Steve Rogers, late co-editor of The People’s Guide to Mexico, was a serious student of Mexican customs and cuisine.
Sometime back through the mists of time, I remember a Mexican woman teaching Lorena and me how to make Chile Rellenos. I remember the recipe which I have used over the years much better than the circumstances at the time, but I believe we were camped north of Mazatlán in an area of hotels, stores and condos now known as the “Zona Dorada,” but at the time of our cooking lesson it was a free camping beach with only a few thatched roofed beach restaurants in the area. The execution of this recipe is rather an involved process, but worth the effort in my opinion. A helper or two makes it a more manageable project.
In Mexico the Chili Poblano, a dark green triangular shaped chile 3” to 4” in length that varies in hotness from mild to quite picante, is the chili of choice for this recipe. Poblanos are available in local supermarkets here in Oregon and I would imagine that they are found in any area of the U.S. with significant Mexican population. If you can’t get Poblanos, a large green Anaheim makes an acceptable substitute, as do any of the long green chiles from New Mexico. Bell peppers won’t do as the flesh is too thick.
Preparing the chiles: At least two chiles per person should be used. I usually make a couple extra while I’m at it, as they are great for breakfast the next day. To peel the tough skin from the chiles, blacken them by putting them directly in the flame of the burner on a gas stove or do it in a broiler or toaster oven, or best yet, on a charcoal barbecue grill. However you do it, keep turning the pepper so as to blacken it evenly over its entire surface without burning through or cooking it too much. When black and blistered, place the pepper in a plastic bag of type used for produce in supermarkets. Keep the bag closed . After 20 to 30 minutes you can start peeling the peppers. This is somewhat laborious but if you have roasted them correctly and left them long enough in the plastic bag, the tough outer skin peels off fairly easily and it is sort of fun — like peeling sunburned skin from your body.
When the pepper is peeled, make an incision with a sharp paring knife in the side of the pepper, starting at the big end and going down a couple of inches. With the paring knife, cut the main seed pod just under the inside of the stem and pull it out being careful not to rip the chili. Rinse with cold water in the sink. Pull out any ribs and seeds that don’t come out with the main seed cluster and rinse again, being careful not to rip the chili too much. When peeled, roll the chiles in white flour and set aside.
Any cheese that melts nicely will do for the stuffing. The better the cheese, the better the end result, but even a supermarket Monterey Jack or Mozzarella works well. In Mexico, Panela (a fresh ricotta-like cheese) is often used. Oaxaca or Chihuahua cheese is very good as well.
Cut the cheese in thin strips approximately as long as the chili you are stuffing. Insert the cheese through the slit in the chili. Put in a good amount but don’t stuff it tightly as it expands when it melts. Seal the slit in the chili with thin wooden toothpicks. Roll in the flour again and set aside.
The Tomato Sauce:
Prepare a goodly amount of sauce.
Fill a 10” Dutch oven or big sauce pan at least 3” deep. I use a simple, rather thin sauce made of:
- 1 or 2 medium to large white or yellow onions, thinly sliced
- fresh garlic to taste, minced
- Peeled fresh or canned whole tomatoes — at least 2 pounds of fresh or one 28 oz can
- Tomato juice or water to make the sauce pretty thin. Do not use tomato purees or tomato paste or you’ll get too thick a sauce. This sauce should be the consistency of tomato juice with chunks of tomato and onion floating around in it.
- salt to taste
- vegetable or olive oil
Sauté the onions and garlic in enough oil. When the onions just begin to brown, stir in the tomatoes. Mash up the tomatoes and add juice or water to get desired consistency. Taste for salt and add as needed. Simmer on low heat while you do all the rest of the process.
The Egg Batter:
Separate one egg for every two chiles. Beat the whites until stiff. Beat the yolk a little and fold into the beaten whites.
Heat cooking oil 1” to 2” deep in a big frying pan to about 375º F. Holding the chili by the stem dip it in the egg batter until well coated. (A rubber spatula can be used to spread batter if it doesn’t cover the entire chili ). Fry on the surface of the oil, slowly rotating the chili until it is lightly browned. You can do two or three at a time but it is a little tricky and requires asbestos fingers. As each chili is browned, place it carefully in the tomato sauce, ladling sauce to completely cover the pepper. Keep the sauce on very low heat.
Heat the chiles in the sauce at least long enough to melt the cheese. 15 minutes should be a minimum. It doesn’t hurt to leave them in longer as they just soak up flavor from the sauce.
Serve with rice and salad and plenty of napkins.