Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chiles Rellenos: a kitchen catastrophe

Every once in a while, Matt will request a new dish for me to try making. Recently, he requested I try making Chiles Rellenos.

At first, I thought this was a great idea. I love making (and eating!) Mexican food. So I looked on the Food Network site for a recipe. I chose one, by the fabulous Tyler Florence, and added all the ingredients to my shopping list.

Now I'm not saying this experiment was doomed to fail, but the signs were there early on. The grocery store didn't have any poblanos so I bought the biggest peppers they had (I still don't know what kind they were) and apologized to Matt warning him that these may be hotter or milder than poblanos. Of course he didn't mind and said he'd eat it anyway.

The grocery store also didn't have queso blanco. I substituted another young white cheese and hoped for the best.

At home, I confidently began preparing this dish. I made the picadillo (filling) omitting the almonds and olives (just 'cuz) and set it aside. Then I started preparing the peppers.

I (sadly) have an electric stove/oven and do not own a grill. So getting the skins off of the peppers was tricky, to say the least. I brazenly set them on the burners directly and watched them like a hawk. They quickly went from raw to burnt. I gave up and pulled them off of the heat, plopped them into a bowl and covered with plastic wrap, as instructed by the recipe.

After some time, I attempted to get the skins off, but as you can imagine, they only half came off ... and what a mess! I got off as much as I could, sliced into the peppers and seeded them. Next came the filling.

Since my peppers were (I assume) smaller than poblanos, I had to try really hard to get these peppers stuffed and closed. I did use toothpicks as Florence suggests to hold the peppers closed. Well, as close to closed as I could get them (which in some cases was gaping wide open). I wound up with a lot of filling left over.

So here comes the part I wound up hating the most: frying. I don't own a deep fryer, but who needs one to fry anyway? I just went ahead with a heavy saucier and fried in that. I dipped the chiles in the egg batter by the stem and carefully placed them into the oil one at a time. When it came time to turn them over, I (stupidly) grabbed the stem with my tongs and lifted the chile up. It slipped right out of the tongs and landed with a splat back in the oil splashing me, my stove, the counter and the floor with hot oil. Yeouch! Thanks though to my (super-cool) Jessie Steele apron, I was not burned (much). If you make these, please, for the love of Pete (who is Pete anyway?), do not lift the peppers by the stems after you've put them into the oil!

So now I'm cursing the frakking peppers, the oil and Mr. Florence (like he made me do that). I finished up the peppers, grumbling the whole time, and turned to face my kitchen. This recipe had used every one of my mixing bowls, spoons, spatulas, pots, and pans and left me with a huge mess. Not only that, but it had taken me three hours to prepare, I kid you not!

And now I actually have measuring spoons stuck in my dishwasher. I can't help but wonder if it's time to buy new measuring spoons or a new dishwasher!

By this time, I said screw the sauce and served the naked peppers to Matt. He asked me if I wanted to try a bite and I said, "No. No, I don't. I'm too mad at the stupid recipe." Hehe.

So now I present to you a dish that I will never ever make again, Chiles Rellenos! Attempt at your own risk!

Chiles Rellenos with Picadillo
Source: Tyler Florence
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound ground beef
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh Mexican oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 to 1 cup tomato paste
2 chipotles in adobo sauce
3 to 6 tablespoons golden raisins
3 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives, sliced
1/2 to 1 cup crumbled queso blanco

8 large poblanos
Vegetable oil, for frying
Flour, for dredging
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs, separated
Tomato Ranchero Sauce, recipe follows

To prepare Picadillo: In a large skillet, saute the onion, garlic and bay leaves in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add the beef, and continue to cook until the beef is no longer pink; breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in oregano, cloves, and cinnamon. Pour out any excess fat and stir in the tomato paste until thoroughly incorporated. Add chipotles, raisins, almonds, and olives; salt to taste. Remove from heat. When mixture is cool, add cheese and mix well.

Char the flesh of the peppers over a gas flame, under a broiler or on a grill. Alternatively, set a rack over an electric burner or use a very hot heavy frying pan. Cook, turning frequently, until the skins are blistered all over. Take care not to overcook and burn right through the pepper. Put peppers in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sweat for about 10 minutes to loosen the skins. Rub off as much skin as possible and cut a slit along the side of each pepper, keeping the stems and tip intact. Carefully remove the seeds and inner membranes, but do not rinse with water.

Heat 1-inch of oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat until very hot. Place flour in a shallow platter and season with salt and pepper. Beat egg whites until foamy, add a pinch of salt, and whip to stiff peaks. Lightly beat the egg yolks and fold into the whites. Stuff the chiles with picadillo, leaving enough room to close the opening. Overlap the seam slightly and gently squeeze closed. Secure with wooden toothpicks if desired. Pat the peppers dry and lightly coat in the seasoned flour. Pick the chile up by its stem and dip into the egg batter, making sure they are well covered, tap off excess. Fry until evenly browned, about 3 minutes each side. The egg burns easily so take care not to cook too long. Drain on paper towels. To serve, ladle a pool of Tomato Ranchero sauce on plates and set chiles rellenos on top, serve immediately.

Tomato Ranchero Sauce:
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
Pinch cumin seeds, toasted
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
Dash hot red pepper sauce

Combine and puree the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, cumin, and garlic in a food processor.

Heat the oil in a saucepan or skillet and fry the tomato puree over high flame. Add broth, and salt. Simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly and is heated through. If sauce tastes somewhat bitter, add a pinch of sugar. Sprinkle with a dash of hot red pepper sauce. Sauce may be served hot or cold.

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