Monday, April 13, 2009

Just Make It!

Spending time away from The Ranch... Semana Santa with the DogFamily...
(Actually, the DogFather is recuperating from surgery so Big Dog and I were there for the initial post-op home care.)

"Wow! Look at this!" I squealed as I opened an ad from the local Hispanic supermarket. "Pasilla peppers at 3lbs for a dollar! We should go get a bunch and make chile rellenos for Easter!"
The DogFamily's roots are in the Deep South, not Mexico. I don't think they ever had chile rellenos for Easter and I have never heard of it being a particularly Easter-ish dish in Mexico, either, but why not! After all, it's almost an egg dish...

Big Dog and I love real Mexican food. Not the mostly goopy, heavy cheese-laden stuff of the American (Mexican) chain restaurants, but real Mexican food. Tiny two-bite tacos...tiny, fluffy tamales with their tiny hidden treasures...chile rellenos stuffed with queso fresco or queso seco, in a brothy tomato sauce. I also love the light, ungreasy pozole of Jalisco and Michoacan. For all the Hispanic roots and influences of SoCal, it can be tough finding the real thing. If you want it, you gotta make it.

Luckily, Lancaster (CA, not PA) has a huge Hispanic population and has what I think is the best Hispanic supermarket. Vallarta is like being in Mexico -- just not the little fishing village we know. It's giant and cosmopolitan and has nearly everything you could want from South of the Border. Mounds of dried chiles of all sorts, fresh ones, piles of regional produce, a big carniceria and pescaderia, a deli with salsas and ceviches and regional cheeses, and even a food court (tacos were pretty good, but I will never buy another tamale there. Sorry. After those awesome handmade tamales from The Tamale Couple, I don't think I can eat any made in the U.S.)

My chile rellenos approximate those we have in Jalisco. They are also a bit labor intensive, but definitely worth it. (My raviolis are not -- they are not much better than the pre-made fresh ones.)

1) Roast peppers. Doing this in advance makes the rest of the process more relaxed. Grill them on the barbie, broil them in an oven. However. Get them nice and roasty so that the skins peel easily. Don't try to peel them while they are hot unless you're that kind of person.
2) Stuff the peppers. Oh. Before that, you'll want to de-seed them. The local loncherias aren't too phobic about complete seedlessness, so I wouldn't be either, but the seeds and spines (the part attaching the seeds to the pepper) are where the heat is. Pasilla peppers are generally pretty mild, but I find that one in every 5 or 6 to be quite fierce, and since I make mine for children and the elderly (and am pretty compulsive) I tend to go for total de-seeding. I like to keep the top part of my peppers intact (the stem is useful in moving the peppers around later) so I make a little slit in the side, but others may want to just lop off the top, pulling the seeds out. Next, you stuff the peppers with cheese.
3) A word about cheeses. Chile Rellenos in the US usually have some kind of jack cheese in them. For me, they are bland and heavy at the same time. I prefer a combination of queso fresco and queso seco. Fresco for the light-and-creaminess, seco for the sharp, salty flavor. Mexicans are proud of their many regional cheese, as they should be, so try a few and see what tastes best for you. Use a toothpick to keep the slit closed. This is hard because the roasted peppers are pretty fragile, but necessary if you want any cheese left in the peppers after frying.

You can do all of those steps in advance. Now, it's time to fry them up.
4) Make the batter. Whip up some egg whites til stiff, them mix in the egg yolk.
5) Dredge the stuffed peppers in flour, drag them through the whipped up egg batter and then into the pan of hot oil (canola oil is a good choice.) Fry one side, flip over and fry the other. You just need to fry them long enough to brown the battered part. When done, lift them out carefully, drain on lots of paper towels. If you've done them right (having the oil at the right temperature for frying is important) they will be light and airy like a souffle. Never dense and heavy and greasy.

I've been served chile relleno in all sorts of ways. With beans and rice and salsa (on the chile), wrapped in a soft tortilla (once in a beautiful handmade blue corn tortilla), or swimming in a light tomato broth. I like this best. The simplest way is to make a chicken broth, add some tomato sauce, oregano and pepper. It should be sort of watery. You can spoon in some Mexican rice and eat it with the chile, too. You should always have to have a pile of warm, soft corn tortillas to go with the chiles.

Mmm-mmm good! Or as they say down there, Mmmuy Rrrrricos!!

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