How to Make Perfect Chili Rellenos
Making A Traditional Mexican Dish
One of the most challenging traditional Mexican dishes is also seemingly one of the simplest. “Relleno” means stuffed, and chili rellenos are simply peppers stuffed with cheese, and yet—as anyone who has tried making them will attest—there is nothing simple about creating the delicate perfection of truly great chili rellenos, which should be slightly crisp on the outside, creamy and smooth on the inside, with the fresh flavors of pepper and cheese complimented by the elegant egg batter in which they are dipped.
I use this dish as the test for Mexican restaurants: If I order chili rellenos and they arrive at the table smothered in a heavy sauce, I know the food will be second rate at best. Covering them up will hide a multitude of errors so present your perfect finished chilis simply, on a pool of red or green sauce, or with a silky mole. Sprinkle the plate with freshly minced cilantro for the flourish that says, “This is going to be fabulous!”
I have seen a thousand variations on this classic recipe, many of which simplify the dish by eliminating frying the peppers. While I understand that authentic chili rellenos are not easy to make, they are not so difficult that the recipe needs to be dumbed down. I think all that is needed is a recipe that addresses the issues cooks have with honesty; it is that recipe I have attempted to write.
Serve chili rellenos with a platter of hot, towel-wrapped tortillas, rice, guacamole, sour cream and sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, a pitcher of Margaritas and please don’t forget the hot sauce for those (like me) who want a little fire!
Gorgeous Poblano Peppers!
You will need:
Place chilies on a shallow baking pan
Broil chilies until skin is blackened
Have a big bowl of ice water ready - a colander inside it is helpful
Beat the egg whiles until stiff peaks form
Dip the stuffed chilies into the batter
Don't forget to have hot sauce ready!
Perfect Chili Rellenos
- Move an oven rack as high as possible in your oven. Place whole uncooked chilies in a single layer in a shallow roasting pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Broil, turning often—tongs work well for turning them—until their skins are blistered and blackened on every surface. Remove from broiler as they are blackened and immediately place them into the bowl of ice water. Putting a colander inside the bowl before adding the peppers will make it easier to lift them out of the water.
- Peel off as much skin as possible from the chilies. Small bits of skin can be left on the chilies if needed. Work carefully, trying not to tear the peppers. Place peeled chilies on several layers of paper towels. Turn peppers a few times to blot up as much water as possible.
- Cut a narrow triangle of cheese about ¼” thick and sized to fit inside each pepper. Err on the side of too little rather than too much cheese. Cut a slit at the top of each chili that is only large enough to allow a cheese triangle to be inserted inside. Take your time with this step as the chilies are fragile and tearing them is easy to do. Trim the cheese wedges as needed to fit inside the chilies. (I have seen recipes that advise removing the seeds from the chilies before stuffing them. This is not only unnecessary; it’s also virtually impossible. Leave the seeds and stem alone.)
- Separate the eggs, using one egg for each person. Put the yolks aside in another bowl.
- Put the whites and a pinch of salt per egg into the smallest bowl of an electric mixer. Beat the whites on the highest speed until they form stiff peaks. Then whisk the yolks by hand until fluffy and fold the yolks gently into the beaten whites.
- Heat ¼ cup salsa verde or mole sauce per person in the microwave in a covered container only until warm. If you prefer to serve the chilies rellenos with pico de gallo it may be presented at room temperature.
- Heat ¾” of oil in a high-sided skillet or large wok. Have a splatter guard, tongs and a heatproof spatula on hand. Test the temperature of the oil with a drop of batter. If the batter sputters and sizzles and floats to the top, the oil is hot enough, turn down the heat and start frying the chili rellenos. If, however, the drop of batter sinks, the oil is not yet hot enough.
- As the oil is heating, dust the chilies with a very small amount of flour. Putting the flour into a sifter or shaker will make this easier. Turn each chili over and dust the other side. Pick each chili up by its stem, supporting it with your hand to prevent it from tearing, and quickly dip and roll it in the eggs. The goal is a thick, even coating, but in reality each pepper will “take” the coating differently, some better, some less well, and it’s better to work quickly than to fuss over this step.
- As soon as it is coated with egg, slide each chili carefully into the hot oil. Be careful! Use the splatter guard to protect your stovetop and wear oven mitts to protect yourself.
- Turn chilies over as soon as they show browning on their edges. A slotted spoon or spatula with holes is best, but have the tongs ready to grab the stem as you turn them for extra support. Of all the steps in making chili rellenos, I find turning them while frying to be the most fraught with peril. Once browned on both sides, remove them from the oil and place on several layers of paper towels.
- Place a pool of the sauce of your choice on one side of each plate. Place a chili relleno on top of the sauce. Put a spoonful of rice (Spanish rice works well with this dish) on each plate next to the chili relleno and sprinkle the entire plate with minced cilantro.
- Serve immediately. The chilies will get soggy quickly so have your side dishes and condiments ready before you begin frying the peppers. Margaritas go great with chili rellenos, and so does Mexican soda or beer.
Beautiful, simple, healthy food!
Prep work is key to this dish
The key to making fabulous chili rellenos is having everything prepared and laid out in advance. Once the oil is hot you will need to dip the chilies in batter and fry them quickly. For this reason, I feel this dish is one of the best romantic dinners for two to cook together. One cook dips the chilies while the other fries them, then, once they are all dipped, the first cook can begin getting the sauce and side dishes ready.
The fact that you both may get a little messy--with flour and batter on your fingers and body--only makes it all more fun.
Simple, fresh ingredients cooked with love and served with smiles will make this dish a favorite!
(I am an artist and the author of the Suburban Sprawl series of novels as well as two nonfiction books. Find out more about my work at RobertaLeeArt.com.)
Copyright © Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.
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