From Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless. This book is a terrific introduction to Mexican cooking. As the title indicates, the book focuses on a number of classic recipes in great depth, so you, the reader, can understand why the dish is made the way it is, what some of the regional differences are, and so forth.
Chiles Rellenos – which simply means stuffed peppers – are a bit time-consuming, but well worth all the work involved, and rather impressive to serve. This recipe is actually Chiles Rellenos de Picadillo en Caldillo de Jitomate, which translates as Classic Pork Picadillo-Stuffed Chiles in Tomato Broth.
For us, the coolest thing was the fact that we had, in the freezer, PLENTY of poblano peppers from the garden last summer, and we've just been waiting for the right opportunity to make this dish. There's also a version in the book with just a cheese stuffing. I'd like to make those, too, but this pork filling was delicious. I had the last of the leftovers for breakfast yesterday, by the way.
Anyway, on to the cooking. Settle in – it's a long process. But – well worth it!
First up – the ingredients:
3 T rich-tasting pork lard or vegetable oil. (we used the lard – you can get it at most grocery stores, right near the butter.)
2 medium white onions, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
2 28-oz cans good-quality whole tomatoes in juice, undrained OR 3 lbs ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into large pieces
1 tsp cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela. (we used what we had – regular plain ol' cinnamon)
1 tsp black pepper, preferably freshly ground
2 cups chicken or beef broth (we used chicken)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 1/2 lbs coarsely ground pork shoulder
1/2 cup raisins
1 T cider vinegar
vegetable oil to a depth of 1 inch for frying.
8 medium fresh poblano chiles, not twisted or deeply indented, preferably with long stems (okay, beggars can't be choosers – we used what we had in the freezer. There were more than 8, but some were on the small side)
8 6-inch wooden skewers or 16 toothpicks
6 large eggs, cold
2 T all-purpose flour, plus about a cup for dredging the chiles
Sprigs of fresh cilantro, watercress or flat-leaf parsley for garnish (we didn't garnish; we were too hungry)
Okay, got all that? Let's cook.
1. The broth base and filling. In a medium-large saucepan, heat the lard or oil over medium. Add the onions and cook, stirring regularly, until they are very well browned, about 10 minutes.
(not there yet)
While the onions are cooking, puree the undrained canned tomatoes, or, if using fresh tomatoes, puree them with 2/3 cup water, using a blender of food processor and working in two batches if necessary.
When the onions are well-browned, raise the heat to medium-high and add the pureed tomatoes, cinnamon and pepper. Stir regularly as the mixture boils briskly, reducing until it becomes the consistency of thick tomato sauce, about 25 minutes.
2. The Tomato Broth. Remove 2 cups of the tomato mixture and set aside.
Stir the chicken (or beef) broth into the mixture that remains. Partially cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes or so, while you're preparing the filling and chiles.
3. The Pork Picadillo Filling. Set a large skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat. Add the almonds and stir around until they color to a deep golden, about 2 minutes. Remove.
(keep going – you want them more golden that those above.)
Crumble the pork into the skillet and fry, stirring often,
until thoroughly cooked (some of the edges should be browned and crispy), 10 to 15 minutes. If the pork has rendered a lot of fat, drain it off. Stir in the reserved 2 cups of tomato mixture, the raisins and vinegar. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture is very thick and homogeneous, about 20 minutes. Stir in the almonds, then taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon. Cool.
4. Preparing the Chiles. (* This isn't how we did ours. Bill put our chiles under the broiler, which you can read about in the Green Sauce recipe that I posted yesterday. But I'm printing the method from the book, because that's the way Chef Bayless wrote it.)
While the picadillo is cooking, pour 1 inch of oil into a deep heavy skillet or pot – the pot should be 12 inches wide and 3 to 4 inches deep for easiest maneuvering of the chiles – and set over medium to medium-high to heat to 350 degrees F. In two batches, fry the chiles, turning them continually, for about 1 minute, until they are evenly blistered (they'll look uniformly light green, having lightened as they blister). Drain on paper towels. Remove the oil from the heat.
