How to make a proper chile en nogada

Every year in late summer and early fall, the chile en nogada makes its brief run through Mexico.

The star ingredients, walnuts and pomegranate seeds, are not available any other time of the year. So it’s a festive time. Restaurant storefronts become festooned with “We have chiles en nogada!” banners. Pomegranates glitter at the tianguis. Mexican Independence Day is right around the corner (on Sept. 16), and the dish is pretty much the culinary centerpiece of the celebration.

To me, the most interesting thing about chiles en nogada is that it’s a living piece of Mexican history. Puebla nuns invented the dish in 1821, to honor a visit by Mexican General Augustín de Iturbide. The dish featured the colors of the Mexican flag: a poblano chile stuffed with dried fruits and nuts, covered in creamy walnut sauce (white) and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and parsley (red and green). The Mexican flag was unveiled around the same period, so you can imagine the patriotic fervor.

Today, the chile en nogada sounds awfully baroque. Fruity meat? Pomegranate seeds? Who would eat that? At the time, however, nogada sauce was popular. And so was the idea of combining dozens of ingredients to create a complicated, tedious dish. (The Pueblan nuns also invented mole.)

Chiles en nogada is not an easy dish, and it’s not meant to be. That’s part of the tradition. Walnuts must be peeled. Spices assembled. Raw and dried fruit, chopped. Even after assembling your chile, you must dunk it in egg batter and fry it.

In the olden days, the nuns didn’t have blenders, so they ground the walnut sauce on the metate. As someone who has done her fair share of metate-grinding, I can tell you that it had to take entire days of grinding to get the texture they wanted. Let me repeat that: days of grinding.

Last week, I took a chiles en nogada course at the Escuela de Gastronomía Mexicana, where I’m currently studying for a diploma in Especialización de Gastronomía Mexicana.

Yuri de Gortari, who teaches cooking in my diploma program, taught the chile course. Since there was so much worked involved, he decided to conduct most of the course as a demonstration. By the time we arrived his kitchen assistants had already roasted, seeded and de-veined the chiles, and chopped all the fruit and measured out the spices.

It was kind of like being on the Mexican version of Barefoot Contessa.

Roasted poblano chiles, waiting to be filled with picadillo

Clove, thyme and cinnamon, among other spices, for the picadillo

As he spoke, I got caught up in how amazing it is that this dish is still eaten how it was intended, nearly 200 years after it was invented. Yuri has studied colonial-era cookbooks extensively — he stressed that authentic chile en nogada picadillo contains finely chopped meat, not ground. In addition, one must use small, hard yellow peaches, not the regular large kind, because they’re too watery.

The nogada sauce contains walnuts, sherry, milk and goat cheese. No cream cheese or heavy cream.

The picadillo, as it cooked

A bowl of peeled walnuts, preserved in milk. The eggs will be used in the batter, and the sherry, in the nogada sauce.

Yuri pours milk into the walnut sauce

Chef Yuri de Gortari, opening a bottle of sherry with a knife

To speed things along, Yuri made the nogada sauce with a Thermomix, which is a high-tech kitchen gadget that blends, cooks, kneads and does a dozen other things. We each dipped our spoons in the pitcher to taste, and the sauce was thick, creamy and completely smooth. Oh god, it was good.

I didn’t realize this, but there’s a controversy among Mexicans as to whether a real chile en nogada is capeada or not. To capear, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, means to dunk an item in frothy egg batter and fry it in lard or oil. It’s totally unhealthy. But it’s an integral part of this dish. The egg-batter shield prevents the chile from becoming too soggy, once it’s doused in walnut sauce. Plus the chile en nogada, for the sheer amount of work involved, is not meant to be eaten every day.

Yuri insisted that we capear the chile, because otherwise we wouldn’t be respecting the plato. (I agreed.) He showed us how to stuff and batter our chiles, and then we each attempted to repeat the work.

In case you were unsure how much lard we were talking about, when cooking just one chile en nogada in a pan...

Stuffing the chile with picadillo

Dredging the chile in flour, before dunking it in egg batter

The egg-batter covered chile, about to hit the frying pan

The messy-looking chile, once it begins to cook

See the picture above? That’s exactly how you want your chile to look when it hits the frying pan — surrounded by a little cloud of egg batter. The idea is to scoop up these folds with a spatula and cover the chile, so it’s entirely swaddled in a puffy, eggy blanket.

