They aren’t just a source of heat as you might imagine. Peppers can provide the essential flavor to make a meal magical. In her new cookbook, “From My Mexican Kitchen, Techniques and Ingredients,” Diana Kennedy describes how best to use all sorts of ingredients essential to Mexican cooking, including chilies. Check out the recipes below.
ASADO: PLACE THE whole chilies over the open flame of a gas stove or on a charcoal grill, turning them from time to time until the skin is blistered and lightly charred. If you do not have a gas stove, then wipe the surface of the chilies lightly with oil and put them up under a hot electric grill, about 2 inches (5cm) from the element and turn them from time to time until blistered all over. Place them immediately inside a paper or plastic bag and set aside to steam for about 10 minutes; this process will loosen the skin. Then remove the skin by just running your hands down the chile. Wipe off any pieces of reluctant skin with a damp cloth. Do not rinse as some cooks and writers suggest; you will lose all the concentrated juices and impair the flavor. Do not put into a hot oven; the skins may blister, but the flesh will be cooked too much.
for stuffing: Make a vertical slit on one side of the charred and peeled chile and carefully cut out the placenta at the top, which holds most of the seeds; take care to keep the top intact. Try to remove some of the veins without shredding the flesh of the chile.
for rajas (strips): Cut the top with the stalk base off the charred and peeled chile, open down one side, and remove the seeds and veins. Cut into vertical strips about 3/8 inch (about .75cm) wide.
for blending raw: If you are not going to skin the poblanos, but just blend them with other ingredients, you still need to remove the placenta with the seeds at the top.
Chilies rellenos is one of the dishes that is practically synonymous with Mexican food. It provides one example of the gastronomic vagaries of foods. The pepper from Mexico was adopted in Europe and the Mediterranean area (and later other parts of the world), but the practice of stuffing it came back from Europe and the Mediterranean.
While more often than not Chills poblanos are used for this dish, other Chills, mostly fresh but occasionally dried, will be stuffed. Some examples are the fresh chile de agua and dried pasilla in Oaxaca, anchos and pasillas (dried) in central Mexico, jalapeòos (fresh) in Veracruz, and pasados (dried) in Chihuahua. In many-but not all-cases, the prepared, stuffed, and lightly floured Chills are covered with a coating of beaten egg and fried; they are called “rebozados” (as if covered with a rebozo, a Mexican type of shawl). Some are served in a tomato and meat broth, or a mild, dried chile sauce, others with the sauce or even cream on the side.
There are many other ways of stuffing and serving Chills that can be found in my books: poblanos lightly pickled and stuffed with guacamole (Nuevo León) or with seasoned beans (Colima), stuffed with squash and served as a salad, or with cheese and sautéed, and so on. There are so many such enticing recipes that never see the light of day on the normal restaurant bill of fare.
Poblano Chilies may be filled with a number of stuffings, the most popular being shredded and chopped meat-called picadillo-or cheese. Recipes for a pork and a cheese filling follow. Other options are fresh corn and cheese; potatoes and cheese, although the recipe calls for pasilla chilies; and a seasoned shrimp filling. Or invent your own!
For 6 poblanos
6 stuffed poblanos (see above)
Vegetable oil, for frying (not canola)
3 large eggs, separated
Salt to taste
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Have the stuffed chilies ready. Stack paper toweling or opened paper bags nearby, ready to drain excess oil. Heat oil to a depth of 1 inch (2.5cm) in a skillet. I have never taken the temperature, but the oil when tested with a dry wooden spoon should sizzle around it. Another test is that the batter should sizzle and froth up as it enters the oil. But do not let the oil overheat and smoke or the batter will brown-and in fact burn-and the chilies will not be cooked on the inside, nor will the stuffed chile be heated through, or any cheese stuffing melted. Do not attempt to fry chilies in a deep-fat fryer. The batter will stick to the wire basket and the batter will absorb the strong residual flavors in the oil.
Meantime, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks, but not too stiff and dry. Tip the bowl just to make sure they do not slide around, which indicates there is still some unbeaten egg white at the bottom; or turn the bowl upside down. They should not fall out. Gradually beat in the salt and yolks. When they are well incorporated, lightly dust one of the chilies with the flour. With a perforated spoon, or two forks, dip the chile into the beaten eggs and turn it around until it is well covered-not too thin a coating and not too thick-and carefully lower into the hot oil.
