We’ve all had traditional chiles rellenos. As a matter of fact, I had one for dinner tonight, in a combo #23 (along with a deliciously greasy shredded beef taco, cheese enchilada and of course, rice and beans) from Super Mex, the local chain Mexican dive. Traditional chiles rellenos are usually a mild green chile (usually a poblano or Anaheim) which are roasted, peeled and seeded and stuffed with a mild, melting cheese. In the US, it’s usually a Monterey Jack or mild Cheddar. In Mexico, it’s typically queso Chihuahua or queso Oaxaca, both of which are mild, white and very amenable to melting into pools of gooey goodness. The stuffed chile is then dipped in an egg batter and shallow-fried. When nice and puffy and golden brown, the chile relleno is removed from the pan, and dressed with a mild red chile sauce. Properly made, a chile relleno is a thing of beauty. Poorly made, well, it’s a poorly made disaster.
We’ll make traditional chiles rellenos eventually, because even though I got a good fix tonight courtesy of Super Mex (still burping good salsa burps too…..), the chile relleno fix doesn’t last too long, and I’ll get to craving another hit pretty quickly. And mine are pretty damned good and close to authentic. Especially for a Polish/Norwegian girl from South Chicago.
But now we’re talking about a different kind of a chile relleno. Technically, “chile relleno” translates literally as “stuffed chile”. So, chiles en nogada are a form of chiles rellenos. But they are as far from what you’ll find in Super Mex combo #23 as a beautiful Maryland blue crab cake is from a “Krab patty” made with that chopped, pressed and dyed faux “krab”. OK….bad analogy….the chiles rellenos in combo #23 are actually really GOOD. “Krab patties” are never, ever, really good, or even passable. But you get the drift.
This is a relleno like you’ve never “relleno-ed” before. Let’s take a look at it, shall we?
But guess what? I digress….back to chiles en nogada.
For the purists amongst you, I am fully aware this is by no means a traditional, full-bore chiles en nogada recipe. It’s a quick and easy, gringo-ized version. There are many, many traditional, full-on involved recipes out there on these here Interwebs, which will take you the better part of a couple of days to make. But this is a good substitute, me thinks. So, here we go.
The starting line-up for the chiles/stuffing team:
Poblano chiles, onion, garlic, ground beef, ground pork, raisins, slivered almonds, tomato sauce and Ishould’vehadparsleybutdidn’tsoIdidn’tuseit.
Starting line-up for the sauce team:
Team’s a little scanty, but they’re heavy flavor hitters, so it will all be good. Queso fresco, milk, walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Sugar, too, but he was the starting pitcher, warming up in the bullpen (prima donnas those starting pitchers are), so he missed the picture. But here’s an interesting rookie….
Aren’t those little red jewels pretty? I love pomegranate seeds just for how they look. Truth be told, I have a bit of a problem with them texturally, they have a little, hard…thing….in the center. I guess it’s probably the germ that turns into the pomegranate plant if the seed does its thing, but I find it irritating. The flavor, however, is spectacular. Tart and puckery and sweet and exotic, all at the same time.
A note about availability/substitutions: Queso fresco is pretty common around these parts (Southern California). Every MegaMart carries it; you don’t even need to go to a Hispanic market to find it. In other areas, it may not be so common. If you can’t find it, and don’t have a Hispanic/Latino market close, farmer’s cheese can be substituted, as could a mild, cow’s milk feta. You *could* use Anaheim chiles in place of the poblanos, but the flavor profile will be different. The recipe calls for dried currants, they do not exist in my neck of the woods. Other picadillo recipes I have use raisins, so that was what I substituted. Diced, mixed dried fruit would also work. You could also use pine nuts in place of almonds, or a combination of both. Dunno what you’d use if you can’t find pomegranate seeds……dried cranberries, MAYBE.
And finally, yes, I realize that is not a package of ground pork. I have found, through painful experience, that the commercial ground pork readily available to me is far, far, FAR too lean to yield any kind of a satisfactory finished product. It’s that whole “other white meat” baloney. It’s an unfortunate fact that Fat Equals Flavor. That’s why you’ll notice that the ground beef is 20% fat. I’m willing to moderate other things in my life to have meat that actually tastes like something, and doesn’t have the texture of sawdust when it’s cooked. So, when I need ground pork, I buy fatty pork cuts and grind it myself.
All you need is this:
If you have the meat grinder attachment for your KitchenAid, or a stand-alone meat grinder, that’ll work too. (I’m thinkin’ I’m going to spring for the KA attachment as a birthday prezzie from-me-to-me this year…). But, in the interim, the Cuiz works just fine.