A properly swaddled chile

My chile turned out okay. I stuffed it as best I could. I pinched the seams closed with my forefingers and thumbs, dunked it in the egg batter and carried it, slightly dripping, to the pan. (Note: keep egg batter closer to the stove next time.)

I hadn’t put enough egg batter to swaddle it too well, so it only had a thinnish layer. The chile turned a dark-golden brown in a matter of minutes and then, just like that, it was done. Hours’ worth of work — or a week’s worth, no doubt in the olden days — finished in seconds. I drained my chile on paper towels and then spooned over my sauce.

“How much sauce do I add?” I asked another student, who happened to be a chef at a restaurant.

He shrugged. “Al gusto,” he said. That means: “to taste.”

So of course I ladled a small lagoon of sauce over, so you could no longer see the chile. That’s how it’s meant to be, I think.

Here’s my little chile, in all of its patriotic glory:

Yuri told us to make the dish again in the next 24 to 48 hours so that we could retain all that we’d learned, but I’m visiting the United States for the next few weeks and don’t have time to do it. I’ll just have to remember through the pictures.

RECIPES:

This is my own homemade chiles en nogada recipe, based on the one we used in this class.

Click here to view the Escuela de Gastronomía Mexicana’s Chile En Nogada recipe, which contains metric measurements only. It’s in Spanish first, then English, so you’ll have to scroll down.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Enjoyed this post? Share it!
77 Responses to “How to make a proper chile en nogada”
  1. Maura Wall Hernandez

    To capear or not to capear, that is the question. Lesley, you just made me so excited that September 16th is right around the corner! I blogged about chiles en nogada last year and did NOT batter mine because half of the recipes I got from family members and my trusted traditional Spanish-language cookbooks said yes and half said no. And then I also wanted to give a slightly healthier version, so I ended up posting the recipe without the batter. This year I’m going to make them with it just to do something different. We’ll have friends visiting from Mexico City, so there will be a little more pressure this year for them to turn out perfectly. My husband doesn’t care for this dish, but I love it and last year, I also served it to some Mexican-American friends who’d never tasted the dish before and it was a huge hit. Would you post your batter recipe? Also, I’m curious why battering the chile is respecting the dish more than not when so many people do it both ways. Would love to hear your take (and Yuri’s, too).

    • Lesley

      Hi Maura: I can post the batter recipe, but I won’t have access to it for a few more weeks. It’s the basic “capear” recipe calling for several egg whites (5, I think), which you beat into soft peaks. Then you add the egg yolks and blend them just until combined. Does that help?

      In terms of battering the chile being a matter of respecting the dish, what I gathered was that this is a dish that deserves our respect and reverence, and if we’re going to make it, we should make it right — e.g., as close to the way the nuns made it as possible. Of course, most of us can’t spend several days grinding on the metate. But can and most definitely should capearlo, because that’s the way it was originally done. This is a dish where tradition is of the utmost importance. We should not reject the egg batter just because it’s fattening. The idea of something being fattening is against what this dish is about!

      Obviously, people can make this dish according to their specific tastes and family traditions. However, for the person who is seeking the authentic representation of the chile en nogada, they must capear.

      • Maura Wall Hernandez

        Yes, actually I think I know exactly where I have a copy of that basic recipe in a Spanish-language cookbook. The English-language books seem to seldom get those little details of the recipe right. I personally normally never try to skirt tradition just to make something healthier, especially since this is something I only eat once a year anyhow! But, as my husband is not a big fan of the dish to begin with and he doesn’t like chiles capeados (what a sin, right?) I figured it was no big deal to make them without the batter. I’ve never found a book that said definitively that the nuns made them only that way so I always just thought that it depended on where you were from as to whether or not you capear. Thanks for the lesson!

  2. Mexico Cooks!

    What a lovely article, Lesley! Your chile en nogada turned out absolutely beautifully–congratulations!

