July 28, 2010

Chiles Rellenos

One of my favorite celebrations of summer produce is a Baked Chile Relleno.  I intended to share it with you last week,  but as I was writing the introduction to the recipe I got distracted with the description of a chile relleno:  A traditional chile relleno is a poblano pepper stuffed with cheese (or meat or beans), covered in an egg batter and deep fried.  Think about for a minute.  Deep fried cheese.  What is not to love?  How can I follow that description with something baked and full of veggies?  Don't get me wrong, my Baked Chile Relleno is a versatile recipe that you don't want to miss, and I will definitely share it soon, but my mouth is watering.  And just is case yours is too, let's do a traditional chile relleno first.

One might hear "deep-fried cheese" and assume that this would be a heavy, greasy dish, but there is only one ounce of cheese per pepper, and when fried at a proper temperature, the exterior is not greasy.  Rather, its crisp lightness contrasts nicely with the almost fruitiness of the pepper and creamy, ooey-gooey delicous-ness of the cheese.  Serve over frijoles, so that the melting cheese mingles with the cooking liquid of the beans and have plenty of warmed corn tortillas to sop up the flavors.

If you are afraid of spicy foods, the poblano might scare you.  If that is the case, remove the seeds before you stuff them.  Also, you can definitely use a milder pepper.  Because we have various heat tolerances in our house, I prepared this dish with 4 poblanos, 2 Anaheims, and 3 pale yellow sweet Gypsy peppers.  The poblanos do have quite a kick to them, but those I purchased fresh from the farmers market also had a wonderful, almost fruity nuance. When seeded and combined with all the other elements of the dish, including a couple mouthfuls of tortilla, the heat was a pleasant part of the sum.

Traditional Chiles Rellenos
Adapted from Rolly's Mexican Kitchen.  If you are looking for some traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex recipes, this is a great website.

8 poblano peppers
8 ounces Mexican melting cheese such as Oaxaca, or Cheddar or Monterey Jack, shredded or diced.
1/4 cup sour cream, optional to help hold the filling together and lend a tartness in the event that you choose a mild cheese.
1 small red onion, minced -about 1/2 cup.
3 eggs, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
about 1/2 cup to 1 cup canola oil or other frying oil, enough to fill your skillet about a 1/2 inch

frijoles (Mexican-style beans)
Mexican rice
corn or flour tortillas, warmed in a greased skillet
pico de gallo or other salsa

1.  Char the peppers on a grill, over a gas burner or under a broiler, until the skin is partially blackened and blistery. Let cool and peel the skin from the peppers, being careful not to tear them.  I planned ahead and grilled my peppers the night before.  I put them in a plastic bag, so that the steam would collect and help the skins loosen.  Then I absentmindedly put the bag in the freezer.  There was no ill effect.  I simply defrosted them under cold running water as I peeled them.

2.  Prepare the filling:  Shred or dice cheese and combine with sour cream (if using) and onion.  Season with kosher salt and pepper.

3.  Gently cut a slit lengthwise in each pepper.  If desired, carefully scoop out the seeds with a spoon.  (I did.)  Using a spoon or your fingers, gently stuff the filling into the peppers, being careful not to tear them. You don't want to overfill them.  You want the seam to come together.  The original recipe suggests closing the seam with toothpicks.  I found that this tore the peppers, so I would advise against it.

4.  Preheat oil in skillet over medium-high heat.

5.  Prepare the egg batter:  In a medium bowl with electric beaters, beat egg whites until fluffy and stiff.  Whisk in egg yolks and season with a pinch of salt.  Spread flour in a shallow bowl.

6.  One at a time, dredge stuffed peppers in flour, dip in egg batter, then carefully set into hot oil. I neglected to take the oil's temperature, but a good test to see if your oil is hot enough is to put in a piece of tortilla.  If the oil sizzles a little and the tortilla has browned slightly and is looking like a tortilla chip after about 20-30 seconds your oil is ready. (If the oil pops, it is too hot.  The simplest way to decrease the temperature is to add more oil. If the oil does nothing, it is not hot enough.  Wait a few more minutes for it to heat up.  I set my peppers into the oil seam-side down so that the hot oil would seal them and it seemed to work.  I did not suffer any significant loss of filling. Depending on the size of your skillet you may be able to fry 2-4 chiles at a time.  As with any frying, do not overcrowd.  After about 2-3 minutes, when the bottom side is golden, gently turn the peppers to fry the other side.  (Poblanos tend to have three sides, while two of my sweet yellow peppers had four sides.) Some of the egg batter will inevitably fall off and that it okay. When all sides are browned to your liking, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

7.  Serve over frijoles with plenty of tortillas to sop up the flavors of the cheese and beans.

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