Chile poblano, the large, meaty, almost succulent chiles famously used for Chiles en Nogada and Chiles Rellenos, are one of the treasures of Mexican cuisine. Named after the state of its origin, Puebla, it is a mild chile, though can sometimes be surprisingly hot. We can eat poblanos every day, if I can keep up with the blistering and peeling, not really a difficult task. If there is a container of rajas in the fridge, it doesn’t last long, being added to eggs, sandwiches, pizza, grilled meats, soup. Raja means a strip of something, in this case, strips of roasted chile poblano cooked with sliced onion.
For most uses, poblanos first need to be roasted until they blacken and blister, then peeled and seeded. For large batches, use an outside propane or charcoal grill. A smaller number is easily blistered on a gas cook stove or under a broiler. If using the cook stove, I use a cake cooling rack over the stove burner to support the chiles. Turn the chiles with tongs until all sides are blackened and blistered. Don’t let them get too black and burn right through the chile. When blackened, put them in a plastic bag to steam. This will finish cooking the chiles and loosen the skin.
When the chiles are cool enough to handle, get out a large cutting board, a serrated knife and a paper towel. And put on some favorite music, something to help get you into the zen of cleaning chiles. Carlos Santana worked for me.
Holding the chile by the stem, gently scrape the blistered skin off while you rotate the chile, until most of the skin is removed. Don’t worry if little pieces remain. Wipe the knife on the paper towel as the knife serrations fill up with bits of skin. Now slit the chile from just below the wide end down to the narrow end through one side only — don’t cut all the way through the chile.
If you want intact chiles for Chiles en Nogada or Chiles Rellenos, don’t cut off the stem and crown. Scrape off the charred skin,using a serrated knife. Then slit the chile down one side (not all the way through) and carefully cut out the knot of seeds attached to the stem. Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds, gently turning the chile partially inside out if need be.
If you are making rajas, slices of roasted chile, cut off the stem end, including the “crown”, the ridge just below the stem. Lay the chile flat and scrape out the seeds, using the back of the knife, the non-blade side. Then turn over and scrape off the charred peel, periodically cleaning the seeds off on a paper towel. Don’t rub your eyes!
The cleaned chiles are ready to fill with cheese for Chiles Rellenos or seasoned meat and fruit for Chiles en Nogada. Or whatever strikes your fancy, such as shrimp, black beans, or a rice filling. If there are small tears in the chile, don’t be concerned. If you are making Chiles Rellenos, the egg coating will encase the chile and enclose the melted cheese. If your chiles are for Chiles en Nogada, the cream and walnut sauce will conceal any tears. That’s tears, as in rips, not tears, as in what will happen if you wipe your eye with a chile-coated finger.
I’ll post a recipe for Rajas de Chile Poblano soon. You’ll want to keep them on hand to jazz up everything you cook.
~ If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves when you work with chiles. And avoid rubbing your eyes or lips.
~ For easier roasting, select poblano chiles that do not have deep creases. Flat-surfaced chiles blacken more quickly.
~ For some reason, poblano chiles north of the border can be extremely hot, while in Mexico they are generally mild. Diana Kennedy, in her great book, The Cuisines of Mexico, advises soaking the peeled and seeded chiles in salt water for thirty minutes to pull out some of the heat.
~ In Mexico and throughout Latin America, “chile” is spelled with an “e”, not chilli or chili. I think the latter must be anglicized spellings. It’a a Latino word, so please spell it the way Latinos do. Of course, here in Mexico, they spell hamburger as “hamberguesa”, so what do I know.