    Here’s another recipe for chiles en nogada that has won rave reviews. This recipe is for chiles sin capa–in other words, without the egg batter! Enjoy.

    http://mexicocooks.typepad.com/mexico_cooks/2007/09/the-mexican-fla.html

    Cristina

  3. marymcdonald

    Oh, yum.

  4. ohiforgotmyname

    I want to be you

  5. ratsindear

    Hey awesome post….Ur passion for food is very inspiring…

  6. lenanozizwe

    It looks delicious. I would have never thought of adding the pomegranate seeds.

  7. Betsy

    Those chiles look great, Lesley! And Yuri seems like a real treasure.

    One comment: Those nuns in Puebla get all the credit but I think it’s important to mention that they had a LOT of help in the kitchen from the local indigenous women who taught them to use the molcajetes and metates…and chiles, for that matter. I think it’s likely they did the lion’s share of the walnut peeling and grinding. Viva la raza!

    • From The Pews

      I totally Agree Betsy. Mestizos that we are, we must never forget our Indigenous Roots. We are not Spanish alone…THANK GOD! ;)

    • Lesley

      Good point Betsy. Thanks for the clarification!

  8. Dominique

    OMG, this looks amazing. I love the idea of pomegranate glitter…Lovely. Wish I knew Yuri!

  9. summerwallpapers

    What about technique of eating chili peppers ?

  10. thetastyrevel

    WOW! This is fabulous! we are coming to Mexico for Day of The Dead. any chance you have foodie connections in OXA or PV?

    • Lesley

      Hey there! I’ve met Susana Trilling, who runs a cooking school in Oaxaca, but I’m not sure if she offers food tours. I’m sure you’d be able to find those there quite easily, though. If anyone else has any tips in regards to food tours in Oaxaca, feel free to chime in!

      Sadly, no connections in PV, although I know they have fabulous restaurants.

      • Betsy

        Nancy Zaslavsky leads a specific Day of the Dead to to Oaxaca, here’s the link to her site, then look for Tours: http://www.nancyzaslavsky.com

      • Mexico Cooks!

        THREE thumbs up for Nancy’s Day of the Dead tour in Oaxaca! Nancy is absolutely wonderful.

  11. hardyha1

    Sorry but as with mole sauce, why? Stick with world cuisine that works, such as Indian and Chinese food. Or even English Sunday roast… this seems a lot of hassle and seems unappealing.

    • Obet

      A few questions:

      Why Mole and Chile en Nogada doesn’t work? is because there are no fast food? well both dishes are just for special ocasions, not for a every day meal, both are for “cooking lovers”, and definitly not for lazy cooks.

      Have you ever tried these dishes? if you don’t please don’t be so severe in your opinion.

      If they are done correctly, the final product worths so much (especially for the people that cooked them.)

    • Vera

      Definitely, you have not tasted Chiles en nogada, they are delicious.

      Anyway, according to you, 90 per cent of the world cuisine should dissapear.

      Dishes like this or mole are supossed to be cooked as a tradition
      and studied by chefs. Because of this ¨complicated¨ dishes, chefs exists.

  12. prosperityseeker

    Wowita (My new spanish word)! Your chile en nogada looks amazing, and something that is well beyond my capabilities. However, I will attempt it :) I hope to come back to savor the flavors you are sharing. My husband was a missionary kid, whose parents moved all around South America and Mexico. Your recipes will delight him.

    Tess
    destinyrising.com

    • Lesley

      Thank you! So glad you found this useful. And I love “wowita.” :-)

  13. Evie Garone

    I don’t think I would go to all the trouble to make this dish..I think COOK is a four letter word, I HATE to cook!! But I think IT IS SO PRETTY!!! Thank you for sharing maybe I can go out & get it!!!

    evelyngarone.com

  14. Rob

    Wow, thank you.

  15. Cooking in Mexico

    I love chiles en nogada and have been looking forward to September when they appear on restaurant menus. What great photos and what great instruction. Good for you for being able to experience this wonderful lesson.

    Kathleen

  16. lostneedle

    This reminds me of ambrosia….

  17. webmistress

    Looks so darn yummy, but i’m not sure exactlly how healthy it is. Not to big on fried foods anymore, but I love tasty treats.

  18. Sarah, Irvine, California

    YUMM!

