August 8, 2006
Chiles Rellenos

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
4 eggs
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.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at August 8, 2006 7:07 AM Print-friendly version

Oh my these look and sound obscenely good! I am a sucker for chile rellenos. Will put these on my list to try.

Posted by Amy on August 8, 2006 at 12:07 PM

Amy, I was very happy with the results. I had one of those "Holy cow - did *I* make this?" moments. I hope you do, too.

Posted by barrett on August 8, 2006 at 12:15 PM

In a pinch, the canned chilies aren't too bad. I can't get pablanos here so I bring the canned chilies with me from the States.

Posted by Linda on August 8, 2006 at 2:08 PM

I just wanted to sympathize! I also recently moved from Chicago, but to Baltimore, and I agree that it is much harder to find good "ethnic" food markets. Luckily I found a wonderful Indian/Pakistani store that provides well, but I've had no luck with latino markets. Well, happy hunting!

Posted by ruth on August 8, 2006 at 3:56 PM

Ruth, you can't just tease like that - where's the Indian store? I know about Sizar's off Snowden in Columbia but that's more Persian.

Posted by barrett on August 8, 2006 at 4:17 PM

These have always been one of my favorites as well, although I usually go with the ground beef with cheese filling. I'll defenitley give these a shot sometime.

Posted by Rhuarc on August 10, 2006 at 4:06 AM

Barrette--what is the name of the place in Columbia you found? It obviously opened after I left--but still, I might want to visit it when we come back to visit.

For Indian, closer than Baltimore is the place in Laurel--gah--now, I can't think of the name. It starts with an A, and it is on Route 1, right before it splits into a divided four-lane in Laurel. If I think of it, I will email you, but look in the phone book in Laurel under grocery or food and you will find it.

It has a good selection of stuff, and the proprietor is really nice.

There used to be another place in Columbia, too--near Elicott City. They had great stuff.

Posted by Barbara on August 10, 2006 at 10:08 AM

Barbara - I just looked it up. It's Lily's Mexican Market.

It's a small place, but has most of what I couldn't find in other markets.

Posted by barrett on August 10, 2006 at 11:00 AM

Though i m not at all use to even a little spicy food, but could not resist my temptation for these Chilies. Now this is the dish i should be after. They are simply giving a yummmmmmmmy look!!

Posted by Josh Hallett on August 11, 2006 at 4:57 AM

This recipe has become a favorite in my house. For years, we had tried to recreate restaurant quality rellanos---these do it perfectly.

I have found that using 3 eggs is sufficient. I just made 6 peppers and had batter left over.

Posted by J. Minnis on September 17, 2006 at 10:52 PM

This sounds like the recipe used around here for generations. I prefer cheese stuffing with a cheese sauce. The Mexican sausage makes a good stuffing as does venison sausage Texas style. Pepper Jack and Velvetta mixed with the Mexican cheese. Also some like Chili as the sauce.

Posted by Nana on November 8, 2008 at 6:21 PM

The first time I had these was two months ago in Tijuana at the "Cave Bar" on Revolution Ave. and let me tell you they were great. My wife and I ordered more and took them back to our Hotel ,WOW. Now I will make my own. Thanks for the recipe!

Posted by John J Foote on November 18, 2009 at 12:13 PM
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