Saturday, May 1, 2010

The ‘Tween Months II: Chiles Rellenos

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I don’t want to bore you with the joys of the season of anticipation, but really, another word about eggs is in order. You know, eggs, spring, rebirth, etc., etc. Besides, I love them. They are, quite simply, the perfect food, the indispensable protein, leavener, and liquid in your kitchen.

So it’s shocking how badly cooked they always are. I swear, you cannot get a decently cooked egg outside of a five-star hotel with a French chef (and then, it’s a gamble) or that disappearing diner with that near-extinct breed, the gen-u-ine short-order cook who can cook your burger medium-rare, thank you very much, or your scrambleds moist and not a single bit of brown! Since this requires demonstration and practice, no directions here (maybe a video in the future. . .).

But I digress. The subject is eggs in the ‘tween season—those months between winter thaw and the first local produce of the year—, and I feel compelled to share one of my prized recipes for eggs (despite knowing that prized recipes are precisely the ones others don’t share, or leave ingredients out of, including many of my so-called “friends”—you know who you are). And this is a true ‘tween recipe in that it uses the new (eggs) with an inventory draw-down item from last summer, my frozen tomatoes.

The recipe, like all good recipes and food things, has a little story. When I was in my 20s—yes, I was really that old (young?) once—I lived for several years on the Monterey Peninsula in California, and worked halfway between the coast and the Salinas Valley, one of California’s great agricultural areas and, therefore, one of its great Mexican immigrant communities. There was a place in Salinas where we used to go for lunch called Rosita’s Armory Café that had huge and wonderful combination plates for $1.99 that included really, really good chiles rellenos. Turned out, my friend and roommate, Lyle, had grown up in New Mexico with a Mexican cook who made some that were very similar. Lyle knew how to make them, and she taught me. I have taken that basic recipe, fooled with it a bit, and combined it with an authentic Mexican tomato broth, not typically found in even good Mexican restaurants in the United States.

My Chiles Rellenos in Spiced Tomato Broth

This dish makes a wonderful supper for family or friends or for you alone. Like all true Mexican food, it is beautiful to look at and cries out for a party. You can make the sauce and prepare the chiles the day before if you want, and the finished chiles rellenos can be held quite nicely for half an hour in the oven without compromise (it took me 20 years to discover this, so I’ll just save you some time. . .), making this a reasonable choice for entertaining. Apologies to Anne, who begged me not to post this recipe because it was too unique. But when it comes to food, I share.

The chiles

1 roasted, peeled, and seeded fresh poblano pepper per person
1 large brown RI egg, separated, per person, and 1 for the bowl
2 or 3 slices queso blanco or good-quality California Monterey Jack cheese, about 1/8” thick x 3” long (mozzarella, goat, or Philadelphia brand brick cream cheese can be used too) per chile
1 1/2 tea flour for each egg (when making a large quantity, you can cut this down)
salt-big pinch per egg

lard for frying (no substitutes please! You may as well eat at Taco Bell! Long article on the virtues and necessities of lard for everything to come in future editions!)

To roast the peppers, place them whole a few inches from a hot broiler or on the grill, turning occasionally, until blistered all over; they should char somewhat but be careful OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         not to burn or they will be ruined (“toast,” I almost said). If you are just doing one or two, your toaster oven works fine. Place in a plastic bag to steam for a while, and when cool enough to handle, rinse the skin off under running water. Gently pull on the stem to remove, hopefully bringing most of the seeds with it. Remove any others by rinsing under running water, and pull away any big fleshy veins. Try really hard not to tear them. Dry between layers of paper towels. When dry, insert a few pieces of cheese into the opening; if pepper is torn, try to fold the pepper edges over each other. Cover and set aside.

Mix the egg yolks with the flour and salt; it will be pasty. In a separate bowl, beat the whites until they form soft peaks: keep them moist and dry/don’t let them break. Fold into the egg yolk mixture in two or three batches, keeping a light touch. Once you’ve done this, you should cook the chiles or the batter will separate and become watery.

In a large frying pan, melt enough lard over medium heat to give you about 1/8” inch of fat (chiles rellenos are not to be deep-fried, ever); Goya or Armour brand is fine if you don’t have a farm source. With a large spoon, drop and spread an oval of batter into the pan, making them large enough to form a “bed” for your chiles, according to their size. Place a chile on top of each oval, and cook over medium heat until golden brown on the bottom OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         and the base is partly dried. Top each chile with more batter and, with supreme confidence, flip them neatly, adding a little more lard to the pan if necessary and corralling any batter that threatens to run away. Don’t worry about them merging together or having imperfect shapes; just sever them at the seam with the spatula as needed and enjoy the informal character of the dish. Sometimes I tip them on their sides to cook them a bit more evenly.

When the chiles rellenos are evenly golden, remove them and place them in a large, shallow serving dish, such as a gratin or Italian pasta dish, filled about half-way with the spicy broth. Serve the chiles over rice, and spoon broth over all.

The broth

This should be thin without being watery, a broth with body and texture, not a sauce. You want it to be absorbed a little into the chiles rellenos and Chiles and Strawberries 015the rice.

1 medium-small sweet onion, such as Vidalia, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
2 T lard
5 or 6 whole frozen tomatoes, defrosted (in summer, of course, use fresh), or 1 28-oz can Italian plum tomatoes
6 whole cloves
8 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4” piece cinnamon , broken in three
¼ tea dried thyme
2-3 cups pork, ham, or light chicken stock (see Note)

Briefly whiz the tomatoes in the food processor and set aside.

Melt lard and sauté onion and garlic quickly over medium-high heat. Throw in the spices and herbs and stir for a minute or two. Pour the tomato into onion-garlic mixture, blending well, and cook for a minute. Add 2 c. broth, reduce heat, and simmer the mixture for 20 minutes or so to meld the flavors; add more broth or water to as needed to achieve a consistency that is thin and brothy but has a some body to it. I like to leave the whole spices in, for both the rustic look and the flavor. If stored overnight, it may be necessary to thin it again.

NOTE: If you do not have homemade stock, Goya’s Sazon brand ham bouillon powder works quite well; use 1 small packet only, as it’s strong; add additional water to thin.



racheld said...

You WOULD have to post this at night, after we had a rack of ribs off the grill!! This looks so salivitious I wish I had the chiles in the house---we'd have them for Sunday breakfast.

" . . .and, with supreme confidence . . ." shades of Saturday afternoons with hazy black-and-white Julia Child, flitting about the kitchen and wreaking her havocky magic.

Anne S said...

This is the best thing that I ever ate! Nothing else can compare!

Jane said...

So true. Shockingly, it's hard to get a decent chile relleno here in Tucson! But poblanos abound, so all set for cooking at home.