Friday, August 8, 2008

Close Encounters of the Chile Kind

Close Encounters of the Chile Kind

When I was a teenager, I bussed tables at a fantastic Mexican restaurant in Arizona called Ricardo's. They had without a doubt some of the best food around. However, the one thing they could not seem to get right was the chile relleño (that's re-yen-o). They were something I usually left on my plate. It was simple enough. A green (Anaheim) chile was stuffed with cheese, dipped in an egg white batter, and pan fried. Yet the batter was dry and overwhelmed the chile, and it really lacked a lot of flavor. So I rarely ate them and never tried them in the kitchen. However, recently I came upon a different type of chile relleño, one that was larger and with a lighter coating. I decided to give it another shot. And needless to say, I was delighted with the results. The key is to make the pepper the focus and not the coating. A simple dredge of egg wash and cornmeal gives it a nice crisp while still letting the pepper be the focus (not to mention the tasty filling).

These peppers are deep fried. So I guess I should address the home fryer for a second. Most of you, like myself, probably do not own a deep fryer. But do not despair, fair cook, because you probably already have the components for one and just use it for casseroles or stir fry. Simply use a Dutch oven or decently large pot to fill in for your fryer. Do not, and I will repeat myself here, do NOT use anything that has a non-stick coating, because when your oil gets up to 350°, you will find lovely specks of Teflon floating around. Not cool. So stick to something cast iron, stainless steel, or enamel coated to work. I also use a fry thermometer, which is a great way to keep an eye on the heat so it's easy to adjust and stay constant. If you don’t have a fry thermometer, you can use any kitchen thermometer with a probe of some kind or use a kernel of popcorn (which, according to Alton Brown, pops at about 350).

First you are going to need a cooling sauce. It is no secret that milk and dairy cools off the heat of peppers, so serving something like this with say, sour cream, is a good way to go.

Cilantro Sour Cream

1 cup sour cream
½ c plain yogurt
¼ cup cilantro, diced super fine
2 T milk
½ t salt
½ t pepper

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until combined. You can skip the yogurt if you wish, but add more milk to thin it out. Going for almost a pourable consistency. Set aside in fridge, lasts for up to 3 days.

Chile Relleños
6 poblano peppers
1 jalapeno

Grill peppers on grill over high, turning frequently, until skin is blackened (you can do this directly over your gas burner if you have one as well, or in your oven under the broiler). Place peppers in a plastic bag and seal. Allow to steam for about 5 minutes, and then gently peel off the outer skin. Split, remove seeds and membrane from the jalapeno, dice it and set it aside. Carefully put a slit along the side of each poblano, and reach in and gently remove seeds. I found that running them under water can help flush the seeds out. You can also do this a little bit ahead of time to help with prep.

For the filling

2 6-8oz boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 t cumin
1 t salt
½ t dried oregano
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 T olive oil (for chicken)
2 T olive oil (for filling)
½ onion, diced
1 T lime juice
1 can diced tomatoes, drained of some excess liquid
1 T flour
1 T paprika
2 t cumin
1 t chile powder
2 t salt
1 t black pepper
2 cups shredded Colby Jack Cheese

Preheat oven to 375°C, season chicken with above seasonings, drizzle olive oil, and bake until done, about 20 minutes. To streamline this process, I would recommend charring your peppers while the chicken is in the oven to save time. Once chicken is done, remove from oven and set aside to let cool. In a medium sized skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and any excess drippings from the chicken (yum) to the pan. Add onions and sauté until browned, add the diced jalapeno and cook for about 1 minute. Dice the chicken as fine as you like it (finer = better in this instance) and add to the pan. Add the lime juice and tomatoes and let simmer for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes start to break up. Sprinkle over the flour (it will help thicken the filling) and cook for another minute. Add seasonings and adjust to your liking. In my opinion, you can never have enough cumin. Add about 1 and a half cups of the cheese, mixing until melted. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the dredging goodness

1 cup + 2 T flour
3 eggs
½ bottle dark beer
1 ½ c corn meal
Peanut oil

In a Dutch oven, pour about 1 quart peanut oil, attach a fry thermometer, and heat the oil over medium high heat to about 350°F. Back down on the heat and let it rise to 370°. Meanwhile, prepare your dredging station. In one shallow dish (or plate), place the 1 cup flour. In a bowl add the eggs, beer, and 2 T flour, which well to combine. In a third dish, place your corn meal.

To prepare your peppers, carefully stuff them with the remaining ½ cup cheese. Then spoon some of the chicken mixture into each pepper, making sure they are full but not bursting. You might have some chicken left over. To seal up the seam, run a few toothpicks or skewers through the seam to close it up. Dredge each pepper in flour, shake off the excess, then proceed to dip in the batter and roll in cornmeal. Transfer immediately to the fryer and fry for about 4-5 minutes until lightly browned. You can probably fry two peppers at a time. Once the peppers are done, move them to a paper towel lined plate and blot dry. Don't forget to remove the toothpicks!

To serve, spoon some of your sour cream mixture on a plate, place pepper on top. If you have extra chicken, slightly split the pepper open along the seam and add the additional chicken so it appears to be bursting. This recipe may seem complicated, but it is rather cook friendly if you spread it out in steps. Promise. The oil can be saved, simply strain it (once it's cool) back into the bottle through a coffee filter. Serve with Salsa and Beans.


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