After taking two chiles en nogada cooking classes, I finally decided the time had come to make the dish in my own house. This was sort of an insane decision because I was working and traveling too much. And because, amid all that, I decided to go to Puebla to buy my ingredients.
The fruit in Mexico City was not satisfying. The stone fruits came from the States — ni lo piensas en un plato tan mexicano — and the Chihuahua apples looked a little miserable. So I carved out a few days and bought a bus ticket. At the Mercado La Acocota, I bought two kilos each of local peaches, starchy, crunchy apples from Zacatlán and sweet pears. I also bought 16 chiles poblanos.
The day before the shindig, with walnuts to peel and some last-minute work to take care of, my daylight cooking hours ran out. Which is why I found myself at 7 p.m. starting to prep an endless mise-en-place. At 10 p.m., the picadillo finally went into the pot.
The next day — the day of the party — I woke up at 7:30 and peeled walnuts for three hours. (Crayton was sleeping most of that time or else he would’ve been shaking his head at me.) Then I charred my chiles and rubbed off the skin, and tried the best I could to remove the seeds without tearing apart the chile flesh.
My guests had started to arrive around 3 p.m. and a few asked if I needed help. (“No,” I croaked.) The only one I let into the kitchen was Ruth. She stuffed the chiles and dusted them in flour and generally made me feel like I wasn’t drowning in chile skin, seeds, eggs, and warming bowls of beans and rice.
Finally, finally, it was time for the capeado, the frothy egg batter in which we’d dunk the chiles. My friend Carlos wandered into the kitchen and said, “You’re going to do the capeado?” Not everyone does, because the capeado is fattening and complicated. But I sniffed. Of course I’d do the capeado. The capeado respected the original 19th-century recipe.
After probably four chiles, it was hot and smoky and oily in the kitchen, and the smoke had drifted out into the living room. I didn’t care. I was channeling the nuns!
I didn’t get a photo of the chiles all gorgeous and golden-brown, but I did snap a quick photo of them blanketed in walnut sauce on the plate, before we devoured them all. My friend Daniela told me after one bite that I should open a restaurant.
The walnut sauce, as an addendum, was stunning. The nuns would’ve been proud.
Chiles en Nogada
Makes enough for 12 chiles
A few notes here: You’ll notice I used chopped meat, not ground beef or pork — I like the flavor better when the meat is chopped, plus it’s supposedly more accurate to the original recipe. I also did not use acitrón, the candied biznaga catcus that is typically used in chiles en nogada, because it is overharvested.
On the cooking time for the picadillo, I’ve heard about some folks who cook it for six or eight hours, making it a slow-roasted braise type of thing. I didn’t do that here, but I’d like to try it someday. In both of the classes I took, the picadillo cooked for about 30 minutes.
Lastly, I know I’m a snob about the capeado, but you don’t have to do that step if you don’t want to. To prepare the chiles without the capeado, I would warm them slightly in the oven and then top them directly with the nogada sauce. (Be warned that the sauce will not pool in a pretty pile on top, but fall off the sides.) The dish is traditionally served lukewarm or room temperature.
For the picadillo (the filling):
1 to 2 tablespoons lard
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
12 oz/350g pork loin, chopped
12 oz/350g beef rump roast, chopped
1 lb./500g tomatoes, charred on a comal, liquified in a blender and strained
1/2 cup raisins
8 oz./233g peaches (about 6 small Mexican peaches), peeled, cored and chopped
9 oz./250g apples (about 4 small), peeled, cored and chopped
8 oz./240g “lechera” style Mexican pears, or any other pears you want, peeled, cored and chopped
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 rings candied pineapple, chopped (this amounts to scant 3/4 cup)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano (I used oregano I bought in Oaxaca City)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
12 chiles poblanos
3/4 to 1 cup flour
Makes enough to fill 12 chiles, with extra relleno left over
For the capeado (egg batter) and the frying:
8 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
1 bottle vegetable oil or other cooking oil that doesn’t burn when heated to high heat
For the nogada (walnut sauce):
4 cups whole peeled walnuts, soaked in water or frozen to keep from turning brown
3.5oz/100g goat cheese
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoon sherry
2 tablespoons sugar
Makes scant 1 liter
For the garnish:
1/2 cup whole or chopped parsley leaves
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1. To prepare the picadillo: Melt the lard in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and stir to coat in the lard. Cook until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir constantly so it doesn’t burn, cooking until aromatic, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the chopped meat and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the meat changes color and has mostly cooked. Then pour in the tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Add raisins, fruit, spices, nuts, dried pineapple and spices, and a little salt to taste. Bring to another boil, then simmer for at least 30 minutes on low, keeping the pot covered. Taste for more salt. The picadillo can be prepared up to two days before and stored in the refrigerator, or even longer and frozen. I made mine the day before as to leave more time for stuffing/seeding/peeling chiles on the day of our meal.
