I've decided to start taking on the dishes I've been intimidated to attempt cooking. Number one or numero uno on my list is a dish I order at just about every Mexican restaurant I eat at - chiles rellenos.
Though there are other versions of chiles rellenos that use different peppers or a pork-based filling, my goal was to reproduce the simple poblano-based, cheese-stuffed chiles rellenos that Ive loved for years. The distinguishing feature of a good chiles rellenos is the fluffy batter that the chiles are dipped in before frying. A good batter makes the dish, and I've avoided making this dish because I didn't think I could reproduce the batter.
Before I could have a go at the batter, my first hurdle in recreating this meal was locating some good quality poblanos to stuff. In Chicago this would not have been a problem - every local fruteria has good quality poblanos year round. But here in Maryland, the poblanos are a little hard to find in August. I searched several mainstream supermarkets, including a couple with a pretty good Mexican foods aisle and came up empty.
I finally found the poblanos of my dreams in a little market in Columbia off Dobbin near the Fuddrucker's across the street from the Walmart shopping center (no, I don't live in the heart of the heart of suburbia, really). There, in the refrigerated case was a case of beautiful dark green poblano peppers. And, although they didn't have real Chihuahua cheese, they did have a decent Oaxacan substitute that I also snapped up.
A little research online and in Rick Bayless's books showed general agreement on the proper way to make the fluffy batter, though I think it made far too much of the stuff.
This isn't a recipe to make when you're pressed for time. Blistering the peppers and stuffing them are a little fiddly and you shouldn't take these steps when you're pressed hard for time. Give yourself an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half to complete all the steps here and you'll be much happier with the results.
Chiles Rellenos serves two as a main dish
4 poblano peppers
4 ounces chihuahua cheese, shredded - amount varies with size of peppers
pinch of salt
1 cup of flour
1 tablespoon flour additional
enough vegetable oil to fill a skillet 1/2" - 3/4" deep
1 cup your favorite red tomato based salsa
1 cup your favorite marinara sauce
more shredded chihuahua cheese to top
two tablespoons crema, or creme fraiche or sour cream
You'll also want a paper bag and some toothpicks.
When you purchase your poblanos, try to find some that are smoother and have no deep folds. These folds are difficult to blister, and may cause some skin to be left on the pepper.
First, we need to remove the skins from the peppers. Rick Bayless recommends frying the skins off, but I prefer to blister them directly on a gas burner. Hold the pepper directly over the gas fire (not with your hand, obviously - try tongs or set them on a cooling rack that's sitting on the burner). Get every side of the peppers blistered and black.
Put the peppers in the paper bag and close the top. The steam from the insides of the peppers will loosen the skin. When they've cooled to merely warm (about ten minutes later), take the peppers out and scrape the skin off using a blunt knife (like a butter knife). If you've done it right, just about all the skin will just slide off easily.
Make a slit about two inches long in the in one side of each pepper, being careful not to cut through to the other side or to slitting the tip.
Reach in with a finger and pry out all the seeds that cluser like a chandelier along the stem on the inside. Rinse the pepper to remove the seeds you've loosened. Dry the pepper and let it drain on paper towels, slit down.
After a few minutes, stuff each pepper with as much shredded cheese as each will hold comfortably. Try not to tear the slit any wider than it already is. Use toothpicks to pull the slit closed.
Separate your eggs into whites and yolks, dropping the whites in a large metal or glass bowl. Add a pinch of salt to the whites and beat them on medium until you get firm peaks. Add two yolks to the whites and beat them until they're well incorporated. Add the final two yolks and beat them until thy are well incorporated also. Finally, add the one tablespoon of flour and beat it into the mix.
Spread a cup of flour on a plate or in a pie tin.
Heat the oil in a skillet until shimmering hot, but not smoking.
Take each pepper and roll it in the flour, and lightly shake the excess off. Dip the floured pepper in the fluffy batter, covering well, and let the excess drain for a second or two before transferring the pepper to the oil. Continue with the rest of the peppers.
As the peppers fry, use a spoon to baste the top side with the hot oil to help set the batter. In about three to four minutes, when the down side of the pepper is golden brown and delicious, GENTLY flip the pepper using the stem and a spatula to control the flip. Always flip away from you so you don't get spattered with hot oil. Fry them until the second side is golden brown and delicious and remove the peppers to a plate covered with paper towels to drain.
Combine your marinara and salsa in a microwave-safe bowl. Put the bowl in your microwave, cover the top with a paper towel loosely to reduce spatters, and nuke on high for one minute.
Turn on your broiler.
Place the peppers on an aluminum foil covered cookie pan. Spoon about two tablespoons of sauce on each pepper, and cover lightly in cheese. Place the peppers under the broiler for 90 seconds to two minutes until the cheese is lightly browned and crispy.
Remove the toothpicks from the peppers.
Put 1/2 the sauce on each plate and serve two peppers to each person, slit down. Spoon the crema on top of the peppers sparingly. The usual pinto beans and rice sides go well with this dish, but some garlicky greens would be an even better accompaniment.