First of all, I’d like to wish all the Dads out there a very Happy Father’s Day! Then, I’d like to remind all the daughters out there who still have their Dads with them how lucky they are. I lost my father three and a half years ago and I’d give anything to have just one more day with him. He was a wonderful man and I miss him terribly. Cherish each moment with your loved ones. Time flies by so quickly and there are no “do overs”.
Now that I’ve thoroughly cheered you up, let me tell you about the special Father’s Day dinner I made for Mr. SGCC. There’s a little Mexican place in town we like to go to called Mi Pueblo. They have good, fresh food at reasonable prices. Plus, they have a cute old guy that walks around with his guitar, serenading the diners at each table. It isn’t the Frontera Grill, but we like it. Our favorite dish at Mi Pueblo is their chiles rellenos. They make then with these humongous poblano peppers that are stuffed with lots of well-seasoned meat and cheese. Mr. SGCC absolutely loves them! I don’t do a lot of Mexican at home, but I decided to try to recreate them for him.
Since I had never made chiles rellenos before, I turned to the guru of Mexican cuisine, Rick Bayless of the Frontera Grill, for guidance. His chile rellenos are so popular that people line up outside the restaurant an hour before the doors open just to make sure they can get some. In fact, the restaurant regularly sells out of them within the first twenty minutes! I figured if Frontera Grill’s chiles rellenos were that hot, they must be good. So, that’s the recipe I decided to go with. Little did I know at the time what I was in for!
First of all, the recipe is good – very good, in fact. It is also, however, very long and time consuming as well. There are four different components in this dish and each requires several steps. None of the individual steps are particularly difficult, but there are a lot of them. And be forewarned, you will probably need to hose down your kitchen after you’re finished!
The first component you need to make is the tomato sauce which is used in both the meat filling and the serving sauce. It’s an aromatic sauce flavored with onion, Serrano chiles, cinnamon and cloves. If I had it to do over again, I would probably make this sauce a day or two ahead. It keeps just fine in the fridge and doing do will cut a good an hour off of your prep time.
The next thing you have to do is make a tomato broth, which is served tableside with the finished chiles rellenos. All this involves is simmering some of the previously made tomato sauce with some chicken or beef broth. This is the easiest step in the recipe, but it does require at least forty-five minutes of cooking time.
After that, you need to make the meat filling for the rellenos. Bayless calls it picadillo. It’s made with ground pork shoulder, simmered with more of the tomato sauce, vinegar, raisins and almonds. Very, very tasty! Both the picadillo and the tomato broth can also be made ahead.
Then, it’s time to prepare the peppers, themselves. Here is where things get tricky. Bayless says to roast the poblanos until their skins get blistered and blackened. Then he says to cut a slit down the side of each, rinsing and removing the seeds as you go, taking care not to tear the peppers. Have any of you ever tried this? I’m sorry, but it’s impossible!
My peppers looked perfect when they came out of the oven. But, the minute I cut into them to remove the seeds, they started to disintegrate! As I tried to stuff them, they just fell apart. I felt like Dr. Kildare as I frantically tried to plug up the rips and holes by shoving in toothpicks everywhere! By the time I got the peppers all stuffed, there were shreds of pepper skin, pepper seeds and blobs of picadillo smeared all over the place! I just prayed that battering and frying them would hold them together at least enough so that we could eat them. I had already given up any hope of getting a decent picture!
Oh, and that was the really fun part – the battering and frying. Bayless advises to freeze the stuffed peppers before attempting this step. I did and it didn’t help me at all. Plus, I lost another whole hour while my stuffed poblanos sat in the deep freeze!
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m scared of deep frying. Boiling hot oil and I do not get along – and I have the scars to prove it! I’m not ashamed of this. It is what it is. So, I really have to have a good reason to attempt it. I guessed that Father’s Day was as good a reason as any, so I sucked it up and kept going.