When the chiles are cool enough to handle, rub off the blistered skins, then cut an incision in the side of each one, starting 1/2 inch below the stem end and continuing to within 1/2 inch of the tip. One by one, work your index finger inside each chile and dislodge all the seeds clustered just below the stem. Quickly rinse the seeds from inside the chiles, being careful not to rip or tear the opening any wider; rinse off any stray bits of skin. Drain cut side down on paper towels.
(In this picture below, these are some of the chiles Bill had done under the broiler. The skins have been removed, and the slits cut, but obviously the seeds are still there.)
5. Stuffing the Chiles. Stuff each well-drained chile with about 1/2 cup of the cooled pork filling,
then slightly overlap the two sides of the incision and pin them back together with a skewer or two toothpicks. For the greatest ease in battering and frying, flatten the chiles slightly, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for about 1 hour to firm.
(* I had a bit of a challenge working with our chiles. First of all, like I mentioned earlier, some were on the small side, so obviously I used less than a half cup of filling. Second, structurally I think the chiles had been weakened by being in the freezer since summer. They tore easily when Bill was cleaning them out, so some of my stuffed chiles actually had 3 toothpicks (actually I used broken skewers, since I couldn't find our toothpicks until yesterday) in order to hold all the filling in.)
6. Battering and Frying the Chiles. Reheat the oil to 350 degrees F. (Actually, since we hadn't used the frying method to blister the chiles, I just used the pot of oil we had on the stove from a recent deep-frying project.) Set up a try lined with several layers of paper towels. Separate the eggs: whites into the bowl of an electric mixer, yolks into a small bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the whites and begin beating them on medium speed. When they are beginning to look dry and hold a stiff peak but are not at all rigid, beat in the yolks two at a time until well incorporated. Lastly, beat in the two tablespoons flour.
(this should be a very light and frothy batter – soft and fluffy.)
Spread the 1 cup of flour on a plate.
One at a time, batter the first four chiles: (we did 3 at a time – whatever fits in your pot of oil) Roll in the flour, shake off the excess, pick up by the stem, dip into the batter and quickly pull straight up out of the batter, then lay into the hot oil. (If your kitchen is very warm, it's best to hold the remaining batter for the second round in the refrigerator.) Once the first four chiles are in the oil, begin gently, gently basting them with spoonfuls of hot oil (this will help set the uncooked batter on top).
When they're richly golden on the bottom, about 4 minutes, use one small metal spatula underneath and another one (or a spoon) on top to gently turn the chiles over. Fry until the other side is richly golden, another 3 to 4 minutes. Using the metal spatula, remove the chiles to the paper towels to drain.
Repeat with the remaining chiles.
7. Serving the Chiles. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. (Preheat while you're frying the chiles.) Once all the fried chiles have cooled for at least 5 minutes, pick them up by carefully rolling each one onto one hand, then transfer to a baking sheet (lined with parchment if you wish, for extra ease at serving time). Pull out the skewers by twisting them gently (like taking darts from a dart board). Bake for 15 minutes to heat thoroughly, to render some of the absorbed oil and to crisp slightly.
Meanwhile, bring the tomato broth to a boil and check the consistency: It should be similar to a brothy somato soup. If it's too thick, thin with a little water or broth; if too thin, boil rapidly until thickened slightly. Season it with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon.
Ladle about 1/2 cup of the broth into each of eight deep serving bowls (large soup bowls or pasta bowls are perfect here). Nestle in one of the chiles, garnish with herb sprigs and get ready for a taste of real Mexico.
(* We didn't serve them in bowls – we just put them out on a tray and let people serve themselves.)
We ladled the sauce onto the chiles instead. But regardless – what an amazing dish! Flavor-wise, it's the small amount of cinnamon that really makes this taste special. And texture-wise, the frothy egg batter gives you a soft, tender coating – it's not crunchy like fish & chips, for instance. You're not making that sort of batter – separating the yolks from the whites and beating the whites first gives you a souffle batter instead – the result is comfort food at its most sublime.
So go on, set aside a chunk of time and make these. You will not be sorry.