It is useful to have two clean spatulas or two forks to turn the chile around. When the batter is well set and a deep golden color, carefully turn the chile over as if folding it into the batter, and fry again until golden all the way round (see Note)-this should take about 6 minutes in all. However, if there are some uncooked patches of batter around the stem, carefully upend it and fry until evenly colored. This will take a few moments more. Drain on paper towels or brown paper bags and repeat with the remaining chilies.
If you are going to serve the chilies immediately, heat them in the sauce-if called for in the recipe-to absorb the flavors for about 10 minutes. Of course, the batter will become a little sodden.
note: Until you have done your first hundred I don’t suggest
you do what adept young cooks do: grab the chile by its stalk and twirl it around in the batter and then the oil! Very showy and effective... but!
Of course, this frying procedure is nerve-wracking if carried out while your guests wait at the table. You can fry the chilies several hours ahead, and reheat by placing the chilies on a double layer of absorbent paper on a cookie sheet. Place in a 350F (180C) oven for about 15 minutes to heat through. This method has the added advantage of reducing excess oil.
RELLENO DE QUESO: CHEESE FILLING FOR CHILIES RELLENOS
An equally delicious filling-and a very simple one-is that of just cheese. In Mexico, queso Chihuahua or quesillo de Oaxaca is used, but since their counterparts in the United States do not come up to scratch, I suggest you use a domestic Muenster or mild Cheddar with a low melting point.
You will need about 2 ounces (60g) of cheese for each chile, cut into strips about 3 inches (7.5cm) long and 1/2 inch (1.25cm) square. Be sure to use them at room temperature and not cold from the refrigerator so that they will melt as the batter-coated CHILIES are fried.
NOPALES CON CHILIES POBLANOS
This is a delicious and lesser known preparation of nopales that serves either as a separate course or as a vegetable with broiled meats or fish, or as a filling for tacos. While you could add the nopales to the sautéed CHILIES, I find that the flavor and texture are better if cooked separately.
Makes about 6 cups (1.5L)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup (125ml) thinly sliced white onion
1 1/2 cups (375ml) loosely packed strips of poblano chilies (rajas de chile poblano)
Salt to taste
1 1/2 pounds (675g) nopal cactus pads, cleaned and cut into small squares, about 1/4 inch (7.5cm); makes about 5 1/4 cups (1.315L)
2 tablespoons roughly chopped epazote or cilantro (optional)
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion, and cook for a few minutes until translucent. Add the chile strips, salt to taste, and cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until tender but not soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy, deep skillet, add the cactus pieces with a little salt, cover, and cook over medium heat until they are almost swimming in the viscous juice, about 5 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring from time to time to avoid sticking until the juice has been absorbed, about 5 minutes more. Stir in the chile strips and epazote, adjust the seasoning, and serve either hot or at room temperature.
This dish can be prepared several hours ahead and then reheated, but it is always better to let it sit and season for about 30 minutes before serving. I do not recommend freezing.
There is not much subtlety in cutting up a turkey for serving in mole at a village fiesta. It is cut rather unceremoniously into about six pieces and put either raw into the chile sauce or precooked in broth.
If you are making this mole, use a small turkey about 10 pounds (4.5kg). If you are making a very large quantity, then use two or three small ones rather than one huge one. Cut off the wings and remove tips (add them to the broth), then cut off the legs, separating them from the thighs. Cut the breast into four pieces and then proceed with the recipe.
If you decide to use chickens, choose two of the largest and firmest possible, 4 to 5 pounds (1.8-2.25kg) each, if possible. Cut up in the same way and add either raw to cook slowly in the mole to absorb the flavors, about 40 minutes, or poach for 15 to 20 minutes in a strong chicken broth before adding to the mole and continue cooking until tender and well seasoned with the sauce, about 15 minutes more (the timing is for U.S. chickens).
There are no general techniques that apply to all the regional moles, but it is important to prepare the ingredients as indicated to bring out the authentic flavors and textures.