I prepared the batter without any trouble. It was a nice, light and fluffy batter, by the way. Bayless says to hold the peppers by their stems, dip them into the batter and quickly pull them straight out and into the hot oil. Is he kidding?!?! The moment I tried to dip the first pepper in by its stem, the stem broke off and the pepper sank straight to the bottom of the batter bowl. I tried to fish it out using a fork, and that beautiful picadillo filling came squishing out of every orifice! I finally just dug my hands in the bowl, grabbed the pepper and plopped it into the oil. And, you know what? The batter immediately started to puff up and turn a lovely shade of golden brown. After a few minutes, instead of looking like a mutilated lump of mush, that pepper actually started to resemble a chile relleno! That batter was like the Spanx of Mexican cooking! It smoothed out and covered almost every flaw.
I dipped (with my bare hands) and fried the rest of the peppers as fast as I could while I was still on a roll. I didn’t dare stop for a second to take a picture. Then, I lined them up in a baking dish, doused them with sauce, smothered them with cheese and tossed them in the oven to bake. Both my kitchen and I were covered in picadillo guts, foamy batter and tomato sauce! Bayless’s recipe doesn’t say to do all this, but I did it anyway. It was all about camouflage, baby!
Take a look.
Not bad, huh? You have to admit that with all of that zesty tomato sauce and gooey, melted cheese on top, those chiles rellenos look pretty darn appetizing! You’d never know what a mangled mess they were underneath!
And, OMG, were they delicious! I hadn’t tasted Mexican food this good since…well… practically ever! Not even when I was actually in Mexico last week. Seriously. These chiles rellenos made Mi Pueblo’s version look like they came from Taco Bell! Mr. SGCC was in chiles rellenos heaven! He thinks I’m a goddess! And, after having him heap mountains of praise on me for preparing such a fabulous feast for him, I stupidly replied with a shy smile, “Oh, it was nothing!”. He believed me and is already bugging me to make them again. Sigh….. The things we do for love.
Frontera Grill’s Chiles Rellenos
adapted from Rick Bayless
for the tomato sauce:
3 tablespoons rich-tasting pork lard or vegetable oil
2 medium white onions, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
2 28-ounce cans good-quality whole tomatoes in juice, undrained
3-4 Serrano chiles, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela (or 1 cinnamon stick)
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
2 cups chicken or beef broth
for the picadillo:
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 1/2 pounds coarsely ground pork shoulder (look for chili grind in the grocery store or special order it from your butcher
2 cups reserved tomato sauce (recipe above)
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
for the Chiles Rellenos:
Oil to a depth of 1 inch, for frying
8 medium (about 1 1/2 pounds total) fresh poblano chiles, not twisted or deeply indented, preferably with long stems
8 6-inch wooden skewers or 16 toothpicks
6 large eggs, cold
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus about 1 cup for dredging the chiles
Sprigs of fresh cilantro, watercress or flat leaf parsley, for garnish
The tomato sauce:
In a medium-large (4-quart) saucepan, heat the lard or oil over medium. Add the onions and cook, stirring regularly, until they are very well browned, about 10 minutes.
While the onions are cooking, puree the tomatoes (if using fresh tomatoes, puree them with 2/3 cup water) and the Serranos, using a blender or food processor and working in two batches if necessary for your equipment.
When the onions are well browned, raise the heat to medium-high and add the pureed tomatoes, cinnamon and black pepper. Stir regularly as the mixture boils briskly, reducing until it becomes the consistency of thick tomato sauce, about 25 minutes.
The broth base:
Remove 2 cups of the tomato sauce mixture and set aside. Stir the chicken broth into the mixture that remains. Partially cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes or so, while you’re preparing the filling and chiles.
The picadillo filling:
Set a large (12-inch) skillet (preferably non-stick) over medium high heat. Add the almonds and stir around until they color to a deep golden, about 2 minutes. Remove.
Crumble the pork into the skillet and fry, stirring often, until thoroughly cooked (some of the edges should be browned and crispy), 10 to 15 minutes. If the pork has rendered a lot of fat, drain it off.
