I’ve recently done a few posts highlighting some of my most favorite new recipes to hit Cooking Planit this month and the inspiration behind them. Of those recipes, the Chile Rellenos is by far one my most beloved. Some recipes are predictably good, which makes the testing process simple. Not so for these rellenos. Right from the start, I debated a lot of details as to which would make the best tasting version, such as flour or cornmeal, which spices to use, and the best ratio of egg whites to egg yolks. The only way to know for sure was to try various combinations and see which one tasted best.
Truth be told (you know I tell it like it is, right?), this is a laborious type of recipe. There isn’t an “easy-fix” for rellenos, so you’ll have to be patient and surrender to enjoying the entire prepartion process from roasting and peeling, to stuffing, breading and frying, and even making the lightly fresh, slightly spicy tomato sauce to go with it. Of course, I promise, it’s worth it. These are muy delicioso!
Start by roasting the peppers, which is a pretty standard technique you can learn for any roasted pepper recipe. If you have a gas stove or grill, you can char the skins over the direct flame, but if not, this method works just as well. Place the peppers on a sheet pan (I like to use a layer of foil for easy clean-up), then roast under the broiler until the skins are blackened. Use kitchen tongs to rotate the peppers as they cook.
After the peppers have blackened sufficiently, place them in a seal-able plastic bag while they are still hot and close it tightly. The heat from the peppers will steam inside the bag, loosening the skins. Let them sit for about 10 minutes, then peel the skin from the peppers. Just a friendly heads up – I like to wear gloves for this step.
Probably the most difficult step comes next. It’s not actually hard to do, but it does require some gentle care and a little patience. To remove the seeds, you want to cut a slit down one side of the pepper. If the pepper split open during the roasting process, make use of that opening. Carefully dig inside the pepper to scoop or cut out the seeds. A little hint is that they grow from the top end of the pepper, so cutting out the root at the top inside will help release the seeds more easily. Work cautiously so as not to poke any more holes in the pepper.
Next, season the inside with salt and stuff the pepper with cheese. I chose Chihuahua cheese which melts easily without getting greasy, but you can certainly use whatever variety you prefer. Mozzarella or provolone would be good as well. Cutting the cheese into one inch cubes before stuffing helps the pepper retain it’s shape better while cooking.
Sew up the pepper by sticking toothpicks through the opposite edges. I apologize for my fierce looking toothpicks. Turns out, I only had barbecue skewers, so I trimmed then down and went with it. Smaller, narrower toothpicks would be better for this delicate job, but my spears did the trick too!
So, we’ve gotten through the pepper part, mostly. Next up is the batter. Whipping the egg whites is crucial. It lightens up the batter and makes it really airy so as not to bog down the pepper itself. You can use an electric mixer to beat the whites, but good ol’ fashioned elbow-power works too. Just whisk vigorously until the whites are firm and peaks stand up on their own when the whisk is lifted out of the mix. It really only takes about 5 minutes, so hang in there!
I tried a few different formulas with the batter. Three egg whites to one yolk, three egg whites to two yolks, and finally three to three. Surprisingly, I preferred the equal ratio. The first batters, with more egg whites, felt too spongy to me. I can’t even really explain it. I guess I’ll just say I didn’t really like them, which is how I knew I had to try again. Finally, with the one to one batter, I liked it, so that meant success to me!
For more flavor, I decided on cinnamon in the egg yolks. Whisk that together, then gently fold in the whites. “Folding” is a method of incorporating the whites into the yolks by gently cutting your spatula into the mixture, then lifting it up and over itself while you turn the bowl. It’s [almost] easier than patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time! The movement helps maintain the air you’ve worked into the eggs whites and keep the lightness in the batter, so be patient. It will come together soon enough.
Ok. Peppers are stuffed. Batter is mixed. Now, bring the two together. Start by getting your oil hot. I opted to shallow fry these in a medium saute pan with relatively high sides. Pour oil into pan so it’s about 3/4-1 inch deep. You want the oil deep enough to come at least halfway up the peppers, while also leaving about 1 inch of room in the pan to allow space for the oil to heat and expand, and for the peppers to be added without overflowing. Set the pan over medium heat and let it warm until very viscous and shiny. Just as the oil is ready, place one pepper into a shallow dish of cornmeal. Rather than tossing and turning the pepper, use your hands or a spoon to dust cornmeal over the top.
Gently press the cornmeal into the pepper to help it adhere, then lower the pepper into the egg batter. Again, use a large spoon to scoop the batter over the top, ensuring complete coverage. Work carefully here so as not to let the spears, er, toothpicks, tear the skin.
Finally, lower the pepper into the hot oil. Of course, use caution. Fingers and hot oil do not make friends well! I cooked two peppers at a time to avoid crowding the pan. You want room to flip them over too, remember.
Now, just watch patiently. The bottom edges of the pepper will start to turn golden brown. Once that happens, carefully flip and fry the second side. It takes about 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer the fried peppers to a plate of paper towels and season with salt while warm. Repeat with the remaining peppers.
Phew. That’s a lot! And I didn’t even discuss the sauce! That parts the easiest of all though, and can actually be done the day before. Take most of the ingredients and whip them up in a food processor. Then, toast a few spices in a saucepan, stir in the sauce and warm over medium heat while you cook the peppers to let the flavors develop. It’s a very simple sauce, but it’s fresh and vibrant tasting, which is the perfect match for the peppers.
Oh, and inside scoop – it’s perfect for my leftover recipe: Mexican Breakfast. Mmmmm.
So, there you have it. Chile Rellenos served over a fresh and spicy tomato salsa. It’s not a recipe to be rushed through, but rather one to enjoy the process as much as the result. Enjoy!