I think it’s safe to say that we all have our favorite dishes from any cuisine. And no matter how complicated and labor intensive it is to make it on our own, we anoint the dish worth the effort to learn. On this particular weekend, I decided that dish would be the Chili Relleno. After god knows how many hours, and god knows how many glasses of wine (I refuse to believe the wine delayed the process one bit,) the end result was stinging eyes, possibly a chili seed that got in my nose from itching it, a sense of pride, and a fully-bellied nap afterwards meant for the gods. It’s called, winning!!
- 12 Pasilla or Anaheim peppers
- 1 pd block of jack or pepper jack cheese
(*Don’t be cheap alert! If you have a smoked cheese, this is the time to use it. Some basic grocery stores sell habanero pepper jack and farmers markets often have cheese merchants that sell some bomb-ass smoked cheeses. The picture above has a smoked hot house pepper jack I picked up from my farmers market. Umm…yummy!!!)
- Grapeseed (recommended as its flavor-neutral) or extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup flour
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- Roast chili peppers
There are a few ways to do this. You can either brush the peppers with olive oil and roast them under the broiler, you can put them in a cast iron skillet or on a cast iron griddle, or you can put them right on the burner. The goal is to char the skins and get the peppers soft and flaccid. ( He, he, she said flaccid.)
When the chiles are done roasting, put them in a plastic bag to steam for a few minutes. If you don’t have time to finish the project you can actually leave the peppers in the bag until you are ready to make your rellenos.
- Slice a small opening into the chiles and scoop out the seeds. Using a paper towel and over the sink with the facet trickling, scrap the chard skins off the peppers.
- Cut the 1 pound of cheese into 12 strips of equal size.
- Stuff each pepper with a slice of cheese and close them up.
- Mix the egg, flour, milk, baking soda and powder, salt and pepper and whisk with a fork. Sprinkle flour on your cutting board or prep surface.
- Pour a fair amount of oil into your skillet, up to 1 inch and heat over a medium-high flame. (Personally, I don’t like cooking with that deep an oil bath because it splatters like crazy and is wasteful. I don’t cook with cheap oil, so I pour enough in to make about 1/4 inch bath and it browns the batter just fine.)
- Now comes the tricky part. With your skillet oil slightly smoking, take a stuffed pepper and roll it in flour, than dip into the batter. Place the gooey, dripping mess into the oil and fry. Using tongs. each side only needs a minute or less, so roll as gently as you can to brown all sides of your relleno.
- Once all the batter is fried, use tongs and transfer to a plate. Repeat that exact process with each of your peppers.
- Once you have all your peppers fried, you may need to pop them in the microwave for just a few seconds to make sure that cheese is melted inside. This will depend on how thick the slices of cheese were that you stuffed the peppers with and how deep an oil bath you used.
How do I garnish and serve the rellenos?
Ok, this dish is popular all over north and south america and garnish styles do vary. If you are used to eating your rellenos served drenched in a mild ranchera sauce, you can certainly do that. I have had them that way, sometimes baked with a little cheese on top of the sauce. I have had rellenos served almost as a soup, the tomato sauce more a delicate broth than a sauce. However, there are some communities that serve the dish plain and offer salsa roja or salsa verde and maybe a little sour cream to garnish as you see fit. I recommend you try it WITHOUT a sauce bath at least once because they are amaze-balls.
Try to eat your fill of rellenos BEFORE you look over at the disgusting, oil-splatter, batter-drip-covered nightmare your kitchen has become. It will bolster your spirits for the clean up job ahead. Or, if you have kids of chore-doing age, make those little punks deal with the mess while you take a nap and really give all that cheese and batter carte blanche access to your thighs.