Chiles are the essence of Mexico. Vibrant in color and intense in flavor, they are found in many Mexican dishes. Chiles Rellenos, a Mexican classic, feature poblano chiles stuffed with cheese, dipped in egg, then fried until golden and served in a shining pool of tomato sauce.
- 6 thick-walled poblano chiles
- 1/2 lb. (230 grams) cheese of your choice, cut into 6 wedges
- 1/2 cup (50 grams) all purpose flour
- 2 lbs. (900 grams) fresh tomatoes (or canned tomatoes — see note)
- 1/2 medium onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoon dry Mexican oregano
- salt to taste
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- mild vegetable oil for frying
1. First, blister and peel the poblano chiles.
2. While poblanos are steaming, cut tomatoes into quarters or eighths, depending on their size, and squeeze out seeds. Strain seeds, saving the juice. Roughly chop onion and garlic.
3. Purée tomatoes, juice, onion and garlic in blender. Fry the sauce. (Yes, you read it right. “Fry” is the verb used in Mexican cookbooks to describe making a cooked salsa.) Bring 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a moderately high temperature in the skillet, add the tomato mixture, and stand back — it will spatter and spit a bit, but will calm down as you stir it. Add dry Mexican oregano (not Greek oregano) and stir occasionally while simmering for 15 minutes. Salt to taste, but don’t skimp on the salt. Too little will result in a flat-tasting sauce.
4. While the sauce is simmering, peel and seed chiles and stuff with wedges of cheese. If the piece of cheese is not too large, you can slightly fold the flap of chile over the other side of the slit, sealing the cheese in. The cooked egg batter will hold this flap closed.
5. For egg coating: beat egg whites with 1/4 teaspoon of salt until stiff but not dry. Fold in beaten egg yolks. This is the chile coating. There is no flour added.
6. Keeping the flap closed, roll each chile in flour, without getting flour inside the chile. (Mexican cocineras use a toothpick to hold the slit closed.) The idea is to completely cover it with flour so that the egg has something to stick to. Then dip each chile in the beaten egg to completely coat it.
7. Use enough oil in your skillet for a depth of 3/4″ – 1″. Heat oil to 350 deg. F. (180 C.). Fry two chiles at a time. If you try to do more, the first chile in the pan will start to burn while you are coating the others. (I learned this the hard way.) Turn the chiles over after 30-45 seconds in the oil, or until they are golden brown on all sides. Place on several layers of paper towels to absorb oil. Keep warm on a hot plate or in a 200 deg. F. (95 C.) oven while you batter and cook the remaining chiles. While cooking the chiles, keep the tomato sauce hot.
8. When all are done, spoon hot tomato sauce into individual dishes or in a large platter and arrange chiles rellenos on the sauce.
~ Mexican cookbooks recommend a variety of cheeses for Chiles Rellenos, including Oaxaca string cheese, Mozzarella and Monterey Jack. A good cheddar is assertive enough to stand up to the flavorful chiles and tomato sauce. For this recipe, I used Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar from Costco.
~ To make the preparation of this dish more manageable, make the sauce and blister and peel the chiles the day before.
~ Be prepared for a wide range of heat level. Poblanos are generally a mild chile, but every now and then they veer off the heat scale.
~ When selecting poblanos, look for those that are flat with two sides, rather than three sides. This shape allows for less cooking time when blistering and frying.
~ In the winter, it may be impossible to find fresh tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes. If this is the case, you will do better using canned tomatoes, which usually have a good flavor.
~ There are no rules in cooking (baking is a different matter). If you want to fill your chile relleno with crab and mornay sauce, or well-seasoned black beans and shrimp, please invite me to dinner.
~ Leftover chiles rellenos, re-heated, make an excellent sandwich filling. In the market of a small town, we had tortas de chiles rellenos — bolillos, the common bread roll of Mexico, filled with cheese-stuffed poblanos. With this memory to prompt us, we had left-over chiles rellenos in bolillos for lunch at home. Split the bolillo horizontally and pull out the soft center to make room for the chile. Spoon some hot tomato sauce onto both sides of the roll. Muy delicioso!
~ Today’s Spanish lesson: This dish is often misspelled as “Chile Rellenos”. If Chile is singular (without an “s”), so too is the descriptive word, “relleno”. Chile Relleno or Chiles Rellenos are the correct spellings.