  19. zenpilgrim

    Living up here in New Hampshire for the time being means I can only dream about how good chile en nogada must be. And people wonder why I will be moving to the southwest.

  20. Kristine

    Lesley — I love reading your blog, even though I sometimes need my Spanish-English dictionary at hand to really know what you’re talking about. :)

    I’d really love to try everything without having to put in so much effort. I admire your patience.

    And the pictures are especially nice!

    Kristine

  21. zakryman

    This is really interesting! My Spanish class was just talking about traditional Mexican food, seeing as Mexican Independance day is around the corner. My Teacher actually told us about the chiles en nogada. Hearing about them just now made it all so much cooler. Thanks for sharing!

  22. From The Pews

    Gracias! It is very encouraging to see more Spanglish Voices out there. ;)

    And add onto that FOOD! RIQUISIMO!
    You have a new fan!

    As for hardyha1…En Gustos se Rompen Generos.

    • Lesley

      Thank you! Glad you found me!

  23. 2zpoint

    I have never even heard of Chile’ en Nogada before this blog! I try as many different recipes as there is restaurants in Tulsa, Oklahoma but typically I end up with enchiladas, tacos, or wet burritos. I find this dish very tempting and I thank you for the post.

  24. hippybaby

    I’m adding chile en nogada to my bucket list of foods to enjoy! Thank you so much for sharing the history behind this dish, which makes it all the more rich. I can imagine tasting it and thinking about all the hard work and love that would go into making such a dish, and the pride one would have upon serving it…also your photography is marvelous here. I’m picturing you snapping away while class is going on, getting just the right angle on the little dishes filled with pomegranate seeds and walnuts.

  25. grannypants

    Ahhhhh!!!! You just brought tears to my gastronomic eyes! I hate you!

    No! You are awesome and I am so grateful you are reviving the beauty of a culture very close to my heart.

    From “Like Water for Chocolate” to a coastal pueblito, my cooking experiences in Mexico have been so incredibly rich as me and my dear neighbors & friends shared each other’s cultural recipes. My mouth is watering from the memory of the taste of that “Pulpo del Diablo” right now.

    Bless you during this beautiful time & keep reminding us all that Mexico is so much more than drug wars!!!!

    Fondly,
    A Guera @ GrannyPants.wordpress.com

  26. grannypants

    P.S. Gorgeous photos! After a year since my last visit, you have made me hungry for this culture that has saturated in my soul for life.

  27. Club Dine In!

    What a wonderful recount and subtle way of driving home the message of using local and seasonal food! You have a really nice blog, loved the pictures and the background of the how it really is in Mexico! I wonder if any of the restaurants serve it here in SF…

  28. Izul

    Nice stuff from Mexico! I loveeee to try new food from different countries, would much love this one indeed.

    Regards from Australia,
    Izul :D

  29. annket

    WOW! Thank you for How to make a proper chile en nogada.

  30. jammer5

    You’ve touched on one of my favorite foods. I’ve used Diana Kennedy’s recipe for years, but I think I’ll be trying this one as well. Gracias!!!

  31. marisabaratta

    The sauce looks so creamy and I like the colouring with the flag. Italians invented pizza in a similar way, trying to match the flag.

  32. I love learning about new foods and cultures, which completely explains why I loved this post. You wrote so eloquently, and I would love to try the chile en nogada someday. So pretty! :D

  33. katethegrate

    this is absolutely gorgeous! thanks for sharing.
    i probably wouldn’t have thought to try something like this, but your explanation and pictures make it seem worth it!

  34. ninjawiththeorangetshirt

    I’m gonna try it. Thanks

  35. cheneetot08

    Oh my! They look positively scrumptious as a gourmand I would just love to be his own personal food taster. =)

  36. kaninsagabi

    LOVED THIS thanks!

  37. fjkingsbury

    Thanks for this post, especially all the pictures! This post, and the picture of the huitlacoche, and pretty much everything else you’ve blogged about has made me hungry and nostalgic at the same time.

    I love being in Mexico during chiles en nogada season. You brought back memories of attending the Feria del Chile en Nogada in a little town in Puebla, where the ladies from competing food stands showed me all their ingredients lined up in bowls and explained how many days ahead of time they had begun to assemble everything. They held the bowls of batter upside down to show me that it’s not perfect until it defies gravity and sticks to the bowl.

