these are so excellently awesomely deeelishusss and actually addictive….
The star ingredients, walnuts and pomegranate seeds, are not available any other time of the year. So it’s a festive time. Restaurant storefronts become festooned with “We have chiles en nogada!” banners. Pomegranates glitter at the tianguis. Mexican Independence Day is right around the corner (on Sept. 16), and the dish is pretty much the culinary centerpiece of the celebration.
To me, the most interesting thing about chiles en nogada is that it’s a living piece of Mexican history. Puebla nuns invented the dish in 1821, to honor a visit by Mexican General Augustín de Iturbide. The dish featured the colors of the Mexican flag: a poblano chile stuffed with dried fruits and nuts, covered in creamy walnut sauce (white) and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and parsley (red and green). The Mexican flag was unveiled around the same period, so you can imagine the patriotic fervor.
Today, the chile en nogada sounds awfully baroque. Fruity meat? Pomegranate seeds? Who would eat that? At the time, however, nogada sauce was popular. And so was the idea of combining dozens of ingredients to create a complicated, tedious dish. (The Pueblan nuns also invented mole.)
Chiles en nogada is not an easy dish, and it’s not meant to be. That’s part of the tradition. Walnuts must be peeled. Spices assembled. Raw and dried fruit, chopped. Even after assembling your chile, you must dunk it in egg batter and fry it.
In the olden days, the nuns didn’t have blenders, so they ground the walnut sauce on the metate. As someone who has done her fair share of metate-grinding, I can tell you that it had to take entire days of grinding to get the texture they wanted. Let me repeat that: days of grinding.
Last week, I took a chiles en nogada course at the Escuela de Gastronomía Mexicana, where I’m currently studying for a diploma in Especialización de Gastronomía Mexicana.
Yuri de Gortari, who teaches cooking in my diploma program, taught the chile course. Since there was so much worked involved, he decided to conduct most of the course as a demonstration. By the time we arrived his kitchen assistants had already roasted, seeded and de-veined the chiles, and chopped all the fruit and measured out the spices.
It was kind of like being on the Mexican version of Barefoot Contessa.
Roasted poblano chiles, waiting to be filled with picadillo
Clove, thyme and cinnamon, among other spices, for the picadillo
As he spoke, I got caught up in how amazing it is that this dish is still eaten how it was intended, nearly 200 years after it was invented. Yuri has studied colonial-era cookbooks extensively — he stressed that authentic chile en nogada picadillo contains finely chopped meat, not ground. In addition, one must use small, hard yellow peaches, not the regular large kind, because they’re too watery.
The nogada sauce contains walnuts, sherry, milk and goat cheese. No cream cheese or heavy cream.
The picadillo, as it cooked
A bowl of peeled walnuts, preserved in milk. The eggs will be used in the batter, and the sherry, in the nogada sauce.
Yuri pours milk into the walnut sauce
Chef Yuri de Gortari, opening a bottle of sherry with a knife
To speed things along, Yuri made the nogada sauce with a Thermomix, which is a high-tech kitchen gadget that blends, cooks, kneads and does a dozen other things. We each dipped our spoons in the pitcher to taste, and the sauce was thick, creamy and completely smooth. Oh god, it was good.
I didn’t realize this, but there’s a controversy among Mexicans as to whether a real chile en nogada is capeada or not. To capear, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, means to dunk an item in frothy egg batter and fry it in lard or oil. It’s totally unhealthy. But it’s an integral part of this dish. The egg-batter shield prevents the chile from becoming too soggy, once it’s doused in walnut sauce. Plus the chile en nogada, for the sheer amount of work involved, is not meant to be eaten every day.
Yuri insisted that we capear the chile, because otherwise we wouldn’t be respecting the plato. (I agreed.) He showed us how to stuff and batter our chiles, and then we each attempted to repeat the work.
In case you were unsure how much lard we were talking about, when cooking just one chile en nogada in a pan…
Stuffing the chile with picadillo
Dredging the chile in flour, before dunking it in egg batter
The egg-batter covered chile, about to hit the frying pan
The messy-looking chile, once it begins to cook
See the picture above? That’s exactly how you want your chile to look when it hits the frying pan — surrounded by a little cloud of egg batter. The idea is to scoop up these folds with a spatula and cover the chile, so it’s entirely swaddled in a puffy, eggy blanket.
