Chiles En Nogada in Celebration of Mexican Independence Day
The ways to make Chiles en Nogada are innumerable, so to prepare mine I referenced several recipes including Lesley Tellez’s account of Chef Yuri’s “proper” way, a recipe from the book Frida’s Fiestas, another one by Patrica Jinich and one by Zarela Martinez, of course.
Some recipes called for ground pork, others shredded, I opted to slow roast, dice then sauté my pork butt until both tender and slightly crisp. I think ground meat compromises the integrity and texture of the dish. And, for me, shredded pork wasn’t enough of a textural contrast to the slippery roasted chiles that would contain it. Most recipes also listed a variety of dry and fresh fruits and spices, I stuck most closely to Zarela’s list for this part of the recipe with some variation.
Another dispute among those who claim to have the most authentic recipes is whether or not one should use heavy cream and/or cream cheese in the nogada sauce. I heeded Chef Yuri’s advice and used only walnuts, sherry, milk and goat cheese so that my sauce would be both simple and as close to the “original” one prepared back in the day.
The last point of contention for many chiles en nogada aficionados is whether or not one should capear/lamprear the chiles, that is, to dip them in whipped egg batter and fry them once they are stuffed. I decided to capear my chiles, because I thought the texture of the crisp exterior would compliment the slippery flesh and because Alex insisted that I do.
So where did this elaborated dish originate, even if we can’t pin down an exact original recipe?
Historians believe that this artisinal dish was created by either Las Monjas Clarisas or Las Madres Contemplativas Agustinas, nuns of Puebla, as a patriotic dish for Viceroy Agustin de Iturbide. Since then, the dish has continued to be a mes de la patria classic. It boasts the colors of the Mexican flag and thus is prepared every September when the chiles poblanos are their greenest, the pomegranates a ripe juicy red and the walnuts freshly plucked from the trees, just in time for independence day celebrations.
Because making Chiles en Nogada is a special occasion Alex and I invited some of our friends (the foodies and cultural connoisseurs) to kick off the month’s festivities. The patriotic dish was to be the star of the night, and actually could have been the only dish along with one side, but I wanted my guests to enjoy a tremendous Mexican feast. In addition to the chiles I prepared elote y rajas con crema, enchiladas de acelgas y hongos, frijoles negros con chipotle, arroz bandera, ensalada de verduras de Oaxaca, and a flan (more about these recipes later this month)!
My cooking marathon began at 9 am and ended as the first guest arrived (and thankfully helped me finish cooking) at 7 pm. I prepared the Chiles en Nogada in steps while putting together the other dishes throughout the day. I braised the pork for the picadillo in the morning, roasted the poblanos at noon, prepped the the fruit for the picadillo in the afternoon and then finished with the capeado, sauce and garnish at night just before we sat down to eat.
The festivities began at 6:30, everyone enjoying a glass of vino tinto, una botella de Negra Modelo or a sip of Cazadores. I was glad to have my good friend Connie whip up the eggs for the capeado while I fried and Alex so gingerly de-seeded the pomegranates for me! Those Pubelan nuns must have truly had lots of time on their hands because next to the French Pate de Canard en Croute, this is the most involved dish I’ve ever prepared.
Zarela is right in calling Chiles en Nogada one of the “crowning glories of Mexican cuisine.” My guest, unprompted, applauded as I set the platter of a dozen chiles atop the table and demolished them as soon as they were served.
Two days after I prepared and savored my Chiles en Nogada, Zarela sent me home with two of hers. Our picadillos were different, hers shredded mine diced, but both a delicious blend of sweet fruit and savory pork . My nogada sauce was very good but I have to admit that hers was, as she says, “to die…” [for].
Chiles en Nogada
*I highly recommend roasting the pork the night before you want to make the dish. You might also want to chop all the fruit so the picadillo is quick and easy to assemble. Also note that the walnuts should be soaked in milk overnight.
12 poblano chiles
For the Picadillo:
2 lbs. boneless pork butt
1 tablespoon lard
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon all-spice
2 small white onions chopped
1 green apple
1 ripe yellow plantain
2 firm yellow peaches
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup Jerez Sherry Fino
zest of one lemon
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
For the Nogada Sauce:
1 cup milk
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup queso fresco
2 Tablespoons Jerez Sherry Fino
For the Capeado (optional):
10 eggs, separated
1/4 cup flour
1 pomegranate, seeded
3 sprigs flat leaf parsley
Chiles and Picadillo: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place 1 tablespoon lard in a oven-proof skillet, heat on medium-high until rippling. Add the cinnamon, cloves and all-spice, toasting for 1 minute. Add the pork roast and sear on all sides until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Add 2 cups water and one white onion chopped and simmer for 5 minutes. Put into the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let rest for 30 minutes. Cut pork into a quarter ince dice. Set aside.
Meanwhile, chop all the apple, peaches and plantain into a quarter inch dice. Soak the golden raisind in the sherry. Set aside.
Roast the poblano chiles on an open flame or under the broiler until blistered and blackened- 3 minutes per side if over a flame, 5 minutes per side if under a broiler. Tightly wrap the chiles in a clean dry towel and let them “sweat” for 15 minutes. When chiles are cool enough to handle, gently remove blistered skin. Cut a slit in the side of the chile and carefully remove seeds.
Roast the tomatoes on a cast-iron comal or under the broiler until blishered and blackened and so flesh yields to touch. Peel off the skin, core and puree in a blender. Set aside.
In a large skillet, on medium-high heat melt butter. Add the chopped pork. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the remaining onion. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 3 more minutes. Add the chopped apple, peaches, plantains, lemon zest and rasins and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Finally add the tomato puree, salt to taste and simmer on low for 15 minutes, stirring ocassionaly. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Stuff each chile with about 1/4 cup picadillo filling, so the chiles are full but not bursting at the seams.
Sauce: Soak the walnuts in the milk overnight. Place the walnuts, milk, sherry, queso fresco, salt and sugar in a blenderand blend until a smooth, slightly thick sauce forms. If you prefer a thin sauce add more milk.
(Optional) Capear/Lamprear: Let eggs come to room temperature. Meanwhile, lightly coat each stuffed chile with flour. Separtate yolks and whites. In a clean bowl or blender beat egg whites until very fluffy. Gently fold the yolk into the whites. Heat a pan with 1/4 cup vegetable oil or lard until rippling. Dip each floured chile in to the batter and place in hot oil, cook on each side until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towels. This “How to Lamprear” video by Zarela will show you how.
Garnish and Serve: Place the chiles on a platter and pour the nogada suace over them. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and parsley for garnish. Savor!