Fighting Mexican Grandmas

CHILES AND CHEESE go together like a slice of lime with a Corona beer, like Cheech goes with Chong. Now imagine combining these two flavors when you stuff a fat Poblano chile with a great tasting melting Mexican cheese like Queso Enchilada, Asadero or Oaxaca. And it gets even better when you dredge it in a fluffy egg batter, frying it until it is golden brown, and finally topping it off with a fresh tomato and garlic salsa. You know, I can just feel my lips just pucker with the eager anticipation of chomping down on the creamy, hot enchantment of this beloved Mexican dish.
But I used to have a big problem with chiles rellenos.

You see, my chiles rellenos were sad, pathetic things: they reminded me somehow of self-exploding dark green rats with the tails still attached, their little cheese guts squishing out of their mushy little chile bodies. Uh-oh, perhaps I shouldn't mention dead rats in a food blog, but I think you get the picture. Every time I see a recipe for chile relleno casserole, I think it really started off as a chile relleno recipe gone terribly, terribly wrong. And believe me, my previous efforts to create the perfect chile relleno have resulted in a mess of a "casserole" more times than I care to admit. (That's what I get for fleeing the kitchen at every opportunity instead of watching my mamá cook—tsk, tsk, tsk! Poetic justice, indeed.)

Of course, my mamá sometimes did make them picadillo style with ground beef with tomatoes, onions and spices sometimes, but cheese-filled chile rellenos are my, and it appears, almost everybody's favorite. So here I am, facing down my chile relleno fears, challenging myself that if I am my mother's daughter, not only will I make one that tastes sabroso, but it must look beautiful, just like hers. So I decided to ask two very opinionated abuelitas—grandmas—how they make their superb chiles rellenos. And after annoying them to tears, I think I have finally found two idiot-proof ways of making them right.

Abuelita #1 told me to roast them and to put them in a plastic bag and covering them loosely with a kitchen towel so they can "cook" for no more than 10 minutes or so before taking them out and peeling off their charred skin. Test first before taking them out of the plastic bag. They should feel tender to the touch but not mushy. If they are mushy, then it's best to make something else out of them (like the aforementioned rat guts casserole which no one will eat).

Abuelita # 2 instructed me to parboil the Poblanos in rapidly boiling water for about 6 minutes. Then, taking a pair of metal tongs and the holding the chiles, one at a time, roast them over the gas burner of the stove. Quickly peel off the skin as fast as you can and store them in a plastic bag, covering them loosely with a kitchen towel until they are ready to be stuffed. The chiles will be tender-firm without being mushy. It was fun watching the skin popping and practically peeling itself off as soon as the Poblano touched the flame. This was my preferred method.

When I mentioned to each Abuelita the way the other roasted her chiles for the perfect chile relleno, they were aghast. Looking like opposing bookends, they threw up their hands and exclaimed a loud "¿Qué? ¡Así no se hace!—What? You don't do it like that!" By the look on their otherwise kindly faces, I saw that these two seriously doubted the other's sanity. To the Mexican Grandma, just the thought of making chiles rellenos differently from the way she was taught, well, don't you know that it borders on heresy?
Then para acabarla de fregar—to really mess things up, I them invited them over to the house. Remind me to never again put two Mexican abuelitas in the same kitchen—suffice to say that it was not pretty.

In the end, it really doesn't matter which method you choose. You will have the perfect chile relleno—they are a joy to behold and to eat as you savor every hot delicious cheesy little bite. And yes, this time they looked and tasted just like my mamá's.

Un millon de gracias to Abuelita #1 and Abuelita #2 for sharing your knowledge of la cocina mexicana. You have made this prodigal casserole-making daughter very happy.

Only just don't grab each other by las greñas (the mane) if I am not there, okay? I want to be there to enjoy the show.