Makes about 10 servings
Approximately 1/2 cup (125ml) lard
8 mulato chiles, seeds and veins removed
5 ancho chiles, seeds and veins removed
6 pasilla chiles, seeds and veins removed (reserve 1 heaped tablespoon of the chile seeds for step 4)
1 cup (250ml) turkey broth
The turkey giblets
1 carrot, trimmed and sliced
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
Sea salt to taste
Approximately 1/3 cup (83ml) pork lard
1 small turkey (8 to 10 pounds/4-4.5kg), cut into serving pieces, or 2 of the largest chickens or capons you can find
Sea salt to taste
The extra sauce
1 tablespoon reserved chile seeds
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon aniseeds
7 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 whole cloves
1/2-inch (1.25-cm) piece of cinnamon stick
Approximately 1/4 cup (65ml) lard
2 tablespoons raisins
20 unskinned almonds
2 ounces (60g) raw, hulled pumpkin seeds, about 1/3 cup/83ml
1 dried corn tortilla
3 small slices dry French bread
7 cups (1.6L) turkey broth
3 small tomatoes, asado
3 garlic cloves, asado and peeled
1 1/2 ounces (45g) Mexican drinking chocolate
Sea salt to taste
Prepare the chiles: Have a large bowl of water ready. Heat a little of the lard in a skillet and start frying the chiles, a few at a time, on both sides, pressing them down as you turn them, until the inside flesh turns a tobacco brown. This takes a few seconds on each side; take care not to let them burn. Drain each one of excess oil over the pan and put them into the water to soak. Only add a little more of the lard as you go along.
Leave the chiles to soak for about 1 hour, no longer, unless you are cooking mole for five hundred. Do not attempt to skin the chiles. Drain them and set aside until you want to blend them.
Preheat the oven to 325F (165C).
Prepare the broth: Put the giblets, carrot, onion, peppercorns, and salt into a saucepan, cover well with water, and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering until the giblets are very soft, adding more water if necessary, about 1 1/2 hours. Strain the broth and set aside. Discard the giblets or save for the dog.
Meantime, prepare the turkey: Heat the lard in a Dutch oven, add the turkey pieces a few at a time, and fry until the skin is golden. Drain off excess fat and reserve for frying later. Return all the turkey pieces to the Dutch oven, season with salt, cover, and cook until the meat is almost tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Pour off the pan juices, skim, and add to the giblet broth. Make up with water to 8 cups (2L) of liquid.
Put 1 cup (250ml) of the broth into a blender jar and blend the chiles, a few at a time, to a thick, slightly textured consistency. You will need to be constantly loosening the chile paste as it tends to clog the blades. You may have to put a little more liquid to loosen the blades but not too much because you need to fry the paste in a concentrated form to bring out the full flavor of the chiles.
Put the reserved frying lard into a heavy, flameproof casserole and fry the chile paste over medium heat for about 10 minutes, scraping the bottom of the casserole frequently to avoid sticking. Set aside.
Prepare the extra sauce ingredients: In a small skillet toast briefly — and separately — the following ingredients, shaking the pan so that they toast evenly and do not scorch: the reserved chile seeds, the coriander seeds, the aniseeds, and the sesame seeds. Set them aside to cool. Grind in an electric coffee/spice grinder as finely as possible the cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, and all the toasted ingredients except for the sesame. Reserve 4 tablespoons of the sesame seeds for serving the mole; grind the rest as finely as possible, and add to the spice mixture. Set aside.
Add a small portion of the lard to a small skillet and begin to fry the following ingredients separately, putting them into a strainer to drain off any excess fat: the raisins until they plump up, the almonds until well browned, the pumpkin seeds until they swell (take care since they tend to explode and jump), the tortilla and bread until crisp. Only add a little more lard at a time or it will all be absorbed, especially by the tortilla and bread. Crush the almonds, tortilla, and bread roughly (to help your blender). Put 1 cup (250ml) of the broth into the blender jar, add the tomatoes (unskinned) and peeled garlic, and blend until smooth. Gradually add the spice mixture and blend well. Then add another 1 cup (250ml) of the broth and gradually blend the fried ingredients to a slightly textured paste. Try not to add more liquid (unless your blender motor is heating up or smoking) but constantly release the blades with a rubber spatula.