Keep the picadillo warm while you’re finishing with the rest of the steps.
2. To char and seed the chiles: Char the poblano peppers over an open flame, a dry skillet or a comal. Wrap chiles in dish towels for about 20 minutes until the skin softens and is easier to peel. Working one chile at a time, remove the skin with the pads of your thumbs or a paper towel. Try not to scrape the skin off with your fingernails — not only does the skin gets under your nails, where it’s difficult to remove, but it mutes some of that yummy charred flavor. Also, do not rinse the chiles under water for the same reason! The chiles don’t need to be perfect. A few pieces of skin left over is okay.
After you skin the peppers, cut an incision in the chile (the thinnest/weakest part of the chile is usually best) from tip to end, leaving about an inch of space on either side so the filling doesn’t fall out. Then carefully remove the seeds, either using gloved hands or a small spoon. Try very hard not to scrape, or else you could end up dislodging a vein, and the chile will fall apart. Set all charred, peeled, and seeded chiles aside.3. To stuff the chiles: Fill each chile with picadillo until they’re plump, but not impossible to close. The idea is that your filling will stay inside and NOT fall out while the chile is cooking. After filling all the chiles, dust them each in flour. Let them sit for a minute while you prepare the capeado.
3. For the capeado: If the beaten whites sit around for too long, they’ll fall, which destroys the texture of the capeado. So I’d start heating the oil to fry your chiles while you beat the whites. (This is especially helpful if you have an electric stove that takes forever to heat anything up, like I do.) I used a 10-inch skillet and about 1/2 cup of oil.
While the oil warms, beat the whites until they’re thick and fluffy and they stay in place even after you turn the bowl upside-down. Then, one by one, stir in the yolks, mixing just until the yolk is completely integrated. Hopefully by this time the oil is hot hot hot, so when you drop in a teensy piece of egg batter, it sizzles.
4. To fry the chiles: OJO: The chiles fry VERY quickly and they’ll burn if you don’t have a constant eye on them. So this is not a good time to go have a glass of wine, wash dishes, fiddle with the radio, etc.
Prepare a baking sheet lined with several layers of paper towels, and have a large cooking spoon and two spatulas at the ready. Hold one flour-dusted chile by its stem and upper edge and carefully dunk it into your bowl of egg batter. (Sometimes a scooping motion works best.) Then quickly place the chile in the hot pan of oil. It should bubble and sizzle immediately. Slather on a little extra egg batter on top so you no longer see any of the chile’s green skin.
Once the chile is completely swaddled in egg batter, use a spoon to bathe the chile in extra oil from the pan, until the chile turns a light golden-brown. This should take perhaps 10 seconds. Then use two spatulas — one for each side of the chile — to carefully turn the chile over, wrapping its eggy coat around itself, so it cooks on the other side. Cook for about 10 to 20 seconds more on the other side and remove to the paper-towel lined tray. Repeat with other chiles, adding more oil as needed. Let chiles rest while you prepare the sauce.
5. To prepare the nogada sauce: I did this in batches. Place 2 cups of walnuts in the blender jar with half the goat cheese, 1/4 cup milk and 1 tablespoon sugar. Blend on high, stopping a few times to stir and dislodge the walnut bits from the blender blades. Add one more tablespoon of milk or a little more if necessary. (You don’t want the sauce too watery or thin.) You could also add more sugar if you want the sauce sweeter — I like mine on the savory side. Finally, add 1 tablespoon of sherry and blend just a little more to combine. Pour into a receptacle and repeat with the other two cups of walnuts, and the rest of the goat cheese, sugar and sherry.
6. To serve: Place a chile on a plate. Ladle over the nogada sauce, until the chile is completely obscured. Sprinkle with parsley and pomegranate seeds. Serve at room temperature.