A properly swaddled chile
My chile turned out okay. I stuffed it as best I could. I pinched the seams closed with my forefingers and thumbs, dunked it in the egg batter and carried it, slightly dripping, to the pan. (Note: keep egg batter closer to the stove next time.)
I hadn’t put enough egg batter to swaddle it too well, so it only had a thinnish layer. The chile turned a dark-golden brown in a matter of minutes and then, just like that, it was done. Hours’ worth of work — or a week’s worth, no doubt in the olden days — finished in seconds. I drained my chile on paper towels and then spooned over my sauce.
“How much sauce do I add?” I asked another student, who happened to be a chef at a restaurant.
He shrugged. “Al gusto,” he said. That means: “to taste.”
So of course I ladled a small lagoon of sauce over, so you could no longer see the chile. That’s how it’s meant to be, I think.
Here’s my little chile, in all of its patriotic glory:
Yuri told us to make the dish again in the next 24 to 48 hours so that we could retain all that we’d learned, but I’m visiting the United States for the next few weeks and don’t have time to do it. I’ll just have to remember through the pictures.
AND FINALLY… THE RECIPE: Here’s a link to the Escuela de Gastronomía Mexicana’s Chile En Nogada recipe, which we used in class. It’s in Spanish first, then English, so you’ll have to scroll down.
1. En unza cazuela con un poco de manteca caliente se sofríe la cebolla y el ajo, se agrega la carne de cerdo y la de res se sazona con sal y pimienta
2. Cuando se empieza a cocer la carne se agrega la uva pasa y el acitrón y en seguida el jitomate, se agrega el tomillo y el orégano.
3. Enseguida se agrega la almendra se deja en la lumbre unos minutos a fuego medio, se sazona con canela y clavo en polvo.
4. Luego se agrega la pera, el durazno y el piñón, se rectifica la sazón y se quita del fuego, estando el picadillo ligeramente tibio se rellenan los chiles.
5. Ya relleno el chile se revuelca en harina, cuidando que no tenga exceso, se capea con el huevo batido y se fríe en manteca caliente hasta que queda dorado y cocido por todos lados.
Para la nogada:
1. La nuez, conforme se va pelando se remoja con la leche.
2. Se muele perfectamente la nuez y después se agrega la almendra que también se muele.
3. Se agrega el queso de cabra, cuidando que quede una salsa cremosa, se le agrega un poco de azúcar y el jerez.
4. Se integra bien y se cubre el chile con esta salsa y se adorna con granos de granada y perejil picado.
12 pzs Chile poblano asado, sudado, pelado y desvenado
4 Pzs Huevo batido para capear
Harina de trigo c/s
Manteca de cerdo o aceite para freír
Para el relleno:
1 pza Cebolla blanca finamente picada
500 grs. Jitomate asado, molido y colado
2 dientes de ajo pelado y finamente picado
350 grs. Lomo de cerdo picado
350 grs. Aguayón de res picado
1 taza Acitrón picado en cubitos
100 grs. Uva pasa
70 grs. Almendra remojada, pelada y picada
4 pzs.Durazno amarillo picado en cubitos
2 pzs. Peras picadas en cubitos
¾ cucharadita de Canela en polvo
½ cucharadita de Clavo en polvo
1 pizca deTomillo
1 pizca de Orégano seco
½ taza de Pinón rosado
Manteca de cerdo o aceite para freír c/s
Para la nogada:
1 kg. Nuez de castilla fresca y pelada sin la cáscara gruesa y sin la pielecita amarilla
2 tazas de Leche
500 grs. de Almendra remojada y pelada
250 grs. de Queso de cabra
1 taza de Jerez seco
1 cucharada de Azúcar
Para el adorno:
