chiles en nogada
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 Directions 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.
chiles en nogada this year, I became obsessed with peeling my own walnuts. Skinless, pristine walnuts are a requirement for the nogada, the creamy sauce that covers the Poblano pepper. The sauce must be white to reflect one of the colors of the Mexican flag; walnut skin adds a brownish tint. In both of the chiles en nogada cooking classes I'd taken, we did not peel our own walnuts because it took too long. In fact, no one I knew peeled their walnuts themselves. I kept wondering: how long did peeling walnuts actually take? If I really wanted to understand chiles en nogada, a recipe invented by ascetic Poblana nuns who scorned idleness, didn't I sort of have to know? It turns out nature didn't really intend for walnuts to be peeled. First you have to remove the shell without destroying the soft walnut pulp inside. Then you have to wiggle the walnuts out of their crevices, and delicately, with the agility of threading a needle, peel back their papery skin tiny pieces at a time. When -- huzzah! -- one large piece of skin comes off, it's like putting the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle, or peeling an orange in one long, windy strip. There is satisfaction in peeling walnuts. But it comes in trickles. In my quest to feel like a 19th-century Mexican nun, I spent 4 1/2 hours last Friday and Saturday cracking and peeling walnuts. That was the key part I hadn't thought of: the cracking. By the time I had enough walnuts to make nogada sauce for 10 people (roughly 4 cups of whole and halved walnuts), my thumbs were sore and covered in scrapes. My eyes hurt from squinting at pinhead-sized pieces of walnut skin. I couldn't even take pictures with my iPhone of my pile of walnut scraps and shells, because my thumbs didn't want to move. It was like Blackberry thumb, but worse. Walnut thumb. I will never do it again, unless I'm only cooking for four. But who makes chiles en nogada for four? Here are some instructions, in case you're struck with a bout of nunliness like I was. How to Peel Walnuts By a Girl Who Peeled Walnuts for More Than 4 Hours, To Make a Mexican Dish In the Style of the Nuns 1. Using a small hammer (forget the nutcracker, in my opinion, as it gives an out-of-control crack instead of controlled hits here and there), crack the walnut once along the thick border that runs from pole-to-pole. Turn it over and crack in the same place on the other side. 2. Still using your hammer, crack the walnut a few times along its smooth, rounded shell. Turn it over and do the same thing again. You don't want to crack only on one side, as that will loosen the walnuts one one side and not the other, and it’s a big bummer when that happens because one side of your walnut WILL NOT COME OUT. (Alternately, once you're comfortable cracking, you may hit the walnut multiple times in different spots, turning as you see fit.) 3. Once you notice cracks in the outer shell, peel it away with your fingers. You should see glorious walnuts inside. 4. Carefully remove the remaining outer shell and wiggle the walnuts inside, freeing them of the tough inner somewhat T-shaped membrane. If small walnut pieces break off, that’s okay. Let them go. You don’t really need them anyway. 5. You should now have large pieces of walnut, free of their shell and their tough membrane. Using your fingernail (and your reading glasses, if you need them), gently tear a piece of the skin off. Continue until all the skin is removed. It’s sort of like peeling a garlic clove. Take pleasure in it. 6. The naked walnuts should be placed in water so they don’t turn brown. Freeze them if you're planning on using them in more than 24 hours. Note that they WILL turn slightly beige in the freezer unless you freeze them in water. I personally find the freezing-in-water step unnecessary, as my walnut sauce still turned out very white, from both the milk and the goat cheese. I'll be posting my recipe in a few days, as soon as my fingers recover. Previously on The Mija Chronicles: Kicking off Chiles en Nogada Season in Puebla Four Chiles, One Day: A Marathon Chiles En Nogada Tasting in Mexico City How to Make A Proper Chile en NogadaOnce I decided I was going to make homemade
Alonso Hernández, chef at Mesón Sacristía, one of the best restaurants in the city. I've explained the chile en nogada process before, but cooking this dish at home -- or anywhere -- is painstaking. First you have to char, peel and seed the chiles. Then you have to chop a long list of sweet and savory ingredients, including tomatoes, onion, apples, pears and peaches. You have to peel walnuts BY HAND, because no walnut-peeling device has been invented yet. I actually think you gotta feel a little like the nuns, or at least remember them, when you're putting this all together. (The nuns of Puebla's Santa Mónica Convent invented the dish in 1821.) This chile is the equivalent of a baroque altarpiece in a church. Chef Alonso took us through the chopping and the preparing of the fluffy egg batter, called the capeado. Then, when it was time to fry the chiles, he placed one in the eggy cloud and brushed each side lovingly. When it was our turn to do the same, he told us: "Slowly. Con calma." After the egg-dip, into the frying pan it went. There we bathed the chile just as lovingly with oil. It puffed up and sizzled. My first chile en nogada of the 2012 season: Where do you plan to eat a chile en nogada this year? More on chiles en nogada and Mexican convent cooking: Four Chiles, One Day: A marathon chile-en nogada tasting in Mexico City How to make a proper chile en nogada Where to eat chiles en nogada in Puebla Desserts of the Spanish convents in MexicoThe 2012 chiles en nogada season officially started last weekend in Puebla. I was lucky enough to visit the city just beforehand and score a chiles en nogada cooking class with
Chiles en nogada season starts in Mexico City toward the end of July. By two weeks ago, I hadn’t even tasted one in Mexico yet, which I considered a personal flaw. (I’m hard on myself.) Then I met a new friend at the end of one of my mezcal tours. He's a food enthusiast, too, and he suggested that we gather a group and spend the day tasting them. I loved this idea. I wrote him back: "Me encantaría!!" So he created a Google Map and we both added restaurant suggestions. Our criteria were that the restaurants needed to be places we’d never been before. And they should be more or less in the same area, since we’d be trying them in the same day. We decided we’d try four chiles in one day, with a fifth option. Of course we knew the chile en nogada is not a light food. So there'd be four of us, which meant a total of one chile per person each at the end of the day. We'd also order appetizers and drinks. (I stayed at the gym an extra-long time that morning, just to have some space.) Here’s how the tasting went down. For more on what exactly comprises a chile en nogada, check out the post I wrote on it last year. ...