A cheeseburger recipe that amps up the heat with jalapeno chillies

The addition of New Mexican green chillies elevates the cheeseburger.
The addition of New Mexican green chillies elevates the cheeseburger. PHOTOS: NYTIMES

(NYTIMES) - Now that it is undeniably summer, it is safe to say that many people are in full grilling mode, cooking over hot coals and live fire, iced beverage in hand. 

My earliest memories of those holiday cookouts are mostly of my Uncle Marvin, who cooked only one day of the year, though we all thought, or at least I did, that he should give it up entirely. But he was happy among the briquettes and lighter fluid.

He had invented a basting sauce – equal parts ketchup and yellow mustard – which he slathered over burgers and hot dogs, both thoroughly grilled. They emerged dry, wrinkly and with a charred look that only 30 minutes or so of constant high heat could achieve. Fortunately for me, this early childhood burger trauma came but once a year.

My mother’s hamburgers were stellar, cooked indoors on special weeknights. The sight and smell of the thick raw patties, lined up on wax paper and sprinkled with salt and pepper, still lingers in my mind’s eye. But despite my fondness for our hamburgers at home, at the A&W, I might be just as likely to order the grilled cheese or the deep-fried square-cut fish on a bun with tartar sauce. At some point, I lost interest in fast-food burgers, and in burgers in general.

It would be many years later, when I moved to New Mexico, that they began to truly tempt me. There, many dishes contain large, roasted spicy green chillies, so it was only natural that hamburgers got the chilli treatment too. Meat, cheese and roasted chillies are all you really need for a great green chilli burger, but my recipe adds avocado slices and fresh tomato salsa – optional, but welcome, additions.

I am offering a bit of a Catch-22 here, however. New Mexico green chillies are not ready for picking until September, so if you do not have any of last season’s harvest tucked away in the freezer (a modern tradition in New Mexico), you will not have the authentic chilli for the holiday. But you can always roast fresh Anaheim chillies. While tasty and somewhat spicy, they are admittedly missing the depth of flavour and heat of a roasted New Mexico Big Jim. They are a reasonable substitute – for now.

Roast chillies until they are completely black and blistered all over. 

Lacking those, use roasted jalapenos that have been peeled and chopped, very thinly sliced raw jalapenos, or a can of pickled jalapenos – a compromise perhaps, but better than no chillies at all. And remember: Even if you live nowhere near New Mexico, this year’s crop can be ordered online, available fresh or roasted and frozen in resealable bags. Then you will have chillies to use throughout the year.

Once you have fallen for a New Mexico green chilli cheeseburger, there is no going back. Just do not forget to squirrel some away for next year’s Fourth of July.

If using a stovetop, cook burgers a cast-iron pan or ridged grill pan over high heat. 

Green Chilli Cheeseburger Deluxe

Serves four

For the salsa
1 medium white onion, diced small, soaked in ice water 10 minutes and drained
2 medium firm-ripe tomatoes or 6 plum tomatoes, diced
Salt, to taste
1 Serrano chilli, finely chopped
Handful of chopped cilantro

For the burgers
4-6 fresh New Mexico green or Anaheim chillies
680g ground beef or ground buffalo meat
Salt and pepper
8 slices Monterey Jack or Muenster
4 hamburger buns, lightly toasted
1 or 2 avocados, in thick slices


  1. Make the salsa: In a medium bowl, mix together onion, tomato, salt, Serrano chilli and cilantro. This salsa tastes best when it is fresh, so do not set aside for too long.
  2. Prepare a charcoal barbecue or light the broiler. When hot, roast the chillies.
  3. Place chillies on a rack very close to the glowing coals, or on a baking sheet quite close to broiler flames. Using tongs, turn chillies occasionally until they are completely black and blistered all over. Alternatively, roast over stovetop flames. Set roasted chillies aside for a few minutes until cool enough to handle.
  4. Cut each chilli in half lengthwise, then scrape away skins and seeds with a pairing knife. Do not rinse: A few bits of char are fine. Wipe chilli “fillets” with a paper towel if you wish. Slice cleaned chillies lengthwise into 1.2cm strips and set aside. (It is fine to roast chillies in advance, even a day or two ahead.)
  5. Divide ground meat into 170g balls and press them into 2cm-thick patties. Season patties on both sides with salt and pepper.
  6. If grilling over coals, cook burgers over brisk heat, about three minutes a side for medium-rare. Add sliced cheese when the burger’s juices start appearing. Move burgers to a cooler spot on the grill and let cheese continue to melt.
  7. If cooking on stovetop, heat a cast-iron pan or ridged grill pan over high heat. When hot, cook burgers over brisk heat, about three minutes a side for medium-rare. Add sliced cheese when the burger juices start appearing. Turn off heat and let cheese continue to melt, or place pan under broiler.
  8. Place a cheeseburger on the bottom half of each bun. Adorn each burger generously with strips of roasted chilli. Top the burgers with buns and serve immediately, accompanied by avocado slices and tomato salsa.

And to drink …

Matching wine with chillies is tricky, which is why it is so easy to default to beer – I would happily opt for a pilsner. But wine will be delicious, too, especially since the array of chillies topping this burger is fairly mild. Tannins clash with chilli heat, so this is an instance when beef calls for white wine, especially if it is a little sweet. Spatlese riesling from Germany is the chile’s best wine friend. You could also try a demi-sec Vouvray, or even a Moscato d’Asti if you want some bubbles. Among dry whites, Loire sauvignon blancs and Austrian gruner veltliners would go well. And if you must have a red, a low-tannin option like a barbera from Alba or Asti would be your best bet.