A Visit With the Chiles Rellenos Chef

Fiery Foods Manager Mexico and Central America Leave a Comment

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by José Marmolejo



Chiles Anchos Capones (Stuffed Seedless Ancho Chiles)

Chiles Chipotles Stuffed with Plantain

Chiles Poblanos Stuffed with Coconut

México City. About three years ago, I heard about a talented young chef from Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, who was cooking a wide variety of chiles rellenos in México City. I knew that sooner or later I was going to run into him, I just didn’t know when. Recently, when I finally met him, he was busy signing copies of his book, Los Chiles Rellenos en México. After the formalities, I set an appointment to learn more about his fascination with true Mexican food and chiles.

Ricardo Muñoz-Zurita modestly told me at our luncheon meeting that he was cooking simple Mexican dishes–but in his own style. Twelve years ago, he started as an apprentice in México City at a restaurant that served food from Puebla, Veracruz, and Yucatán. From there, he moved on to be a restaurant cook, caterer, participant in food festivals, a chef, and a cooking instructor. At the same time, he attended cooking classes and seminars in México, the U.S.A. and Europe to satisfy his craving for knowledge.

After I heard that he had visited so many countries, I had to ask why he was still interested in Mexican food. After thinking for a few moments, he replied: “Because it is an indigenous cuisine, not an imitation, and because I haven’t finished learning about it. We have only scratched the surface of the culinary experience of the past 500 years in México. We do not know everything yet–Mexican food is both an art and a research subject.”

This brought us to the subject of the evolution of cuisines. Ricardo told me, that over time, one of the things he has observed is how main courses were once completely hidden underneath a sauce. Later they were only half covered, which was followed by the entrées sitting over the sauce, and currently, it is fashionable to serve them barely sprinkled with a sauce. These changes in presentation reveal the style of the times and have an impact not only on the way food looks but also on its texture and flavor.

I asked Ricardo what he cooks for the president of the National University of México, where he works as private chef. He replied that because the University has so many visitors and dignitaries from all over the world, he prepares mostly Mexican food, but experiments at times with other cuisines.

Even though his creed is traditional Mexican cuisine, today, at 31 years of age, he is aware of trends. He told me that modernidad–or modern Mexican cooking–“came through the window, without permission. It was unannounced; it didn’t knock on the door. One day it was inside my kitchen and I now cannot ignore it.” He added: “I do not practice fashion and I’m not in war with fashion. I usually cook a traditional dish following the traditional recipe, but I reserve the right to present it differently, usually giving the dish a touch of style¼my style.”

When Ricardo said, “I make a daily effort to make a culinary discovery here in México, not abroad,” I couldn’t help but ask him: “Are you saying that French cuisine, for example, is not important for you?”

“I recognize its influence but I refuse to use it as a standard. There are other cuisines like Mexican, Chinese, or Indian that are older and can be more complex than French and we never think of them as a standard. For me foreign cuisines are possibilities, not the only option.”

Ricardo’s style of traditional Mexican cuisine is reflected in the following three recipes for stuffed chiles that appear in his book, Los Chiles Rellenos en México.

Chiles Anchos Capones (Stuffed Seedless Ancho Chiles)

The word capon translates as “castrated” but in this case merely means seedless. Yes, dried chiles such as anchos and pasillas can be stuffed, but they must be softened in hot water first. They have an entirely different flavor than their greener, more vegetable-like versions.

10 ancho chiles

1 quart hot water

2 pounds queso añejo or romano cheese, grated

8 cups chicken stock

3 cups small green onions, without the green ends

1 cup pork lard or substitute vegetable oil

¼ cup flour

Salt to taste

In a dry skillet, lightly toast the ancho chiles without burning them. Soak the chiles for 5 minutes in hot water to soften them, then drain and dry them. With a knife, make a slit in the side of each pod and deseed them. Stuff the chiles with the cheese and set aside. You can tie them to keep the stuffing from falling out if you wish.

Heat the chicken stock and boil the green onions for 3 minutes. Remove the onions from the stock and set both aside.

Heat the lard until lightly smoking. Fry the chiles on both sides, starting on the open side. Remove the chiles from the oil and drain on paper towels. Fry the green onions in the lard. Remove and set aside. Add the flour to the lard and stir until completely mixed without letting the mixture turn brown. Pour the chicken stock in the pan and stir until no more lumps are seen. Simmer the sauce to thicken for 5 minutes while stirring. Add the chiles and let simmer 2 more minutes. The sauce should be smooth, but not too thick. Add stock if necessary. Serve the chiles immediately with some green onions on the side.

Serves: 8 to 10

Heat Scale: Mild

Chiles Chipotles Stuffed with Plantain

The final result of this stuffed chile salad is the pleasantly contrasting flavors of the sweet stuffing, the smoky chiles, and the tangy vinaigrette. Piloncillo is unrefined, dark brown sugar that is sold in Mexico in cone shapes, and you can purchase it in Latin American markets.

1 quart water

¼ cup piloncillo or brown sugar

30 large dried chiles chipotles

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup cider vinegar

¾ cup olive oil

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup corn oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

1 cup tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped

2 cups cubed plantain (1/4 inch cubes)

¼ cup of grated piloncillo or brown sugar

5 ounces fresh goat cheese

2 cups of flour

½ teaspoon salt

7 eggs, whites and yolks separated

2 cups corn oil

Mixed lettuce

In a pot, combine the water with the piloncillo or brown sugar and bring to a boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Turn off the flame, add the chiles and soak for 20 minutes until soft. Make a small slit in the chiles, remove the seeds and veins carefully and let the chiles drain. Set them aside.

To make the vinaigrette, combine the sugar, salt, vinegar, olive oil, and pepper in a jar and shake well. Set aside.

Heat the corn oil in a skillet and sauté the onion and garlic. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the plantains and the piloncillo or brown sugar and simmer until the plantains are completely cooked. Simmer, stirring well, until a soft paste of all the ingredients has been obtained. Remove from the stove, mix with the cheese and stuff the chiles chipotles.

Roll the stuffed chiles in the flour and salt, then shake off the excess flour. Beat the egg whites until stiff, add yolks, and beat until a batter forms. Heat the 2 cups corn oil in a heavy pot, dip the chiles in the batter, then fry them quickly until they are a light golden brown.

Serve one or two chiles on a bed of mixed lettuce with the vinaigrette over the top.

Serves: 15 as an salad/appetizer.

Heat Scale: Medium

Chiles Poblanos Stuffed with Coconut

Here is one of Ricardo’s relleno masterpieces, a dessert. Please note that this recipe requires advance preparation.

8 fresh poblano chiles, seeded, deveined, roasted, and peeled

1 quart water

3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 quart water

3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups freshly grated coconut

6 medium dried apricots, cut into thin strips for garnish

Prepare the chiles and make sure they have been washed properly. Let them rest for 15 minutes in plenty of ice cold water with a little salt. Drain the chiles.

Boil the water with the sugar until a syrup is obtained, remove from the flame and add the vanilla extract. Let cool.

Submerge the chiles in the syrup overnight, drain them and submerge them again, leaving the chiles for another 2 hours in the syrup. Repeat this once more until the poblanos are caramelized and sweet. Discard the remaining syrup.

Make fresh syrup by bringing the water to a boil with the sugar and boiling for 5 minutes. Remove from stove, add vanilla extract and let cool. Generously stuff the chiles with the fresh coconut, using only the white part of the coconut. Spoon a teaspoon of the syrup over each of the chiles and serve at room temperature with thin strips of dried apricots for garnish.
Serves: 8

Heat Scale: Mild

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