The Fighting Abuelitas Chiles Rellenos with Tomato-Garlic Salsa

Unlike roasted Anaheim chiles, which are firm fleshed and hold their shape, Poblano chiles are thin skinned and need special care in the roasting process. It is worth testing to see which Abuelita's method for roasting the Poblanos you prefer. Either way, make sure to choose the "straightest" chiles you can find—not the "bent" ones that are hard to roast. If you can't find any Poblano chiles, then it is perfectly okay to use an Anaheim chile instead. (To learn more on how to roast chiles, including Anaheim, click here.) Make sure that you peel every last bit of the charred skin so the flour and egg batter will stick to the chile. Also, prepare the Tomato-Garlic Salsa beforehand and keep it warm on the stove as you are preparing the chiles. As I have mentioned many a time, measurements need not be precise, so this is a guideline.

What you need:
A non-stick frying pan

A pair of metal tongs if you are roasting over the gas burner of the stove.

A plastic bag and a kitchen towel

A couple of plates

2 medium-size to large-size bowls

Blender or food processer
A platter to hold roasted chiles rellenos
Paper towels to drain off fat after frying

A cheese grater

An egg beater of a whisk

A thin knife
Large spoon or spatula
Poblano chiles (about 1 or 2 per person)
Eggs, with the whites separated from the yolks (about 1 egg per 2 Poblanos)
Grated Mexican cheese that melts easily such as Enchilado, Asadero or Oaxaca, enough to stuff the chiles. You can substitute Jack or Mozzarella cheese with a bit of grated Parmesan cheese thrown in to kick up the flavor.
Cooking oil
A pinch of cream of tartar (optional)
A pinch of salt
1 cup or more of all purpose flour
Tomato-Garlic Salsa (recipe to follow)

Take the Poblanos and roast them like Abuelita #1 or Abuelita #2—the choic
e is yours. The object is to roast them, but not to the point that they cannot retain their shape. Then, open a slit along one side of the Poblano and remove the seeds, but do not remove the stem. Take a generous amount of cheese and stuff the chiles with it (but do not overstuff.)
Sprinkle some all-purpose flour on a plate. Lightly cover the chiles with flour. Set aside.
Now, take a bowl and beat the egg whites and pinch of cream of tartar with a whisk or egg beater until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl, beat all the egg yolks together. Then, fold the yolks into the egg whites.
Pour a generous amount of cooking oil (about 3/8 inch deep) into the frying pan and place over a medium-high heat.
While the oil is heating, dip the chiles into the egg batter to cover. Test the
oil to see if it is hot enough by putting a bit of egg batter in the oil. If it sizzles, when gently slide the chile in. Immediately lower the heat to medium. When the bottom of the chile is golden-brown, about 1 or 2 minutes, carefully flip the chile to cook the other side.
Remove from the chile from the frying pan and place it on a platter with paper towels on it to drain off excess fat.
To serve, plate the chile rellenos and pour some hot Tomato-Garlic Salsa over them. Let them sit for a minute or two and serve immediately.

Tomato-Garlic Salsa

This super easy salsa, adapted from Mexico The Beautiful Cookbook, has no chile in it. If you want to make it hot, just put a little fresh jalapeño in the salsa when it is cooking. This recipe is for the minimum amount needed, so feel free to add more tomatoes and garlic if you need more salsa.

Two or three large juicy tomatoes
2 cloves garlic

1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
About one tablespoon vegetable cooking oil
One jalapeño pepper (optional)
Coarsely chop the tomato and garlic and whirl in a blender or food processor. Set aside. Then heat the cooking oil in a saucepan until it is hot. Quickly pour the tomato mixture into the sauce pan. Add salt and pepper, jalapeño and bay leaf. Stir the salsa and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover. Continue cooking the salsa while you are making the chiles rellenos. When the chiles rellenos are done, fish out the jalapeño when you are ready to pour over the plated chiles rellenos. If you feel that it is too thick, put a little bit of water in it and heat it up again.
When serving chiles rellenos I like to keep it simple (and low carb) with a bowl of pinto bean soup, garnished with fresh chopped cilantro, green onion and ninced serrano chiles, and mashed avocado on corn or flour tortillas.


Heather said...

Yum. You had me from "slice of lime with a Corona beer". These sound delish. I'll have to give it a try. :)

Laurie said...

