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Making Chili Rellenos

Many years ago, during my first pregnancy, I discovered how wonderful Chili Rellenos were, and after the deep craving I developed for them, set about learning how to make them properly. I looked at a lot of recipes, took bits and pieces from several, and came up with my own, that matched the marvelous memory of what I first tasted. I have to admit, they are my benchmark dish for any Mexican restaurant. I made some for dinner last night, and thought I'd share my recipe. 

I prefer poblano peppers, which have more flavor than Anaheims, and are occasionally a bit more spicy —  most are very mild, but especially if you buy at the farmers market, you can sometimes luck out with a bit more spice. Anaheims would work just as well, of course, and always are mild. It's necessary to get the skins off, which can be done stove-top by turning them on a gas flame (if you have a good hood!), in the broiler, or on the grill. I've seen chefs deep fry them to remove the skins, but that always seemed a bit extreme. Letting them steam in a plastic bag when they come off the grill makes peeling easier. 

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You can (and many local, more up-scale restaurants do) stuff the peppers with anything. I've seen everything from zucchini to chorizo added to the cheese; I've even seen some with no cheese, just seasoned rice and vegetables. For my tastes, the classical cheese filling is just fine. I also know restaurants that get oddly creative with the coating. One wraps the baked chili in an omelette. Others simply bake them, without the frying step or any coating. Again, I'm going for the classic here — and they are one of the few dishes I fry. 

  • 4 chilies Poblano, broiled or grilled until the skin blisters, peeled
  • About 1/4 lb. cheese — I like a combination of jack and mozzarella, you can also use a Mexican white cheese, or any other fairly mild cheese you like, grated
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 Tbs. flour
  • Oil for frying (I prefer grape seed oil), at least a cup, maybe two if you've got a bigger pot 
  • Sauce:
  • 3/4 lb. peeled tomatoes, fresh (grill or broil with the peppers, then peel) or canned
  • 1/4 of a medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely choped
  • tiny pinch ground cloves
  • tiny pinch ground cinnamon, or a small piece of cinnamon stick
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Peel your chilies as directed above. Slit down one side, and use a small pointed scissors or a paring knife to cut the three long attachments that anchor the seeds to the side of the peppers. Carefully snip or cut the seeds away from the top of the pepper, and remove. Gently gather remaining seeds, and remove them. 

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Stuff grated cheese inside each pepper, filling it but loosely. Close the pepper as well as you can. If you put too much cheese inside, it won't close.  

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Before you batter and fry the peppers, you need to make the sauce. It's pretty quick, takes about 10 minutes total to cook. I start by heating a pan and cooking the chopped onions with no fat whatsoever. This is a trick I learned from our erstwhile Ethiopian cooking teacher. If you moderate the heat, the onions cook nicely, get a bit of a brown edge, too, and develop a great flavor. Then I add the garlic, and the peeled tomatoes, plus the salt, pepper, pinch each of cloves and cinnamon (which you can omit if you don't like them). Make sure not to over-do these last two spices, you don't want to notice their flavor in the finished sauce, but they do enrich it nicely. Cook the sauce at a simmer for about 10 minutes. If it gets too dried out while you're finishing the peppers, add a little water. Do taste it and re-season if necessary, before serving

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Now that your sauce is cooking, it's time to finish the peppers. Put a good 1/2 inch of oil in a large heavy pan (or a small one if you want to cook the peppers in batches). Heat it to 360°F., using a thermometer to keep it at that temperature.

Separate the eggs, being careful not to get any yolk in the whites. Beat the whites until stiff. They beat better if at room temperature. Add the yolks and beat them in, to make a golden batter. Once they're all incorporated your batter is done.

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LIghtly flour each pepper, and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Shake off the excess flour. Dip each pepper in the egg better. Place in oil, fry about 1 minute on each side, flipping them carefully, until the batter is nicely browned and the cheese melted. Drain on paper towels. Don’t crowd. 

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Put a little of the sauce on a platter, top with peppers, and then the rest of the sauce. I like putting it in a stripe down the middle, rather than everywhere. Enjoy!

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