Food for Thought - June 3, 2010 - Mark R. Vogel - Epicure1@optonline.net - Mark’s Archive
Chile Rellenos are a classic Mexican dish. They begin with poblano peppers which are stuffed with a ground pork concoction known as picadillo, or cheese. They are then dipped in an egg-based batter and deep fried. Chile rellenos can be served with any of a myriad of sauces.
Poblanos are dark green chile peppers approximately 4-5 inches long and 2˝ -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 a little hotter. Their heat level can vary but usually they are in the mild to medium range. They are perfect for individuals who like a modicum of spiciness but not too much heat.
Picadillo is a mixture of ground pork, onions, garlic and tomatoes. Raisins and nuts are also commonly added. To make picadillo, sauté a pound of ground pork and one chopped onion. Give the meat and onions a head start and then add some garlic. Then add a 28-oz. can of tomatoes. Break up the tomatoes and simmer until a thick consistency is achieved. While the tomatoes are simmering add salt, pepper, and additional seasonings such as cumin, coriander, chili powder or hot pepper if you like. Some chefs also add cinnamon. If desired, add some raisins and toasted slivered almonds a few minutes before the cooking is complete.
Sometimes chile rellenos are made with a cheese stuffing alone. Mexican melting cheeses such as Queso Chihuahua or Queso Oaxaca are customary but you could also use Monterey Jack. Sauce options vary but a tomato based sauce is quite common.
Below is my recipe for Italian chile rellenos as well as the conventional ones. Italian chile rellenos!!! What!!! I know, I know, I can hear the rabble amassing; anxious to accost me like a pinata. The Latin chefs out there will think I’m totally loco. If you’ve followed my column you know that I’m normally an ardent purist and usually scoff at fusion cuisine. With that said, I do find my Italian twist on the venerable dish quite tasty. Basically I substitute mozzarella for the Mexican cheese and employ yellow bell peppers instead of poblanos. I also abandon the batter and the frying. However, the original dish remains iconic and peerless and below is the recipe for the batter followed by instructions for making the traditional classic.
ITALIAN CHILE RELLENOS
~ 4 yellow bell peppers
~ 4 pieces of mozzarella cheese, ˝ -inch thick, cut to the approximate size of the peppers
~ Chile-tomato sauce, as needed, (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Roast the peppers over a gas flame on the stove, on a grill, or under a broiler until charred all around. Or drop them in a deep fryer until the skins are blistered.
When cool enough to touch remove the skin. Slice the stem end off the peppers and remove the seeds.
Insert a piece of mozzarella into each pepper. Place the peppers in an 8-inch x 8-inch baking dish. Smother them with the tomato-chile sauce. Sprinkle them with some additional cheese if you like. Place them in the oven until the cheese filling is melted.
CHILE-TOMATO SAUCE RECIPE
~ 1 large red bell pepper
~ 1-3 fresh or dried habanero peppers, depending on how hot you like it.
~ 1 small onion
~ 4 garlic cloves
~ 1 cup water
~ 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
~ 1 tablespoon paprika
~ 1 teaspoon cumin
~ 1 teaspoon salt
~ 6 oz. tomato sauce
Roughly chop the bell and habanero peppers, (or grind the habaneros if using dried), onion and garlic.
Combine all of the ingredients except the tomato sauce in a pan, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for 8 minutes.
Puree the mixture in a blender. Add the tomato sauce to complete.
If you don’t want any heat, just eliminate the habaneros. Or if you prefer it just a little spicy, use one jalapeno instead.
CHILE RELLENO BATTER
~ 4 eggs, separated
~ 1 tablespoon of flour, plus extra for dredging the chiles
~ ˝ teaspoon salt
Preheat a pot of vegetable oil to 375 degrees.
In an electric mixer whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Mix in the yolks one at a time. Finally mix in the flour and salt.
For traditional chile rellenos, begin with four poblano chiles that have their stems intact. Roast the peppers over a gas flame on the stove, on a grill, or under a broiler until charred all around. Or drop them in a deep fryer until the skins are blistered. When cool enough to touch remove the skin. Do not remove the stems. Make a small slit in the side of each chile and scrape out the seeds. Fill each chile with a Mexican cheese or the pork picadillo as described above. Do not overfill. Leave enough room that you can close the slit and make a small flap. Thread the slit in each chile with toothpicks to close it. Renowned chef Rick Bayless, the American doyen of authentic Mexican cuisine, freezes his stuffed chiles to hold them together before frying. This bypasses the toothpicks altogether. Dredge each stuffed chile lightly in flour. Holding the stem, dip each chile into the batter and then drop into the hot oil. Fry until they are a deep golden color, turning them once, for about two minutes per side. Serve with the chile-tomato sauce.
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