They look so good. I had read about chiles rellenos before, but had no idea what they actually were. I knew they sounded good though, and if they taste as good as they look in your photos, they must be wonderful. Unfortunately I've never seen poblano peppers, anaheim peppers or Mexican cheese available here. Guess I'll have to stick to ordering jalapeno poppers at the pub and pretend they taste as good as your chiles look.

La Traductora said...

Hi Heather,
by all means tell me how the chiles rellenos come out!
I just have to say that if there some jalapenos lurking around, the poblanos and anaheim are not far behind. Perhaps you can ask your grocer to have some sent for you? If all else fails, by all means use canned chiles, but to be perfectly honest, the flavor just will not be the same.
Happy hunting!

MichaelG said...

chiles rellenos

Chef E said...

I am from Texas, so your blog is right up my Mexican loving alley, so I look forward to reading yours, and you come on over to mine!

Anonymous said...

Love chiles rellenos! Excellent! Thanks for your comment on my blog and looking forward to keeping in touch.

La Traductora said...

Hola Chef E!
Wow,you are a busy, busy and interesting gal! Welcome, and I hope you'll like what you find here. I sure enjoy yours!

Hola 5 Star Foodie!
I'm going to to make the trout almondine as soon as I get the chance. Welcome!

MichaelG said...

I'm just curious what happened to my comment yesterday. It all got lost except for the words "chili rellenos". Before I attempt to reconstruct it, could you what happened or what I did wrong?

Anonymous said...

thanks so much for stopping by my blog.

I have to tell you, I LOVE YOUR BLOG! I was reading it to my husband last night and he is just all about me trying some of the recipies you have posted.

I included a link back to your blog on one of my recent posts....

Keep up the great work.....


La Traductora said...

Senor Michael G--
Really, I do not know what happened. "Chiles rellenos" is all that came up in your comments. Still, I thank you for commenting anyway.
Take Care and thanks for visiting!

Fearless Kitchen said...

This looks so delicious. I've never been a huge fan of chiles rellenos, probably because I've only seen them at big and unpleasant chain restaurants. (I did try to make them once. It was laughable.) Next time I'll try your way - it's really making me hungry.

La Traductora said...

Hi Fearless Kitchen!
Many have felt as you have. Chiles rellenos are a little tricky to make, and most are turned off by the oily restaurant fare. I hope that this recipe will forever change your mind about chiles rellenos. For a big fat poblano chile, it's surprisingly light (for something that's fried)!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that wonderful instruction. I am glad to know that I have been doing them correctly. One other thing that I do to give the rellenos a little more flavor is to add about 1/2 tsp of cummin and 1/2 tsp of garlic powder to my flour for the dredging.
Next time I will try the cooked salsa, it sounds good.

La Traductora said...

Hi Candee,
Wow, cummin and garlic powder in the flour is a great idea! I will certainly do that the next time I make them. Thanks for the tip!

D. said...

One of the abuelos was a smith so are you ready for this one? Take the welding torch to each chile to blister it. Throw it in an ice-water bath and peel to your no-longer-burning-fingertips desire. Just please get rid of all the seeds before, I haz a hate.

Anonymous said...

I really like all of your resetas the only thing that I was wondering about one of your resetas was why don't you use Mexican cheese on the chile rellenos??? well at least that is how my mom makes them but they still look really delicious... it's just a suggestion...

Clementina said...

Hola, Anonymous!
Hmm. The recipe says to use "grated Mexican cheese that melts easily such as Enchilado,Asadero or Oaxaca". They are ALL Mexican cheeses the last time I checked . . .
I would only recommend using mozzarella with a little parmesan thrown in when no Mexian cheese is available.
Still, thanks for asking and take care!

Anonymous said...


I never meant to to say anything bad my bad I guess I didn't read the whole thing about the chiles rellenos... I really do like all of the resetas that you have put up and appreciate all of them

Clementina said...

Hola, Anonymous!
Don't worry about it. :) Hope you like the recipe, but if I were you I would make your chiles rellenos just like your madrecita's--it will make her muy, pero muy feliz.
Cuidate and come again!

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Clementina said...

Hola, Camelia!
Merci beaucoup. Will do!