Friday, January 15, 2010

Notes on Chiles en Nogada

I'm going to make a confession: Not every recipe here has been tested in my kitchen. Between travel and writing and normally cooking for one, I haven't had time. Usually, I've already cooked something similar so I go over the ingredients and instructions then ask the chefs to clarify anything that seems off or confusing.

So, whenever I go back and actually try a recipe unlike anything I've ever done before, I'll add notes if it seems helpful.

Such is the case for Bugumbilia Chiles en Nogada [see 10/23/09 posting], one of the best dishes I had in Mexico. Having grown up in Florida and Georgia and having lived in New England, the Northwest and Turkey, poblano chiles had never entered my kitchen. Having friends for lunch changed that, so here are my notes on Mercedes Arteaga Tovar's family recipe.

1. Chiles. Start way ahead of time. If you don't have a gas range, the recipe's method of boiling the chiles in hot oil works well to get the skins off. Don't waste time peeling off of the tops; you'll cut those away in removing the seed pods. As a newcomer to chiles I started three days ahead, marinated them overnight then stored the skinned chiles in a covered dish in the 'fridge. Worked fine.

2. The filling. I only needed chiles for four but I made the recipe for eight a day ahead. The filling was even better left over and I froze what I didn't use for later. It makes a lot - given the size of poblanos in the stores here I probably could have fed 10 or even 12. However, it smells and tastes so good you're likely to nibble away at least one portion during cooking. I hadn't noticed in transcribing the recipe that although sugar isn't listed in the ingredients for the filling, the directions mention putting the sugar in last and don't say how much. I sprinkled in a tablespoon which added a nice, caramelized flavor. I never did find "sweet peppercorns," but it's hard to tell what if any difference that made. Tasted pretty darned good to me.

3. Assembly. At Bugumbilia in San Miguel de Allende the chiles come out in one neat piece, the meat filling tidily stuffed through a single slit. My chiles needed plastic surgery. I assembled the stuffed poblanos the night before and refrigerated them in a covered oven-proof dish. An hour before lunch I put them in a 200-degree oven and they came out evenly warmed.

4. The sauce. I cut the amounts in half and still had enough for eight servings. But then my guests - women - all said, "Don't give me very much sauce." The pomegranate seeds I had frozen around Christmas when the fruit was plentiful and that worked fine.

Taken in stages like this, the dish was as easy and convenient as it was delicious. I now have poblano chiles in the vegetable crisper. Can't wait to experiment with them.

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