You need to have the meat very cold. Toss it into the freezer for half hour/forty-five minutes or so before you grind it. That’s why the meat looks sort of frosty in the picture. You don’t want it frozen solid, but you do want it to firm up some. Tossing the blade or meat grinder plates in as well couldn’t hurt.
For the meat, use a nice fatty cut. I wanted a pound of ground pork, and I couldn’t find a full pound of any one cut that would work, so I used a mix; a pork shoulder blade steak and a package of pork stew meat. I trimmed off the excess fat, but left a goodly amount on/in the meat. Then I cut the steak off the bone, and cut the whole shebang into about 1/2 to 1-inch cubes (there’s a word you don’t hear everyday.....”shebang”. I like it).
Load that up into the Cuiz with the metal blade, slap on the lid, and pulse away. Depending upon your machine, your meat and your karma, it’ll take maybe 5-10 pulses to get this:
That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Well, actually, it’s over-processed a bit. Easy to do with the Cuiz, so watch it. And if your meat has a lot of fat, cut it into smaller pieces, and toss it back into the freezer after you cube it. It’ll help with the texture. But still, it’s going to be a lot better than the extra-lean, extra-tasteless pre-ground other white meat from the meat case.
Now, we deal with the chiles. As you can see from the header, we’re gunna roast these bad boys. We’ve roasted chiles before, but to refresh everyone’s memory, there are several ways to achieve this feat. For me, because I have a gas range, the easiest is to lay those puppies down directly on the grate over the burner, and have at it, turning as needed with a pair of tongs to make sure all the surfaces get nice and charry and black. No, you won’t burn your house down. YES, you do need to watch it, and not turn your back on the process. Otherwise you’ll burn your house down and scare the little dogs.
You can also toast them in a dry cast iron skillet over high heat, or on an outdoor grill (gas or charcoal) or under the broiler. Again, turn them as needed and keep an eye on them ! They go from properly roasted to cinders in a flash. You want them nice and blackened and blistered all over. Not carbonized. Carbonized is never, ever, good eats.
As the chiles finish roasting, place them in a heavy bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, or put them into a heavy plastic zippy bag. They’ll steam in the container from the carry-over heat, and the skin will loosen.
Let them sit in the sealed container for about 5 minutes to cool and steam. Then, using a paper towel, rub off all the blackened, charred skin, to end up with soft, supple, tender chiles.
The paper towel is much more effective than your beautifully manicured, soft chalky blue colored nails. Don’t ask how I know this. My manicure didn't look quite so good after the chile wrangling.
After all the skin has been rubbed off and discarded, carefully slit one side of the chile, and pull out the seed pod and the interior ribs. A small paring knife or kitchen shears work well for excising the seed pod.
Try not to tear the other side of the chile, and try to leave about 1/2 an inch on both the stem and tip ends of the chile uncut. Congratulations and “good on ya” if you can actually accomplish that. As you can see, I wasn't 100% successful, but as La Julia would say, “when you’re alone in the kitchen, no one will know”.
Although some will tell you to rinse the peeled, seeded chiles to remove the last of the skin and seeds, I would tell you NO, DON’T DO IT. You’ll rinse away flavor. The stray iota of skin or seed will not hurt you, nor ruin the dish. Take a deep breath, find your Zen spot and let it go. It’ll be fine…..
Set the peeled, cleaned chiles aside, ‘cause it’s time to make the stuffing (we’re gonna relleno our chiles, yay!)
Heat some olive oil in a pan, and sauté your garlic and onions. When they’re nice and soft, but not browned, toss in the ground meats.
You can see the difference in the color between the dark red of the beef and the “other white meat”.
Let that go until cooked through—no pink. Drain the fat if there is any, and add the tomato sauce, currents/raisins/fruit and nuts. And OH LOOK !
Here’s Mr. Parsley ! Guess he was on the team after all. He was just chillin’ in the fridge when the rest of the group assembled for the team photo. Chillin’….in the fridge….get it? Chillin’…..I slay me…..yeah, I know. Keep my day job…..
Back from the digression…this *is* important (what…….? IMPORTANT, why change now, Roberta?). You will notice, if you look at *this* picture….
….that the almonds are darker than normal. Why is that, Roberta, you may ask. Well, my pookies, it’s because they’ve been toasted. Toasting is a good thing. Toasting deepens and concentrates the flavors of nuts and seeds. I always toast my nuts and seeds. Either toss them into a dry skillet and let ‘em rip over a low flame for a bit, or toss them into the oven while it’s preheating for your main dish. Keep an eye on them, though, or they’ll burn, get bitter and YOU’LL get bitter, yell, throw things and scare the little dogs. You know the drill. We don’t want to scare the little dogs. So, don’t burn the nuts (always a good suggestion…). You’ll know they’re ready when you can smell them. They’ll continue to toast with the carry-over heat, so pull them early. But do toast them. You’ll be happy, and the little dogs won’t be scared.
