CHILES EN NOGADA

ChileEnNogada

chile en nogada

Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day—a statement that usually surprises my non-Mexican friends. Every September, I practically go on a two-week blitz campaign to educate my friends about the real Mexican Independence Day.

The celebration technically begins on September 15th, La Noche del Grito. People all over Mexico gather in their town squares and many watch on television as the clock strikes eleven and the president shouts “Viva Mexico,” and the crowd echoes back the same. “Viva la independencia!”

It’s a grand display of national pride; much like the Fourth of July with the fireworks, parades and parties. I always love watching it on TV, seeing the zócalo in Mexico City filled to the brim with people.

This year, I was standing in my living room with a hand full of queso fresco as I watched El Grito. I was in the middle of making a special sauce, and just as the clock struck eleven, I was about to put the cheese into the blender with milk and walnuts. I didn’t want to miss the big moment, so there I was, cheese in hand, watching my TV and trying not to drip on the floor.

If you’ve never seen El Grito before, here’s your chance:

For 2009, I decided to make my own chiles en nogada, a very typical (and somewhat labor intensive) dish served around this time of year that showcases the colors of the Mexican flag. When I told my suegra my plans weeks before, she asked if I’d be able to find all the ingredients. I had to go to a few stores in order to get everything, and actually, the only ingredient that was difficult to find was a decent-looking pomegranate.

This recipe is from a traditional Spanish-language cookbook by Susanna Palazuelos I received as a gift from my suegra a few years ago, and is adapted to our liking. The original recipe calls for some ingredients I don’t care for so I adjusted portions and some substitutions, but the core of the recipe is still the same. The results were excellent and I even shared some with a few Mexican friends here in Chicago who had never before tasted this very traditional dish.

Walnuts WEB

nueces

RECETA:

  • 10 chiles poblanos
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 pomegranate, seeds reserved
  • A few sprigs of parsley to decorate each chile

NOGADA

  • 1 ½ cup walnut halves
  • 1 ¼ cup milk (2% or whole; you will use 1 cup of the milk to soak the walnuts)
  • 1 ½ cup Mexican cream (crema de leche espesa)
  • 10-12 ounces of queso fresco
  • 2-3 tbsp cane sugar
  • a big pinch of salt

PICADILLO

  • 1 lb pork loin, cut into a few sections
  • 6 cups water
  • about 1/3 of a white onion (a big slice)
  • 7 cloves of garlic (3 whole, 2 crushed for the pork broth; 2 crushed for the picadillo)
  • 1 bunch of fresh flat parsley, divided (3/4 will go in the broth, ¼ will go in the picadillo)
  • 1 to 1 ½ tbsp salt
  • ¼ cup of vegetable oil
  • ¾ of a cup of white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large red tomato, peeled, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 1-2 apples, peeled and finely chopped (yields about 1 cup)
  • 1 large pear, peeled and finely chopped (yields about ¾ of a cup)
  • 1 large peach, peeled and finely chopped (yields about ½ a cup)
  • ¾ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ cup almonds, blanched, peeled and finely chopped
Picadillo WEB

picadillo

THE NIGHT BEFORE: Blanch the walnuts for about 5-7 minutes, let cool slightly and peel the skins off. This is the most important part of the recipe not to cheat on, because the skin is bitter. It will take you awhile to do it, but trust me, you don’t want to leave the skins on. Put the skinned walnuts into a measuring cup and cover with 1 cup of milk, cover with saran wrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight. It took me about 1 hour from start to finish with prepping the walnuts.

Measure out ¾ of a cup of golden raisins and rehydrate them by covering with water (room temperature). Let them rehydrate overnight. Drain the water in the morning and reserve the rehydrated raisins until you are ready to use them.

DAY OF:
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the walnuts out of the milk and into a blender. Pour about ¾ of the milk into the blender. Discard the rest. Add the Mexican cream, fresh milk, sugar and salt to the blender. Crumble the queso fresco over the ingredients in the blender so it is easier to incorporate (you want the sauce to be completely smooth with no lumps). Blend until very smooth. Pour into a container and refrigerate.

To prepare the relleno, fill a pot with 6 cups of water and add the slice of onion, 3 whole cloves of garlic (peeled but not chopped), 2 cloves of peeled and crushed garlic, the little bunch of parsley and ½ tbsp of salt. Bring to a boil and add the pork loin piece by piece. Allow it to boil gently for about 15 minutes and then let it simmer for about 40  minutes or until the pork is fork-tender. Remove the meat from the broth and let cool a bit. Shred by hand or with a fork and set aside. Reserve about 1 cup of broth. (Use the rest for another recipe like soup if you wish—you just  made pork stock.)

I suggest you chop everything for the picadillo first.

Start with the garlic: crush 2 cloves and add to a large pan. Chop ¾ of a cup of white onion and add to pan. Peel and remove the seeds from the tomato and then finely chop. Set aside in a prep dish. Chop the ¼ of a bunch of parsley left and add  to prep dish with tomatoes.

Peel and finely chop the apple, pear, peach and blanched almonds. Set aside in another prep dish.

Heat your pan on the stove with the ¼ cup of oil. Add the garlic and onion and cook for about 4-5 minutes on medium heat or until the onion is transparent, but be careful not to burn it. Add the chopped tomatoes and parsley (distribute evenly in pan) and let cook for about 5 minutes without stirring it. (That’s why you need to distribute it evenly in the pan.)

