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Chiles Rellenos for Fathers Day (and the Biggest Mess I ever Made)


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 [2] three and a half years ago and I’d give anything to have just one more day with him.  He was a wonderful man [3] 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 [4].  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 [5], 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 [6] of the Frontera Grill, for guidance.  His chile rellenos [7] 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 [8] 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 [9] 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 [10]!  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.