Carry on then. This is what the stuffing looks like when done.
Drizzle some oil in a shallow baking dish, and take the stuffing and, well stuff those chiles. Yeah. STUFF IT ! Arrange them “snugly” (no lie, that’s what the OR says) in the greased baking dish.
Cover the dish with some foil or a lid, and put into a preheated 375° oven for about 5-10 minutes, or until everything gets heated through. Remember, everything, the chiles, the meat, the sauce, has been completely cooked, so all we need to do at this point is warm everything through and blend the flavors.
Oh yeah. And make the nogada sauce. That would be good, wouldn’t it?
You could use a blender. You could use the Cuiz (ifn’s it wasn’t dirty from grinding the pork that is). But you could also use (insert drumroll)…..
…..THE BOAT MOTOR !!!!
(And the crowd goes wild !)
Yeah, babe. Immersion blenders rock. Especially for small quantities, and since I was cutting this recipe in thirds (yeah, the OR serves 6, I made 2 servings….its a real PITA sometimes cooking for one), the stick blender was the way to go.
So. You put the queso fresco, walnuts (toasted, of course), sugar and milk into the container of a blender or the cup for the immersion blender. And blitz the hell out of that mixture, just go to town. You’ll end up with a nice smooth, silky sauce.
Which you will season to taste with salt, and maybe a hint of pepper.
When the chiles are heated through, place them on your serving plates. Pour the walnut sauce artistically over the top (or as artistically as you can, plating is not my forte), and then sprinkle the pomegranate seeds artfully over the top.
The chiles are subtly spicy, the filling is what the Italians (to really mix metaphors as well as cultures) call agrodolce, sort of sweetish and savory and tangy at the same time, and the creamy walnut sauce is a smooth, earthy contrast. The pomegranate seeds reinforce the tang of the filling, and contrast nicely with the creamy sauce.
It’s a superstar dish. Unexpected and wildly tasty. Make it for your father this weekend, and serve it to him with a nice reposado tequila, and an avocado/onion/tomato salad drizzled with red wine vinegar and good extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with flaky salt. Wish him a Happy Father’s Day for me, and tell him how happy you are that he’s around.
Here’s the actual recipe.
Chiles En Nogada
(Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Walnut Sauce)
From “Food And Wine” magazine – November 2010
Serves 6 – Total time 50 minutes
6 large poblano chiles
2 Tblsp. olive oil, plus more for brushing the chiles
Salt to taste
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce
1/2C dried currants, raisins or diced, mixed dried fruit
1/2C toasted almonds, pine nuts or a combination of the two
2 Tblsp. chopped parsley
Freshly ground pepper to taste
5 oz. queso fresco or farmer cheese (1&1/3C)
1/2C walnuts, toasted
1 Tblsp. sugar
Salt to taste
1/2C pomegranate seeds
Preheat oven to 375°.
Toast the nuts. Spread the almonds/pine nuts and the walnuts in separate pans or pie plates. Toast over low heat on stove-top, or in oven while it pre-heats until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from heat and let cool.
Roast the poblanos directly over a gas flame, in a dry skillet or under a broiler, turning often, until charred and blistered all over. Transfer the chiles to a large, heavy bowl and cover with plastic wrap (or place in a heavy, plastic zippy bag). Let cool for 5 minutes.
Rub the blackened skin off the chiles with a paper towel. Make a slit in one side of each chile, and carefully remove the seed pod and ribs with a small paring knife or kitchen shears. Leave 1/2-inch on each end (stem and tip) of the chile uncut. Lightly brush the chiles with olive oil, and season inside and out with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons oil over moderate heat. When hot, add the garlic and onion, and sauté until soft, translucent but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add in the ground meats, and cook, stirring often, until cooked through and no pink remains. Drain off excess fat and add the tomato sauce, dried fruit, almonds/pine nuts and chopped parsley. Cook briefly to blend flavors and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Drizzle a small amount of oil onto the bottom of a baking dish. Stuff the chiles with the filling and place them “snugly” in the dish. Cover and bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the chiles and stuffing are heated through.
Meanwhile, make the walnut sauce. In a blender, food processor, or blender jar for a stick blender, combine the milk, queso fresco, walnuts and sugar and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and a bit of pepper.
Transfer the chiles to serving plates. Pour the walnut sauce on top, and garnish with the pomegranate seeds. Serve warm or at room temperature.
(Happy Father’s Day Daddy ! I love you and miss you. Remember, “any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a Daddy”.)