The smell of roasting chile is a sign that fall has arrived in New Mexico. The scent of the state’s signature crop roasting permeates the air, inducing hunger and chile cravings. The aroma has a Pavlovian effect on many New Mexicans. It is New Mexico’s version of aromatherapy. It is also the season for chile rellenos. No matter whether you are purist, with nothing but cheese inside, or a innovator, stuffing whatever you can, there is nothing better than the first fresh relleno in the fall.
The Big Jim chile is 7 – 9 inches long and 1 – 1.5 inches wide on average. The meat of the pod is thick, making it easy to roast and peel. It is mild compared to other varieties of legacy chile. Large Big Jim pods can be over a foot long and 2 inches wide, making them ideal for chile rellenos. A large Big Jim chile can be stuffed with about ½ pound of meat and/or cheese.
There are numerous variations of chile rellenos. Modify the recipe and preparation to accommodate variations in palate. Most versions involve adjustments to four basics:
Type of chile
In other regions, like California, they use different peppers for chile rellenos, like Poblano or Anaheim peppers. In New Mexico, we usually use Big Jim, which is slightly hotter than an Anaheim. Even hotter variations, like Sandia or Barker, can be used for those who like their rellenos to pack a punch. My favorite is the Sandia Select. It is a hybrid of Big Jim and Sandia, larger than a Sandia, but with more heat than a Big Jim. If you want to know more about the varieties of chile, check out the New Mexico Chile Pepper Institute.
Type of cheese
Use a cheese that melts well. Most recipes call for a mild cheddar or asadero, but sharper cheeses can be used to add kick. I prefer sharp cheddar or any cheese with “a bite.” It is fun to experiment, because chile goes well with any type of cheese.
Baked or fried
Whereas baking decreases the calorie count significantly, the decadence associated with fried chile rellenos cannot be denied. I fry mine.
Chile Rellenos Breading
I prefer crispy coatings on fried food. Some people prefer doughy breading. The recipe below can be adjusted to accommodate both based on the thickness of the batter. If you prefer a crispy scald, water down the batter and roll the chile in panko before frying. If you prefer a doughy scald, leave the batter recipe “as is.”
You can use a pancake mix to speed up the process, but I prefer to use the batter recipe below. Adjust the consistency of the batter based on your breading preference.
For the crispy version, coat the chile with enough of the batter for the panko to stick…slightly thicker consistency than a paper mache mix. The batter creates an adhesive surface on the chile for the panko.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1 cup milk
- 2 Tablespoons salad oil
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg slightly, stirring in the milk and oil.
- Add the egg to the flour mixture and stir until flour is moistened. Batter will be slightly lumpy.
- 8 large, meaty green chiles
- 8 sticks of cheddar cheese, approximate 1 oz each
- 2 cups of panko
- 1 cup oil
- Roast and peel the green chile.
- Cut the cheese in long strips that are the length of the block and approximately ½ inch wide. The cheese needs to be narrow enough to insert into the chile without ripping the meat of the chile. If minor tearing occurs, wrap the chile around the cheese so it doesn’t escape while frying. Make an incision at the top, near the stem, to insert the cheese. Insert a block of cheese into each chile.
- Dip each pepper in the pancake batter and then roll it in panko until well coated.
- Pour oil in a heavy frying pan, approximately 1/4” inch in depth and heat over medium-high heat. Tip: if you insert a wooden spoon into the oil, the oil will bubble around the stick when it’s ready for frying.
- Fry the chile rellenos until brown on both sides.
- Cover a plate with paper towels and place the fried chile on the plate to drain excess oil.
Please leave your recipe modifications, or any questions that you may have, in the comments.