicy, zingy sauce. To pair the options, we ordered three oyster varieties from Maine Oyster Company, one of my favorite purveyors for bivalves. From New Meadows River to Damariscotta, I was sure their brackish waters would deliver a briny, sweet, and tannic mouthfeel that would complement a chile-inspired sauce.

We exhausted all the oysters. We tried them with local shrimp, too, both cocktail and grilled. We threw some burgers on the fire and smothered the options on top. We paired them with a dry Chenin Blanc, an elegant champagne, a smooth Pinot Noir, and a classic New England IPA.

“My god, this sauce is a diamond,” said a friend.

“Wait until you try number three,” said another.

“V, you’ve done it,” said a third.

My kitchen stood in shambles. My apron became an abstract painting. My hands burned in spice and citrus. But there was laughter, satisfaction, and approval all around. A smear of sauce and pepper on my cheek raised with a smile.

Once the votes were in, a single bowl rose to the top. This was it. An honest, balanced, and spirited cocktail sauce that bloomed when paired with brine and effervescence. It matched the oyster and the prawn, sans any other additions. It was a triumph. 

The recipe below, taken straight from the scribbles of my notebook, became my favorite accoutrement, an all-American collaboration that brings out the best of Maine and New Mexico.

And it was so good, we bottled it. You can purchase it here, or make your own below with The Fresh Chile Co.'s products.


Makes 100ML, or roughly 1/3 cup of cocktail sauce.

  • 1/4 cup of Hatchup
  • 1/2 tablespoon Fresh Red Chile
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of prepared, freshly grated horseradish
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon of a freshly minced garlic clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon of onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon of pepper (three cracks from the pepper shaker)
  • Pinch of salt

Directions: Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Best if refrigerated for a few hours before serving.