While away on vacation, I missed one of my favorite culinary seasons...those short two weeks when Hatch green chiles are in abundance and being roasted at North Texas grocery stores. I grew up in New Mexico and have learned to love that time in August when the smell of blistered peppers saturates the air with a burnt pungency. To clarify, we did not eat New Mexican cuisine in my Kansas-white-boy-meets-Taiwan-girl influenced home on Clancy Street. Simply because my mother could not stomach anything spicy so although I lived in Albuquerque I did not partake of Hatch chiles until I left my childhood home.
And once I tried a specific Hatch dish...Chiles Rellenos...there was no going back. I'm not referring to the soggy ‘deep fried poblano stuffed with meat and cheese’ that Tex-Mex restaurants offer here in Texas. Oh no. (head wags vehemently) The dish that calls to me late at night and causes me to whisper in my mate’s ear that "we should visit our parents soon" is very different.
Imagine a smoky, roasted Hatch chile that has been skinned, stuffed with gooey cheese, coated in a fluffy-eggy batter, deep fried until crispy then smothered in your choice of red or green chile sauce, and finally topped with shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes. Oh my goodness. It's heartburn on a platter, sometimes so spicy that your nose runs, your eyes tear and your throat burns, and yet you can't stop, won’t stop, shoveling bite after bite into your gaping mouth. And don't forget to wash it down with a Mexican cerveza con limón or maybe a Margarita on the rocks.
On one visit to the Land of Enchantment, I endeavored to eat Chiles Rellenos as many times as possible. I will share two of these experiences with you. The first was at Sadie's, that famous 60-year old institution, known for big plates and hot, hot spicy salsa. Lunch is the best time to eat a heavy meal like Chiles Rellenos; a midday serving ensures time for an afternoon siesta before heading into evening cocktails and your supper. So we visited the Fourth Street location in the Rio Grande Valley where the lunch entree featured a single relleno served with beans and potatoes. It was a huge portion, spicy and cheesy but the chile flavor was a bit bland. I don't regret my lunch at Sadie's but I don't need to go back anytime soon.
Our second research lunch was at a relatively new restaurant, Cocina Azul. Not a member of the roster of famous New Mexican restaurants, but the online reviews were compelling so we gave it a try. It's a weird space, where chips and salsa must be ordered (most eateries, as here in Texas, automatically bring C & S to the table for your complimentary enjoyment) and the floors were sticky with decor that features tables & chairs reminiscent of those found in a Furr’s cafeteria. The bartender was also unprepared…”what? you don’t know how to make a simple margarita concocted of lime juice, tequila and cointreau?” But the rellenos. Oh the rellenos. At lunch service the chiles are a la carte, no platters offered. So I stepped out of the norm and ordered one brisket filled relleno with green sauce and one regular, cheese only, again green sauce. (I’m strictly a green-only girl, no red or Christmas style for me!) The brisket was meltingly tender and generously portioned; the sauce earthy and spicy. All of the rellenos brought to our table were A++.
We dined on the same dish at two restaurants and have not even begun to scratch the surface of the Chiles Rellenos summit. So I’ll just have to make time to go back and maybe we’ll swing up to Santa Fe to see if the offerings will differ up north? And maybe next trip we will endeavor to also sample as many fluffy sopapillas as will fit in my tummy….:)) Please share in the comments below where you have enjoyed delicious chiles rellenos on your travels!