Reheat the fried chile paste, add the blended ingredients, and fry over medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pan very often to avoid sticking. Continue frying until the mixture is very thick, about 8 minutes, then add the chocolate, broken into small pieces with yet another 1 cup (250ml) of the broth and continue cooking and scraping the bottom for another 5 minutes. Add the remaining 4 cups (1L) of the broth and continue cooking over medium heat-the mixture should be bubbling and splattering — for about 25 minutes. By now pools of oil should be forming on the surface (a requisite to show that the sauce has been well cooked). Add the turkey pieces and any more juices that they have exuded, and adjust salt. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes.
To serve, place pieces of the turkey on warmed plates with plenty of the sauce. Top with a good sprinkling of the reserved sesame seeds and a lot of warm corn tortillas. This mole can be made well ahead up to the point of adding the turkey pieces. Leftover sauce can be kept very successfully in the freezer for about six months. When reheated it will probably have to be diluted with more broth and freshly cooked chicken (you won’t want to do the turkey thing again), or better still used for chicken-filled enchiladas.
CHILE DE ÁRBOL SAUCE
The very picante dried chile de árbol combines well with tomate verde to make this rustic, textured table sauce. For traditionalists, the sauce is better when ground in a molcajete, but it is hard work; thank goodness for the blender! A food processor will not work in this case. If the chiles have stems attached it is easier to turn them on the comal.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups (313ml)
8 ounces (225g) tomate verde (about 11 small ones), husks removed and rinsed
8 chiles de árbol, wiped clean and left whole with stems (if any)
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
About 1/3 cup (83ml) water
Sea salt to taste
Put an ungreased comal or griddle over low heat and cook the whole tomates, turning them from time to time until they are soft and slightly charred, about 15 minutes.
Place the whole chiles — if there is room — to one side of the comal and toast them whole, turning them around from time to time and taking care not to let them burn — this will take a few seconds. When cool you should be able to crumble them easily into a blender jar (discard the stems). Blend dry to a textured powder, then add the garlic and cooked tomate and blend to a roughly textured sauce. Dilute with the water and add salt to taste. This sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for two to three days, but I do not recommend freezing.
CHILES RELLENOS DE ELOTE CON CREMA
Chiles Stuffed with Corn and Cream
Of all the combinations of chiles, corn, and cream, this is by far the most luscious. Either poblano or ancho chiles can be used; they are equally delicious. This dish makes a wonderfully rich and exotic first course. Use frozen kernels if you cannot get very fresh, tender corn. Creme fraiche or homemade sour cream should be used, as the commercial sour cream curdles when cooked.
These chiles baked in a dish of white rice makes a delicious vegetarian dish.
1/4 cup (65 ml) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup (315 ml) finely chopped white onion
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 cups (1l) corn kernels (if frozen, measure before defrosting)
Salt to taste
1/3 cup (85 ml) water, if necessary
3 tablespoons finely chopped epazote
12 small poblano chiles, charred, peeled, and cleaned, or 12 ancho chiles, seeds and veins removed, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
8 ounces (225 g) queso fresco, cut into thick slices
2 cups (500 ml) thick sour cream or creme fraiche
About 3 ounces (85 g) chihuahua cheese or mild cheddar, grated (about 1 heaped cup/275 ml)
Melt the butter in a large skillet and fry the onion and garlic gently, without browning, until soft—about 2 minutes. Add the corn kernels and salt, then cover the pan and cook over gentle heat until the kernels are tender. If the corn is very dry, add about 1/3 cup (85 ML) of water. Cooking time is 10 to 15 minutes, depending on whether fresh or frozen corn is used. Add the epazote and adjust the seasoning. Set aside to cool a little.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius)
Clean the chiles carefully, leaving the top and the stem intact. Stuff the chiles well with the corn mixture. Put a slice of cheese in the center of the filling (the chiles should be fat but open).
Place the chiles in one layer in a shallow ovenproof dish into which they will just fit comfortably. Pour over the sour cream and bake until well heated through, then sprinkle with the grated cheese and continue to bake until the cheese is melted.
NOTE: You can make the corn stuffing ahead and refrigerate it. If you do, just heat it through a little before filling the chiles. Cover the dish with foil and put in a 350 degrees fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius) oven for 20 to 30 minutes.
