It’s been too long since Jan and I spent a night in the kitchen, experimenting and having fun making something we’ve never made before. We are out of practice.
Since Jan’s been back from a long summer firefighting in Utah, Montana, Idaho and Washington, he’s wanted lobster tails and caviar (too many bad fire camp meals, he says). In my mind, he wants this over-the-top fancy meal every week. In his mind, it’s been ONCE. We’ll agree it’s a number somewhere in between.
In any case, how crazy is it that we live in a place where food is so accessible that Jan can ask, “Lobster tonight?” and my response be “Ugh! I’m sick of lobster!”
This time when he asked, I said I just wanted Mexican. Simple.
But Jan was in the mood for something special (and complicated), so he decided, in an effort to satisfy both of our requests: chile rellenos!
“How can we make that?” I asked. “We don’t even know what they’re supposed to taste like!”
I know I’d never once ordered chile rellenos at a Mexican restaurant, but perhaps I’d tried a few bites from other people’s plates when they’d ordered it? I knew they were peppers stuffed with cheese and covered in a tomato salsa. But beyond that, I wasn’t sure. Jan said he’d eaten PLENTY of chile rellenos, so I kept quiet.
Jan came home from the store with two types of chiles, two types of cheese, and, unable to find what looked like the “perfect” recipe, we printed three and figured we’d make some combination of those.
All three recipes agreed that the first step was charring the peppers (though they differed on technique, some on the grill, some on the broiler. We didn’t follow any of them and put them directly over the gas on our stovetop). Once most the skins were blackened, we put the peppers in a bowl, and covered the bowl with foil for about 10 minutes to “sweat” out the peppers. Then we rubbed the skin off the peppers, but realized we probably didn’t char them enough, since it only came off easily in the areas where it really was black and charred. But, we also realized that the black areas were also very delicate, and as hard as I tried not to, I still created little tears in the peppers that I knew would later cause problems when I tried to stuff them with cheese.
The big peppers (Poblanos) got the Mexican Queso Fresco. The smaller peppers (Anaheim) got Monterey Jack.
One of the recipes said to hold the skin together (and cheese in) with toothpicks. Though, that probably didn’t mean that I should use half a box of toothpicks. I called them franken-rellenos, as I tried to “sew” the skins back together.
Then, we tried to figure out the batter situation. One recipe called for beer. One recipe said to whip egg whites until they formed stiff peaks. All that sounded too complicated for me, so I settled on a quick dip in flour, then egg. Again, trying to keep it simple.
Jan told me not to take pictures, but the chiles looked so ridiculous with all their crazy toothpicks, I was having such a good time being silly. He said I wasn’t going to be allowed back into the “test kitchen.” My botching of the chiles would misrepresent his fabulous cooking skills to the rest of the world.
“Good thing we have tacos,” I said, and Jan laughed and agreed, concentrating on frying the chiles in a shallow pan of canola oil.
Well, turns out the chile rellenos weren’t so bad. True, they looked terrible. But once they were fried and all the toothpicks removed, they tasted great! We covered them in heated El Pato Tomato Sauce with Jalapeño (the red can) and added some more cheese on top. We had fun trying to decide which chiles and which cheese was best. This was important since, of course, we would have to make this again and redeem ourselves. Next time, we thought we might experiment with some different chiles (two helpful chile charts here and here) and use the Monterey Jack cheese, since it melted perfectly inside the chile and didn’t ooze out while frying.
Also, everything was a bit spicy for me, so I couldn’t finish the whole serving, and it really was the tacos that saved the day. We quickly cooked some filet leftover from another dinner, made guacamole, and brought out lettuce, salsa, cilantro and cheese. Jan had also bought some new corn tortillas we’d never tried before (La Tortilla Factory Hand Made Style Corn Tortillas), and they were fresh and flavorful.
There wasn’t caviar involved, but we were both pleased with the meal. Our own, Jan tested, Jan approved recipe on chile rellenos will come soon. And teamwork in the kitchen is restored.