250 grs. de Granada pelada y desgranada
1 taza Perejil lavado, desinfectado, secado y picado
Chiles in walnut sauce
Traducción al inglés del Chef Arturo Anzaldo
1. In a casserole with a little hot lard fry the onion and garlic, add pork and beef and season with salt and pepper.
2. When it begins to cook the meat add the raisins and acitrón and then the tomatoes. Add the thyme and oregano.
3. Then add the almond leave it in the fire a few minutes over medium heat, season with cinnamon and cloves.
4. Then add the pear, peach and pinion correcting the seasoning is removed from fire to warm up, and stuff peppers.
5. Put them in flour and beaten egg are wrapped and fried in lard until golden and cooked on all sides.
1. The nut, as you peel it is soaked with the milk.
2. Grind walnut perfectly using very little milk, add the almonds.
3. Add goat cheese and a little sugar is added after a bit of sherry.
4. Cover with the chile sauce. It is garnished with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.
Poblano chile roasted, sweaty, peeled and deveined 12 pieces
Beaten egg to “capear”( wrapped in egg ) 4 pieces
Pig lard or oil for frying
White onion finely chopped 1 piece
Roasted tomatoes, blended and strained 500 grams
Minced garlic 1 clove
Chopped pork loin 350 grams
Chopped sirloin beef 350 grams
“Acitron” chopped 1 cup
Raisin 100 grams
Almonds Soaked peeled and chopped 70 grams
Yellow peach minced 4 pices
Pear chopped 2 pices
Cinnamon 1 teaspoon
Clove 1 teaspoon
Thyme 1 teaspoon
Oregano 1 teaspoon
Pinion ½ cup
Lard for fry
Fresh peeled walnuts 1 kilo
Milk 2 cups
Almond soaked and peeled 500 grams
Goat cheese 250 grams
Dry sherry 1 cup
Peeled and shelled grenade 250 grams
Parsley washed, disinfected, dried and chopped 1 cup
another recipe for these—
Chiles en Nogada (Chilies in Walnut Sauce) Recipe
You must start this dish one day ahead by soaking the walnuts for the nogada sauce overnight.
- 2 lbs of boneless pork
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 Tbsp salt, or to taste
- 6 Tbsp of lard or the fat from the broth
- 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- The cooked meat (about 3 cups – note if you use more than 3 cups, you will need to increase the amounts of the other ingredients)
- A molcajete (mortar and pestle)
- 8 peppercorns
- 5 whole cloves
- 1/2 inch stick cinnamon
- 3 heaping Tbsp of raisins
- 2 Tbsp blanched and slivered almonds
- 2 heaping Tbsp acitron or candied fruit, chopped
- 2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- 1 pear, cored, peeled and chopped
- 1 peach, pitted, peeled and chopped
1 Cut the meat into large cubes. Put them into the pan with the onion, garlic, and salt and cover with cold water. Bring the meat to a boil, lower the flame and let it simmer until just tender – about 40-45 minutes. Do not over cook. Leave the meat to cool off in the broth.
2 Strain the meat, reserving the broth, then shred or chop it finely and set it aside. Let the broth get completely cold and skim off the fat. Reserve the fat.
3 Melt the lard and cook the onion and garlic, without browning, until they are soft.
4 Add the meat and let it cook until it begins to brown.
5 Crush the spices roughly in the molcajete and add them, with the rest of the ingredients to the meat mixture. (If you don’t have a molcajete, you can use the blunt end of a pestle to crush the spices in a bowl.) Cook the mixture a few moments longer.
6 Add chopped peach and pear to the mixture.
- 6 poblano chiles (you MUST use this type of chile)
7 Put the poblano chiles straight into a fairly high flame or under a broiler and let the skin blister and burn. Turn the chiles from time to time so they do not get overcooked or burn right through. (SeeHow to roast chile peppers over a gas flame tutorial using Anaheim chiles.)
8 Wrap the chiles in a damp cloth or plastic bag and leave them for about 20 minutes. The burned skin will then flake off very easily and the flesh will become a little more cooked in the steam. Make a slit in the side of each chili and carefully remove the seeds and veins. Be careful to leave the top of the chili, the part around the base of the stem, intact. (If the chilies are too hot – picante, let them soak in a mild vinegar and water solution for about 30 minutes.) Rinse the chilies and pat them dry.
9 Stuff the chilies with the picadillo until they are well filled out. Set them aside on paper towels.
The Nogada (walnut sauce)
The day before:
- 20 to 25 fresh walnuts, shelled
- cold milk
10 Remove the thin papery skin from the nuts. (Note, these are Diana Kennedy’s instructions. I have found it virtually impossible to remove the skins from the fresh walnuts that come from our walnut tree. The above photo shows the sauce which includes the skins. I think it would be creamier without the skins, but what can you do? We found that blanching the walnuts did not help get the skin off. Completely cover the walnuts with cold milk and leave them to soak overnight.
On serving day:
- The soaked and drained nuts
- 1 small piece white bread without crust
- 1/4 lb queso fresco
- 1 1/2 cups thick sour creme (or creme fraiche)
- 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
- Large pinch of cinnamon
11 Blend all of the ingredients in a blender until they are smooth.
To assemble the dish, cover the chilies in the nogada sauce and sprinkle with fresh parsley leaves and pomegranate seeds.