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) long-grain unconverted white rice
1/3 cup (85 ml) vegetable oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 1/2 cups (875 ml) well-salted light chicken broth
1/3 carrot, scraped, trimmed, and thinly sliced (optional)
2 tablespoons peas (optional)
Salt to taste
You will need a heavy-bottomed, flameproof pan about 4 inches (10 cm) deep and 9 inches (23 cm) across.
Pour hot water to cover over the rice and let it stand for about 5 minutes. Drain the rice and rinse well in cold water. Shake the colander well and leave the rice to drain for a few minutes.
Heat the oil. Give the rice a final shake, add it to the pan, and stir until all the grains are well covered with the oil. Fry until just turning color, then add the onion and garlic and fry a few moments longer until these two ingredients are translucent, stirring and turning almost constantly so that they cook evenly and do not stick to the pan. The entire process should take about 10 minutes—depending, of course, on the size of the pan—and it should be done over high heat or it will take too long and the rice will become mushy in the final stage.
Tip the pan to one side and drain off any excess oil (strain and refrigerate to use again). Add the broth, carrot, peas, and salt to taste and cook uncovered over medium heat — do not stir again — until the liquid has been absorbed and small air holes appear in the rice — about 10 minutes. Cover the rice with a piece of terry cloth and then cover with a tightly fitting lid so that none of the steam can escape. Set aside in a warm place for 20 minutes, so it can continue to cook and the grains will expand.
Before serving, loosen the rice with a fork from the bottom. Serve, if desired, topped with Rajas de Chile Estilo Oaxaqueno or Rajas de Chiles Jalapenos Frescos, or with fried plantain.
SALSA DE TIA GEORGINA
Aunt Georgina’s Sauce
Senora Rosamaria Casas
Makes about 1 1/2 cups (375 ML)
This is sometimes called salsa de tijera (scissors sauce) since the chiles are cut into narrow strips with a pair of scissors. Strictly speaking it is more of a relish than a sauce. It will keep indefinitely, and it gets better as it matures. It has an interesting texture and provides a very earthy and crunchy accompaniment to broiled meats, Carnitas, and rice.
This is a family recipe, a variation of several of its type; when pasilla chiles are used in the same way it is called salsa de moscas. Salsa de los reyes has the three chiles — mulato, ancho, and pasilla — mixed together. All of these sauces are used principally with barbecued meats.
It is advisable to rinse the chiles briefly and wipe them with a cloth carefully, to remove any dust or earth adhering to them.
8 ancho chiles, wiped clean, seeds and veins removed
1/3 cup (85 ml) finely chopped white onion
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup (125 ml) vegetable or light olive oil
1/2 cup (125 ml) mild vinegar
Salt to taste
1/4 cup (65 ml) crumbled queso fresco
Cut the chiles into small pieces or narrow strips. Mix all the ingredients except the cheese. Set the sauce aside and season for at least 2 hours, or overnight. To serve, sprinkle with crumbled cheese. Note: This sauce will keep, refrigerated, for at least 9 months in the refrigerator.
ARROZ BLANCO CON CHILES RELLENOS DE ELOTE
White Rice with Corn-Stuffed Chiles
This is a particularly delicious combination of chiles, rice, and corn, and it can be made with either poblano or ancho chiles. A very substantial dish, this makes an excellent vegetarian main course.
Arroz Blanco, using 2 cups (500ml) long-grain unconverted rice, measured raw, and 4 cups (1 L) broth
Chiles rellenos de elote con crema
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) thick sour cream or creme fraiche
4 ounces (115G) chihuahua cheese or mild cheddar, grated (about 1 cup/225 ml)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a buttered ovenproof dish about 4 inches deep and 10 inches across or in diameter.
Spread half of the prepared rice over the bottom of the dish. Place the stuffed chiles in one layer over the rice and top with the remaining rice.
Cover the dish and bake for about 30 minutes or until the rice is bubbling at the bottom and well heated through. Remove the foil, pour the cream over the top, sprinkle with cheese, and return to oven until the cheese has melted — but not browned.
Recipes excerpted from “From My Mexican Kitchen, Techniques and Ingredients,” Diana Kennedy. Copyright © 2003 by Diana Kennedy. Published by Clarkson Potter. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.