FOOD FOR THOUGHT - October 4, 2006 - Mark R. Vogel
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Poblanos are dark green chile peppers approximately 4-5 inches long and 2 ½ -3 inches wide. Poblanos are the “bell pepper” of Mexican cuisine. Poblanos are triangular in shape and flatter than bell peppers. They are also less sweet, more savory and hotter. Their heat level can vary but usually they are in the mild to medium range. They are perfect for individuals who like a little bit of spiciness but not too much heat. If left to ripen they turn a reddish brown and become sweeter than the green ones. Dried Poblanos are known as anchos. Anchos are sometimes mistakenly referred to as pasillas which are actually dried chilaca chiles.
Like all fresh peppers, choose poblanos that have firm, smooth skins, devoid of any wrinkling or noticeable bruises. They can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. Anchos can be stored in an air-tight container for months. Poblanos are available year round but their peak season is summer and fall.
As stated, poblanos are very popular in Mexican cuisine. Indeed, they are the workhorse of the Mexican kitchen. They are often roasted, which accentuates their deep flavor even further. After roasting, their skins and seeds are removed. Sometimes they are then cut into strips called rajas, and added to any number of dishes. To roast them, place them under the broiler, on a grill, or directly on a gas burner. Turn them as each side turns black. Remove them from the heat and let them steep in a covered container. This facilitates removal of the skin.
Poblanos are the chile of choice for chile rellenos, i.e., peppers stuffed with cheese, then battered and fried. If you prefer a milder but still savory salsa, poblanos are the way to go. Try sprinkling diced Poblanos on your refried beans. I also use them in black bean soup.
Anchos are indispensable for making the classic Mexican mole and pipian sauces. Mole, of which there are many variations, is a sauce made from chiles, onions, garlic, seeds, and chocolate. Pipian, similar to mole and also with multiple renditions, usually doesn’t contain chocolate. Anchos can also be ground and blended into all sorts of concoctions such as rice, soups, marinades, dry rubs, and stews to name a few.
GRILLED FLANK STEAK WITH POBLANO PEPPER MARINADE
• 1 lb. flank Steak
• 1 batch poblano pepper marinade (recipe below)
• Olive oil as needed
• Salt & pepper to taste
Pound the steak with a meat mallet if necessary to thin, tenderize and/or create a uniform thickness. Place in covered container in the marinade for at least two hours or optimally overnight. Remove excess marinade and place steak on a very hot grill until the first side sears, about two minutes. Flip, sear the other side and serve. Cut it against the grain for greater tenderness. If you like, you can use the leftover marinade as a sauce but you must boil it first for a few minutes since it was in contact with raw meat.
POBLANO PEPPER MARINADE
• 1 cup water
• One third cup white wine vinegar
• 2 poblano peppers, roughly chopped
• 2 oz. onion, roughly chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
• Handful of cilantro
• 1 teaspoon cumin
• 1 teaspoon coriander
• 1 teaspoon salt
Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan, cover, and bring to boil. Reduce to a simmer, covered, for eight minutes. Puree sauce thoroughly in a blender. It yields about one and a half cups.
MEXICAN RICE PILAF
• 1 cup long grain rice
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1 stalk celery, chopped
• 1 large poblano pepper, chopped or 2 anchos, (see variation below)
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Vegetable oil as needed
• 3 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon cumin
• 2 teaspoons paprika
• 2 teaspoons ground achiote
• Cayenne pepper, to taste
• 1 14.5-oz. can chicken broth
• Half cup chopped cilantro stems
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse the rice in a stainless bowl thoroughly until the water runs clear. Removing the excess starch allows for a fluffier pilaf. Sauté the onion, celery, and poblano pepper, with salt and pepper in vegetable oil until soft. Add the garlic and sauté one more minute. Add all the spices and sauté for another minute. Add the rice and sauté for another minute or so. Add the chicken broth, cover, bring to a boil and then place in the oven for 15 minutes. After removing the rice from the oven, mix in the cilantro stems and fluff with a fork.
For a tasty variation take 2 ancho chiles and 1 pint of boiling water or chicken broth if you prefer. Remove the seeds and stems of the peppers and break into large pieces. Pour the boiling liquid over them and steep in a covered container for 30 minutes. Puree this mixture in a blender and use it in place of the chicken broth in the recipe.
Achiote, (also called annatto), is the seed of the annatto tree. It can be found in the Spanish section of your supermarket. If they only sell the whole seeds, grind them in a spice grinder.