Chile rellenos are my Achilles heel. They are stuffed with countless delicious variations of fillings, cheeses and served over plates of rich sauces, moles, cheese sauces, salsas. I can never choose a favorite. Kind of like asking which do you like better — cake or pie, and which kind? This is something I’d prefer to spend the rest of my life trying to figure out. But my kind of chile relleno is battered and deep fried, so I can’t have them as often as I’d like…….until I watched Trisha Yearwood’s cooking show when she prepared her Un-Fried Chicken recipe. This is when I realized…..
………I can un-fry my ultimate weakness … my kryptonite … as often as I want.
Add me to the list of people who perked up when they saw this healthy baked version of fried chicken, and heard that crunch! when she took a bite. Immediately, I jotted down dozens of things to try. Un-Fried Shrimp. Un-Fried Zucchini Chips. Un-Fried Chicken Fried Steak. Un-Fried Breakfast Pork chops. Un-Fried Eggplant Parmesan. Un-fried Tempura Vegetables. And of course the first thing I had to un-fry was my beloved chile rellenos.
Here are three types of chiles I like for rellenos. The top is the big dark green heart-shaped Poblano. It’s got a little heat to it, lots of flavor and room for stuffing.
The middle one is the banana shaped Anaheim green chile, a close cousin to the New Mexican Hatch. This one is mild. Also comes in medium, hot and extra hot. Doesn’t hold as much filling as a poblano, so I use it mainly with cheeses or rich fillings.
And the bottom is the Jalapeno. There’s definitely some heat there, and it makes terrific stuffed appetizer sized rellenos … ‘poppers.’
I chose the poblano, the one most often used for rellenos. As is with most chiles they need to be roasted and prepped before cooking.
I roast them two at a time on my stovetop grill. At first they blister, that’s when I begin turning them with tongs. Once they’re blackened on all sides I put them in a sealable plastic baggie and let them steam for 20 – 25 minutes. This allows the skins to loosen, and for the house to fill with intoxicating roasted chile aroma. I may have mentioned before that, at this point I step outside for a breath of fresh air, to cleanse by olfactory receptors, and walk back into the house to be knocked over again by that deliriously robust smell. Every time.
I cut the tops off because I wanted to expose some of the chicken and grated cheese filling, so it would also crisp up. And I knew that it would hold together and stay put. Were I making a gooey cheese filled or creamy mixture that would melt, the traditional preparation of creating a pocket by leaving the stem on and cutting a single slit lengthwise is best. The filling won’t lava flow out, and it’ll keep that lovely heart shape of the chile. Either way, after removing the skins and seed cores you’ll have a bowl full of charred stuff for your compost if you have it. It takes some work, and it’s completely worth it.
The filling calls for 2 cups of grated cheese and 4 cups shredded chicken. You can buy a prepared roasted chicken from the market and shred it, straight up and mixed with the cheese. I bought 3 large breasts, rubbed with olive oil, salt, pepper and pure New Mexican red chile powder. Covered in foil and baked for 25 – 30 minutes, time will vary depending on your oven. (Sorry about the shredded chicken photo, it’s just impossible to make it look attractive.)
The chicken was mixed with white cheddar and packed nicely. I used gentle hands because even though poblanos are a more sturdy chile, they will tear.
Three large bowls, and a greased baking sheet for the dredging station. First roll lightly in flour so the wet ingredients will stick to the chiles. Then into a seasoned buttermilk, hot sauce and egg mixture. Coating all. And finally roll and coat with the perfect and so very simple combination of panko breadcrumbs and grated parmesan cheese that is going give them that crunchy seemingly deep fried-ness. Stick it in the fridge for a half hour to firm up, then bake for 30 minutes or so until crispy brown.
Trisha’s idea, inspired by Art Smith’s recipe, to use seasoned buttermilk and the panko mixture is just plain brilliant. I changed a few minor things like leaving out the lemon zest, because I forgot it on my shopping list. And I didn’t use red chile flakes because I was testing out how the hot sauce worked.
Our friends ArtsAbout and KnowsNoStrangers live in the countryside of Southwest Colorado and agreed to a taste test at their house. Now that I live in remote little Durango I love getting directions that go like this — “Okay so, drive up the mesa. Pass that business that makes the cool metal art. There’s no road sign so take the second opportunity to turn left by the big gnarly twisted tree. You’ll drive over a cattle guard. Look out, the elk are migrating. And our neighbor’s llama has escaped. When you pass the old wagon and row of mailboxes, that’s our street.” ArtsAbout’s directions are kind of like that. And when you finally find their hideaway sanctuary and step onto their balcony with wide open views, land that goes on forever, snowy mountain peaks in the distance………..oh it is a little slice of quiet Southwest heaven. (And thanks again you two, for letting me take over your kitchen and use every single pan and utensil you own.)
KnowsNoStrangers is a very fine cook and knows his chiles. He’d prepared Spanish rice and black beans. With garlic, tomatillas and a few other fancy fresh ideas. I’ll be calling him for the recipes to ask if I can post them for you. Flavorful polar opposite of bland. That and Mr.D’s green chile, corn and cream cheese cornmeal muffins.
I served the rellenos over my Red Chile Sauce, you can get that recipe here. Topped them with crumbled salty cotija cheese, chopped tomato and scallions, and sliced jalapenos. We didn’t miss the oil fried taste or calories at all. They were satisfying and crunched! just like Trisha’s Un-Fried Chicken. And it was a unanimous resounding vote from everyone — “I’d order that.” (See first photo, top of this post.)
Because they were un-fried, I took great pleasure in heating one up the very next day for lunch. 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Still crisp, and I thought that next time I might bake them and then broil for a few minutes to really get an amazing bite like fifteen potato chips all at once.
With a drizzle of Mexican crema, cotija cheese, chopped scallions and fresh sliced tomato. The variations really are endless. Seafood stuffed chiles with queso sauce. Shredded pork and cheese, with red and green sauce. Sautéed squash, cheese and black beans, with an ancho chile sauce. For more healthy, skip the cheeses and sauces and opt for veggie filled with pico de gallo and a leafy side salad.
I’d order that……..