    I wasn’t aware that there is a debate about capear o no capear. I had never seen a chile en nogada not capeado. I learned something today; thanks for posting!

  38. ricm85

    I love the chiles en nogada. Thanks for this amazing article.

  39. Kayhan

    The photos and description are lovely. I wonder if there are Middle Eastern influences by way of Moorish Spaniards? Your allusion to fruity meat and pomegranate seeds being baroque or seemingly odd is naturally from a Western perspective. In Middle Eastern cooking – particularly in Iranian cooking – pomegranates and walnuts appear in many dishes (savory dishes, not just desserts). There is a very popular “special day” dish called Fesenjoon that uses ground walnuts and pomegranates with chicken. It’s LOVELY!
    I’d LOVE to try Chile en Nogada!

    • Lesley

      Hi Kayhan: There are most definitely Moorish influences in the chile en nogada dish, but I haven’t studied the history enough to know much more than that. It’s a topic I’d love to investigate further. Thanks for your comment!

    • busteddrum

      Lesley, Thank you for your information and the recipe. I WILL try it.

      Kayhan, Fesenjoon is my all time favorite dish. I am very lucky to be friends with a Persian family that invited me to dinner last night to enjoy that and Alluvio polo (sorry about the spelling). The most gracious hosts I have experienced. I want to make rellenos en nogada for them using this recipe.

      Hardyha 1, This is not the place to tell you what I really thing of your comment other than you must have brown matter where your grey matter should be.

      • busteddrum

        I forgot that they also make Fesenloon with duck too.

      • Lesley

        Hi there: Glad you found in helpful! If you do end up making it, let me know.

  40. Linda

    Oh my gosh, I am so happy to have found your blog. I’m a Mexican cuisine nerd, and am thrilled to have some new, more authentic recipes to try.

    • Lesley

      Thanks Linda. Great to find another Mexican cooking nerd out there. :-)

  41. atravelartist

    Hi Lesley! What a great site! I’ve bookmarked it for additional reading. I currently live in Cancun. I moved here from Canada a few years ago and must admit one of my favorite things is the food. I enjoy cooking local dishes at home too. It’s great fun!! Thanks for the post.

    Cheers!

    Marlo

  42. chefyourself

    This looks fantastic! Thanks for sharing, I’ve had a little recipe for chile rellenos taped to my fridge for a few months now. I may have to break down and heat up some sartenes!

    PS: I admit it, I don’t think I’ll go all out with the peeling of the walnuts and what not, but I will try to stay close to the recipe’s spirit.

    • Lesley

      Thank you for being honest. :-)

  43. Susy

    Absolutely beautiful images, great post :) En hora buena Lesley!

  44. gail

    Nice post! This is one of my favorite dishes. Please post the recipe!

    Thanks

  45. Luis

    My vote definitely goes to no capear. Not only are they healthier that way, but also taste way better.

  46. ilpomodoro

    absolutely amazing! I made this with my friend once- but it did not look QUITE as delicious as yours does! yum

  47. Amanda

    These look so good, I remember you mentioning them last year around this time and I watched for them. It must be a local thing because I never recall seeing them. Im way way behind on reading blogs and I must say I missed reading your food adventures. ;)

    • Lesley

      Awww, thanks Amanda. :-) Hope you can find the chiles closer to where you are.

  48. gabriellemarielopez

    Beautiful photos! Chiles en Nogadas were already on my to-do list for El Mes de la Patria, now I’m even more excited to make them! I’ll be using Zarela Martinez’ recipe as my jumping-off point. What was in the picadillo you used? Zarela’s recipe, like Chef Yuri’s, calls for the small yellow peaches and shredded not ground meat…did he also use plantains?

    I think I’ll take your advice and not use cream cheese or heavy cream in the nogada sauce but will instead use goat cheese and milk.

    I love your blog… I’m hoping to move to Mexico soon so reading about your journey has been very encouraging!