Mix in the reserved 2 cups of tomato mixture, raisins and vinegar. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture is very thick and homogenous, about 20 minutes. Stir in the almonds, then taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon. Cool.
Preparing the chiles:
While the picadillo is cooking, roast the chiles. Preheat your oven to 450°F. Spread the peppers evenly on a cookie sheet, in a single layer. Roast the peppers for about 4-5 minutes until the skins blister and blacken. Keep turning them so that they get charred on all sides. Watch carefully so they do not burn.
Broiler method: Place in the oven, 4-5 inches from the the broiler element. The skin will blister and turn black. Turn the peppers as required to blister all sides evenly. At this point, your kitchen should be filled with the mouth-watering aroma of roasting green chile!
Place the roasted peppers in a paper bag and seal the bag.
Clean and Peel: Allow the chile peppers to sweat in the bag for about 10 to 15 minutes. When you remove them from the bag they will be easy to peel.
When the chiles are cool enough to handle, rub off the blistered skins, then cut an incision in the side of each one, starting 1/2 inch below the stem end and continuing to within 1/2 inch of the tip. One by one, work your finger inside the chiles and dislodge all the seeds clustered just below the stem. Quickly rinse the seeds from inside the chiles, being careful not to rip or tear the opening any wider; rinse off any stray bits of skin. Drain on paper towels, cut-side down.
Stuffing the chiles: Stuff each well drained chile with about 1/2 cup of cool pork filling, then slightly overlap the two sides of the incision and pin them back together with a skewer or 2 toothpicks. For the greatest ease in battering and frying, flatten the chiles slightly, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for about 1 hour to firm. (For notes on working with thoroughly frozen chiles, please read the note in Working Ahead below.)
Battering and frying the chiles: Reheat the oil to 350º and set up a tray lined with several layers of paper towels. Separate the eggs: whites into the bowl of an electric mixer, the yolks into another bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the whites and begin beating them on medium speed. When they are beginning to look dry and hold a stiff peak (but are not at all rigid), beat in the yolks two at a time until well incorporated. Lastly, beat in the 2 tablespoons of flour. Spread the 1 cup of flour on a plate.
One at a time, batter the first four chiles: roll in the flour, shake off the excess, pick up by the stem, dip into the batter, pull quickly straight up out of the batter, then lay into the hot oil. Once the first four are in the oil, begin gently, gently basting them with spoonfuls of hot oil (this will help set the uncooked batter on top). When they’re richly golden underneath, about 4 minutes, use one small metal spatula underneath and another one (or a spoon) on top to gently turn the chiles over. Fry until the other side is richly golden, another 3 to 4 minutes. Using the metal spatula, remove the chiles to drain on paper towels. Repeat with the second half of the chiles.
Serving the chiles: Heat the oven to 400º. Once all the fried chiles have cooled for at least 5 minutes, pick them up by carefully rolling each one onto one hand, then transferring to a baking sheet (lined with parchment, if you wish, for extra ease at the time of serving). Pull out the wooden skewer by twisting it gently. Bake for about 15 minutes to reheat, to render some of the absorbed oil and to crisp slightly.
Meanwhile, bring the tomato broth to a boil and check the consistency: it should be similar to a brothy tomato soup. If too thick, thin with a little water or broth; if too thin, boil rapidly until thickened slightly. Season it with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the broth into each of 8 deep serving bowls (large soup bowls or pasta bowls are perfect here). Nestle in one of the chiles, garnish with the herb sprigs.
The beauty of this dish is the way so many steps can be done in advance. The brothy sauce and filling (Steps 1 through 3) can be made several days in advance and stored in the refrigerator, covered. The chiles may be blistered, peeled and seeded (Step 4) a day in advance, though if I were that far ahead, Id stuff (Step 5) and freeze them, too, just for ease in the frying. Battered and fried chiles will hold for an hour or two at room temperature before reheating them in the 400º oven (Step 7). (If you freeze the chiles until solid, be sure to complete the frying a full half hour in advance of oven-reheating and serving.) While reheating the chiles, warm the broth and you’re ready to serve.