“A Tale of Two Stuffed Peppers”
The ranting chef, in a recent post, asked, “Do you have a `go to’ test dish for the places you go?”
My favorite “go to” dishes for mexican restaurants are: (1) torta and (2) chiles rellenos. I’d not made either of these at home, so now I’m tackling chiles rellenos. In my experience, chiles rellenos are typically poblano peppers, stuffed with cheese, batter-dipped, and deep-fried to a golden brown. As with other stuffed peppers, there are many variations involving the stuffing and the coating. For instance, many years ago at a restaurant, I enjoyed a nice chile rellenos coated with crushed, multi-colored tortilla chips. Since I mostly avoid deep-fried foods, that was a great alternative that, instead of submersing in oil, could be baked – like the relatively bland, but convenient bell-pepper-based stuffed peppers my mom used to make with ground beef, rice, and tomato sauce… and, yes, I know tortilla chips are deep-fried. But, while shunning explicitly deep-fried foods, I did also allow myself potato chips, but not french fries. Whatever; live and let me live with my own innocuous delusions. :)
Last week I bought three fresh poblano peppers (about $1.50) and some queso fresco (about $7 for 12 oz. – seemed expensive, but that’s Whole Foods for you) and decided I would make each as a differently-prepared chili relleno.
Making chiles rellanos for the first time is non-trivial. First, you’ll want an accompanying sauce or salsa. Then, you’ll need to blacken or blister and peel the peppers (to remove the bitter skin), carefully clean and stuff them, coat them, and then cook them, preferably without the filling falling out and without the result looking disgusting. I managed that on two out of three of the peppers I prepared: (1) a typical cheese-stuffed pepper, and (2) a baked, tortilla chip-encrusted pepper with a more interesting filling; the third pepper we’ll appropriately name, “chile relleno not appearing in this post.” (It will, however, be appearing on my plate of leftovers for dinner sometime soon, i.e., too ugly to post, but not too ugly to eat. Full disclosure: I waited too long to batter-dip it and the batter had lost its meringue-ness, and thus did not coat the pepper well.)
To accompany the chiles, I used an Ancho Chile Sauce that I had prepared in advance. I liked the idea of matching the stuffed poblano with an ancho chile-based sauce, since the ancho chile is actually a dried, ripe poblano pepper.
Typical Chiles Rellenos ingredients:
- large fresh green poblano peppers (2)
- canola oil
- queso fresco (~4 oz., crumbled)
- all-purpose flour
- eggs (3 separated, whites whisked until frothy and smooth, yolks carefully folded in)
As an alternative filling, I created a Scotch Bonnet Beans & Rice, since I wanted a spicy kick, as chiles rellenos are typically quite mild; I acheived a moderate level of heat by using just a single scotch bonnet pepper, with seeds and veins removed.
Baked, Tortilla Chip-encrusted Chile Relleno ingredients:
- large fresh green poblano pepper (1)
- queso fresco (~1.5 oz., crumbled)
- scotch bonnet beans and rice (see below, or use another stuffing)
- egg (1, whisked, as a wash)
- tortilla chips (crushed, ~1/2 cup)
To get started, we need to blacken and blister the skin of the peppers as thoroughly as possible. This is so that we can peel them. I used a combination of methods: directly placing them over the stovetop gas flame and turning them in a pan over high heat. Previously I’ve done this under the broiler (turning frequently); in hindsight, I think the broiler works best.
Once blackened and blistered, place them in a plastic Zip Loc bag to steam and cool.
While the peppers are cooling, prepare the stuffing(s).
Scotch Bonnet Beans and Rice ingredients:
- rice (I used 1 cup rinsed jasmine rice, because that’s what I had on hand)
- water from reconstituted ancho chiles or soup stock (2 cups)
- scallions (2 chopped, white and green portions separated)
- black beans (1 can, rinsed and drained)
- garlic (2 cloves minced)
- sweet corn (frozen, ~2/3 cup)
- pimento (2 oz.)
- large green olives (~6, sliced, I used jalapeno-stuffed olives)
- pickled jalapeno (1 T., minced)
- scotch bonnet pepper (optional, 1, seeded, deveined, dry roasted, and minced as finely as possible, or substitute a habanero, jalapeno, or some other milder pepper)
- cumin seed (1/2 t.)
- saffron threads (optional)
I placed most of the ingredients (except for the beans and scallion greens) in a rice cooker, with the corn in the steamer basket, and cooked with the rice.
When rice is done, toss in the steamed corn, black beans, scallion greens, and salt to taste; and using chopsticks; using chopsticks is a good tip if ever you need to mix fine ingredients into a moist or somewhat sticky rice because it won’t stick to the utensils too much.
Our simpler stuffing is the queso fresco.
When the peppers are reasonably cooled, carefully peel them, rinse them in water, cut a slit perhaps 2/3 down one side and carefully remove the seed bunch, any veins, and any loose seeds. I leave the stem intact for handling and for presentation.
Next, carefully stuff the peppers as desired. For some, simply fill them moderately with crumbled queso fresco. For others, perhaps stir queso fresco in with the beans and rice to form a stuffing.
To bake peppers rolled in tortilla chip crumbs, first dip the stuffed pepper in an egg wash, then roll in crushed tortilla chips, and place in a greased baking pan. Bake at 375°F for 45 minutes to 1 hour (occassionally check to be sure chips aren’t too brown), or partially bake (e.g., 1/2 hour) and store to reheat by baking later.
To fry peppers in oil, prepare the egg batter for the peppers by vigorously whip the egg whites with a whisk into a meringue consistency (a large metal bowl is best, but I don’t have one), then carefully fold the yolks in to mix evenly, but be careful not to overstir, which will cause the whites to collapse.
For the peppers to be fried in oil, first coat them with flour.
Then dip them in the egg batter, and place them in hot oil, e.g., about 1/2 inch deep; I tested the oil temperature by frying some corn tortilla strips. Be sure to adjust the temperature so that it sizzles when something is dipped in, but doesn’t cook so fast that it will quickly burn.
Turn the peppers occasionally to cook on each side, being careful to avoid spilling the filling. (Be particularly careful when cooking the side that was slit open.)
After frying, place on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Plate the chile relleno atop a sauce or salsa, and accompany with a side, such as my scotch bonnet beans and rice.
As an optional side, and since my beans and rice was a bit sticky, I formed small balls (~1 in.), rolled them in the egg batter and fried them in the remaining oil to make rice fritters.
Of the two chiles rellenos preparations (fried and baked), I was more pleased with the appearance of the typical fried chile relleno stuffed with cheese.
Lastly, while I kept this meal completely vegetarian, I can’t help but think that cooked chorizo would be a great additional ingredient to the stuffing. :)
This was a respectable first try, and I enjoyed the result, and even used some leftover rice and beans to make a breakfast burrito this morning.
Let me know your chiles rellenos tricks or tips! This is definitely a recipe that benefits from experience.
Here are some recipes I consulted for ideas:
- Ranch Chiles Rellenos with Ancho Chile Salsa
- Crunchy, Cheesy, Chiles Rellenos with Roasted Tomato Salsa
- Chile Relleno part 2 (actually, this isn’t the video I watched, but I can’t find that one now; there are a lot of them on youtube that are worthwhile to familiarize you with the batter preparation and frying technique.)