Dec 28, 2008

Gooey on the Inside

The Chile of the foods I crave with such intensity that nothing will do until I have a couple. There’s something about a gooey center and crispy exterior that I find both magical and addictive. These require a fair amount of work, but things that are worthwhile rarely come easy.

Traditionally, chiles rellenos are made using the poblano pepper, which originates and gets its name from Puebla, Mexico. Poblano and other peppers are the fruit of plants in the Solanaceae family, making peppers relatives of tomatoes and potatoes. Other peppers, such as Anaheims, are also used in this dish. I prefer poblanos if for no other reason than the fact that their plump shape provides ample space for stuffing. There are many possibilities for chiles rellenos: a simple cheese filling (my preference), a meat filling (chicken or beef), a mixture of beef and raisins or other similar fruit, even mashed potatoes.

My list of chiles rellenos do’s and don’ts (you can come up with your own):
-Do use a beer batter. I’ve experimented with many batters and beer batter is my favorite.
-Do fry the peppers. This is how chiles rellenos were meant to be! Baking, broiling, etc. just doesn’t cut it.

-Don’t use sauce. This is just my preference and why I never order chiles in restaurants. They’re always over-sauced, ruining the fine crispy coating. It doesn’t matter how delicious the sauce is. For me chiles rellenos are all about the gooey inside-crispy exterior.
-Don’t stuff with meat. Again, another personal preference. Sometimes I mix parsley or cilantro or even minced onion and/or tomato with the cheese filling. But I don’t care for adding heavy meats to the filling. I like chiles rellenos best when they are plain and simple.

The first time I encountered chiles rellenos was as a grad student in TX at a “Chile Party.” This was an annual event where everyone who attended participated in making the chiles rellenos. I was mesmerized by this concept and this food item. One group stood around grills, beers in hand, roasting the peppers then placing them in plastic grocery bags to steam. Another group sat around trash cans, prepping the peppers by removing the charred skins and seeds. This group was usually composed of newbies, too inexperienced to know that this was not the prime job. No one wore gloves, so by the end of the night fingers would throb in pain...what an initiation. (Totally worth it, by the way.) Still another group stood around the kitchen counter, filling the chiles with long strips of cheese. The last group’s task was to make the batter, dip the chiles, and fry them up. Everyone worked on eating them.

This was many years ago and since then I’ve experimented with different batters, different cheeses, and different forms of cheese (strips, cubes, grated) until I found what works for me. Here it is.

Chiles Rellenos
from Ms. enPlace

6 large fresh Poblano peppers

¾ lb pepper jack cheese (or Monterrey Jack), grated
1 tablespoon minced parsley (optional)
1 tablespoon minced cilantro (optional)
1 ½ cups flour, divided
1 cup dark beer
Vegetable oil for frying
Pico de gallo for garnish, below (optional)

Roast chiles over an open flame or under a broiler until skin is charred and blistered. Place chiles in a plastic bag until cool enough to handle. Then, peel or scrape the charred skin off of the chiles. Do not rinse under water!

Make a slit lengthwise down each pepper, leaving stems intact if possible. Remove seeds carefully. Pat the chiles dry.

Mix the cheese with parsley and cilantro or use plain cheese. Carefully stuff peppers with the cheese or cheese mixture.

Whisk together the beer and ½ cup of flour. Lumps are ok—do not over mix. If the batter seems too thin, more flour can be added.

Heat oil, about ½ inch deep to 350 degrees. When oil is hot, dip chiles in the remaining flour, shaking off excess, then deep in beer batter. Place in hot oil and fry until golden, turning to fry all sides. Drain on paper towels.

What you'll need.

Roast the peppers. Look here for step-by-step info and pics.

Slit open the peppers and carefully remove the seeds...or not. Your call.

Stuff the peppers with cheese. I used to use long strips of cheese, but now find that grated cheese gives better results. I like to use Pepper Jack, but mainly just use whatever I happen to have. Here, I added chopped parsley (because I had it).

The peppers are stuffed and waiting to be fried. Sometimes, I take the recipe to this point and refrigerate the peppers for use later. Bring them to room temp before proceeding.

Get your frying station set up. Heat the oil. Make the beer batter. I don't like to drink dark beer, but do think it has a place here. If you aren't going to use dark beer, just use a different batter!

Dredge the peppers in flour. This will help the batter stick to them.

Coat the peppers in the beer batter. Use your hands for this job. They're often the best cooking tools you have. The thing I like most about this batter is that it is thick enough to help keep the peppers closed. No toothpicks needed.

Fry the peppers once your oil is hot enough. In retrospect, using the basket was a huge mistake. The batter stuck in the grid work and was no fun to clean.

Pico de Gallo
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
¼ cup minced cilantro
1 tsp lime juice
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
minced jalapeno to taste (optional)
Mix all ingredients together, allow to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes, and serve.

You know the drill. Get organized.

Here it is. Easy. And it won't overpower the chiles like sauces do.

The final product...Chiles Rellenos w/ Pico de Gallo. Drool. Served here with black beans and garlic soup.

Linking this with my friend Drick's Tailgating party

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