    • Lesley

      Thank you! I don’t have the recipe in front of me (I’m traveling right now) but if I recall correctly, the picadillo we used contained a mix of finely chopped pork and beef; onion and garlic; tomatoes that were roasted, liquified in a blender, and then strained of their pulp and seeds; a mix of thyme, clove, cinnamon and I think oregano; diced pears; diced acitrón; diced yellow Mexican peaches (not the traditional peach, but a smaller, harder peach that isn’t as juicy); raisins and pine nuts. Yuri didn’t use plantains… although that may be something that’s more common along the Gulf.

      Your blog is great too! Looking forward to reading more about what you’re cooking up. Shoot me an email if you have any questions about moving to Mexico, I’m happy to help.

  49. Dianne

    Thank you for this! We live in Mazatlán, where one of our local treasures is the Panama chain of bakeries and restaurants. Every September they make chiles en nogadas. We just returned from eating some for lunch. They are great!

    Locally here Lucy of “Te Amo Lucy” also makes TERRIFIC chiles en nogadas. I see you are friends with Nancy, so hopefully we’ll see you over this way sometime soon?

  50. Susie Ramirez Escobedo

    I am having Chiles Rellenos tomorrow for my sons’ birthday dinner and was looking for a sauce recipe….I love the fact that you have photos to “walk” me through the recipe. Thanks for your blog :-)

  51. Maofdos

    Hi. Wow, really inspiring! I like making “complicated and tedious” dishes for special occasions. Did I miss the recipe in your post or comments? If not, can you provide it? Everything I’ve found has cream cheese or cream in the sauce, nothing with goat cheese. Thank you!

    • Lesley

      Hi there: I didn’t provide the recipe because I felt a little funny listing it, without permission from the school. I meant to make the chiles myself and then my own recipe with tweaks/additions/etc… sadly I haven’t gotten around to making them yet. (Although I did try four this year, at restaurants.) I’m happy to give you the sauce recipe I have, though — one restaurant I visited had similar ratios. Here are the ingredients: 1 kilo walnuts, peeled; 2 cups milk; 1/2 kilo (500g) peeled almonds; 1/4 kilo (250g) goat cheese; 1 cup dry sherry; pinch sugar. You basically blend the nuts and milk first, in batches to make sure it’s completely smooth. (Add more milk if necessary.) Then add the sherry, sugar and a pinch of salt at the end to taste. Hope that helps! And hopefully next year I’ll get around to making them myself…

  52. ruben

    I live in the US and I cook this dish during December for my BDAY. It is a 4-6 hour tradition in my house but well worth it as I get the whole family involved. My European wife absolutely loves this dish… Something different that I do is that I do not egg batter the chiles..

  53. jocelyn

    Hey! Let me say first that I LOVE your blog! Beautiful photos and insight! I was wondering if you could postthe actual recipe for Chile en Nogada that you learned because I would like to make it. (Sorry if it is already written here in front of my face!)

    • Lesley

      Jocelyn: No, I’m sorry. I haven’t posted the recipe because I was waiting to get permission from the school. I’ll get in touch with them next week and see what I can do. If they don’t give me permission, I’ll wait until chile en nogada season and post my own! (Unfortunately that’s in August/September, so a little while…)

  54. Alexandra McStay

    I grew up having this as my birthday dinner when I was little. I ADORE Chiles en nogadas, sadly getting poblanos is super hard here, so i may have to resort to growing my own :) We also didn’t capear them as my Grandmother never did and she taught my mom not to. I would love to do them your way just to try the difference. Oh man, I’m salivating just thinking about them.

  55. Marbella in Chicago

    Hi- I just wanted to tell you that I love your blog! Just one quick question regarding the Walnuts for the Nogada Sause. Do they have to be fresh? Can I buy them already peeled? Also can they be roasted? I’m making these for my husband’s birthday and I’m having my whole family over for a celebration so getting this right is very important. Any help wold be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Marbella

    • Lesley

      Hi! Sorry for the delay in responding. You can buy the walnuts already peeled. I think fresh walnuts probably taste the best, but it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth it, given how much this dish entails. I would not roast the walnuts — you really don’t need to. The sauce should have a mild, creamy flavor, with a slight tang from the goat cheese; it really doesn’t taste overly nutty. I’d be worried that toasting the walnuts would overpower the rest of the flavors in the sauce.

Leave a Reply