Stir the oil, garlic, tomatoes and parsley briefly. Incorporate the rest of the salt (1/2 to 1 tbsp), the apple, pear, peach, raisins and almonds and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the shredded pork loin and the reserved broth. Continue cooking at medium heat for 7-10 minutes or until the fruit has cooked and the mixture looks thickened. Let the picadillo come to room temperature and reserve.

RoastedPoblano WEBRoast the chiles over an open flame and peel them. Make a large cut down the side of each chile, making sure to not break them or rip the skin. (I suggest using latex gloves for the next step.) Using your fingers, carefully remove the seeds from inside the chile and then use the knife to remove any large veins. If you need a full tutorial with step by step instructions on how to roast them, you can reference my post on how to roast poblano chiles.

In a large bowl, dilute 2 tbsp of sea salt and 1 tbsp of white vinegar with water to completely cover the chiles. Let them soak for 40-60 minutes. This will take a little bit of the heat out of them if they are too spicy. After soaking, rinse the chiles with cool water and pat them dry as much as possible with paper towels. With a spoon, add a little bit of the relleno to each chile, being careful not to overfill them.

While the chiles are soaking in the salt, water and vinegar solution, cut the ripe pomegranate and reserve the seeds in a prep dish. To remove the seeds without making a mess, slice the pomegranate with five cuts but don’t slice all the way through. Submerge in a bowl of cool water, pull apart the slices and remove the seeds gently by hand. Rinse gently.

Pour the nogada over the chile filled with picadillo and sprinkle the pomegranate seeds on top. Garnish each chile with parsley and serve at room temperature.

semillas de granada

semillas de granada

HOW TO ROAST POBLANO CHILES

Step-by-step instructions on how to roast poblano peppers using a gas stove, comal or  barbecue grill from theothersideofthetortilla.com

a fresh poblano chile before roasting

Over the years, I’ve been asked many times how to roast poblano peppers. It’s easier than you think, but takes a little bit of time because you have to roast, sweat, peel, seed and devein them to prepare them for use in a dish. Poblano chiles are used for a number of Mexican dishes such as chiles rellenos, chiles en nogada and rajas con crema, to name a few. I can’t think of many dishes I make without roasting the poblano chiles first, which gives them a more robust flavor. Poblano peppers are also called chile poblano, poblano chiles or, in some cases depending on the region, pasilla chiles. (These are not to be confused with the dried pasilla chile.)

I sometimes make the mistake of using my bare hands to peel, devein and remove the seeds of a poblano chile because it doesn’t smell too spicy. Usually each time I do, I get fooled and the back of my hands feel like they’re burning for the rest of the day. A few times, I’ve scratched my forehead only to feel the searing sensation and have a little red raspberry spot to show off my mistake.

You can save yourself from the burn by wearing fitted latex gloves.

There are several methods for roasting chiles. The two ways I prefer are over a direct flame or on a hot comal. Either way, be sure not to burn the meaty flesh of the chile or it will have a bitter taste. With both methods as the skin starts to blister, you’ll hear what sounds like little zaps of electricity or sizzling—that’s normal.

ROASTING POBLANO PEPPERS OVER A FLAME

  • Place 1-2 chiles directly on the stove burners over a medium flame. Turn with kitchen tongs as each side blisters until the skin is toasted and blackened, but it should not blacken so much that it starts to peel or turn into ash. It should take a few  minutes per side and about 10-12 minutes total, depending on how large they are.
  • You can also follow this same method  on a barbecue grill to roast more peppers at once.

ROASTING POBLANO PEPPERS ON A COMAL

  • If you don’t have a comal (a flat, thin, and usually round or oval shaped pan for cooking tortillas), use a cast-iron or heavy non-stick skillet. Heat over medium flame and add 2-3 chiles to the comal. Turn them until the surfaces are toasted and blackened. The amount of time it takes will depend on whether you have a gas or electric stove and the thickness of your comal or skillet.
Step-by-step instructions on how to roast poblano peppers using a gas stove, comal or barbecue grill from theothersideofthetortilla.com

Roasted poblano pepper

HOW TO SWEAT THE CHILES

Place the chiles in a sealed, plastic Ziploc bag to “sweat” for about 15 minutes. (You can also refrigerate the chiles for a day or two after sweating if you are not ready to peel, devein and remove the seeds for use.) Sweating has two purposes: first to remove the skin and then to cook the chile a bit further in its own vapors to acquire the characteristic taste of a freshly roasted chile. Have a bowl or plate ready to hold the skinned chiles.

Put on your latex gloves.

After 15 minutes, open the bag and one at a time, pinch part of the skin so it tears and peel it off. Remove the skins from each chile and transfer them to the bowl or plate you have waiting. Discard the skins.

HOW TO SEED AND DEVEIN POBLANO PEPPERS

To devein and remove the seeds, cut a slit along the side of the chile. Use your fingers to dislodge the seeds. Pull out what you can with your fingers and then using a slow but steady stream of cool water, rinse the inside of the chile. This should flood the rest of the seeds out if you knocked them loose but couldn’t remove them with your fingers.

Feel for any thick veins along the side of the chile. Using a small paring knife (and being careful not to pierce the skin) gently cut the veins away from the skin. Pat the chiles dry with a paper towel to remove any extra moisture inside and out.

Now the chiles are ready to prepare for a dish.

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