Monday, September 1, 2008

Chiles rellenos

Wikipedia provides this definition of the popular Mexican dish, chile relleno:

The chile relleno, literally “stuffed pepper”, is a dish of Mexican cuisine, consisting of a roasted fresh green Anaheim, poblano, or posilla chili pepper stuffed with a melting cheese, such queso Chijuajua or queso Oaxaca (traditionally), and/or picadillo meat made up of diced pork, raisins, and nuts, seasoned with canella meat, covered in an egg batter, and fried. It is often served in a tomato sauce. The type of sauce varies widely. There are also many versions in Mexico that use rehydrated dry chiles such as anchos or pasillas.

They said it more concisely and completely than I could have done. I googled “canella meat” and came up with references to it, but no explanation of what it actually is.

When we were shopping at Heinie’s produce market in Arvada, CO, we saw they had some beautiful Anaheim peppers. Rellenos leapt to mind. Until today I didn’t know that the word meant simply “stuffed.” Live and learn. I grew up being fed stuffed green bell peppers frequently. They were a very budget-conscious choice for a family of 7 with little money.

I’ve made stuffed peppers a number of times, and rellenos just a couple of times. I looked up a number of recipes and came away from that exercise understanding that you can stuff the Anaheims with just about anything. Certainly a Mexican mamacita (I think that’s a real word) wouldn’t find it necessary to open her copy of “La Alegría de la Cocina” (“Joy of Cooking”) to consult a recipe. She would use leftovers or find items at the local market she frequents every day of her life. This is the mindset that guided me yesterday.

I determined to use only leftovers, with the exception that I had no appropriate kind of cheese on hand and also wanted to include some tomatillos in my sauce. I bought a bag of 4 kinds of Mexican cheese blended together and 4 tomatillos. It was on sale and was the path of least resistance. I’ll put this down in typical recipe fashion, but bear one thing in mind. You won’t have the same leftovers I have. You’re on your own there. If your pantry doesn’t have dried Mexican peppers, just use some red pepper flakes or some cayenne.

The point I wish to make is one I refer to often in these posts. Shake yourself loose from rules in the kitchen. If you want a certain taste combo for your dinner, say shrimp and something, steak and something, chicken and something, just do it! You can cook absolutely any protein (i.e. meat, fish, or poultry) by using only salt, pepper and olive oil. Anything more is gravy (and gravy is good).

Also, as I haven’t mentioned it in a while, all my recipes are for two. The dogs have their own menu and believe me it does not include chili peppers.

Chiles rellenos
4 Anaheim peppers
4 oz. leftover pork medallions
1 oz. leftover corn relish
½ can leftover white beans
¾ can leftover tomato sauce
4 tomatillos, paper skins removed and chopped
½ red onion, diced
2 dry red peppers, finely chopped, seeds and all
olive oil
¾ cup chicken stock
shredded or grated cheese (any kind that melts well)
leftover Greek yogurt
1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in a bit of water

I think it is a pain in the ass to have to char the chiles and peel off their skins, but I did it anyway. We never did this with our green bell peppers. I suspect their skins are more delicate and therefore more edible. Put the chiles on a baking sheet under the broiler until they char a good deal and the skin begins to crack. Then stuff them into a paper bag for a half hour.

The skins should come off quite easily. Carfully make a slit in one side of each chile starting just below the stem and stopping about 1/2 inch from the pointed bottom. Using your fingers, scrape loose the seeds and quickly rinse them out under cold water. I can’t emphasize enough how careful you must be not the tear the chiles while you do this.

Preheat the oven to 350°.

In a bowl, combine pork, corn relish, beans and a fair amount of cheese. Stuff the chiles with this mixture and place them in a glass baking dish.

In a skillet, heat some olive oil until very hot. Add the onion and tomatillos and saute until softened. Add tomato sauce, red pepper, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for a while. How long? Don’t know – just until it starts to taste like one entity as opposed to a collection of disparate ingredients as it will when you start it. Add the cornstarch and stir while it thickens to give the sauce a little body.

Pour the sauce over the stuffed peppers and top with a lot of cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes – until it is bubbling throughout and the cheese has begun to brown. Serve in wide heated bowls with more cheese and the yogurt as a garnish. Of course sour cream would do. Yogurt was what we had.

At first I thought of stuffing my chiles with a shrimp mixture. But shrimp and cheese, while eaten by a lot of people in this universe, just doesn’t sound quite right to me. If I had had chicken or steak leftover I would have used them, separately on in combination. I could have bought several Mexican cheeses and combined them. I could have just used one cheese, such as pepper jack. The on-sale bag I found served my purposes perfectly.

And you know what? I don’t know what I could have done to make this dish taste any better. Slightly different ingredients would have had an influence on the flavor but not on the overall quality. Try it, you’ll like it.


Kevin said...

I have been wanting to try chili rellenos for a while now. Thanks for all of the info. I like dishes like these that can be used to cleanup leftovers.

Nick N said...

Sounds incredible. We used to make chili rellenos at the restaurant I work. Wish I could see a pic!

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