Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Crown Jewel Affair: Chiles en Nogada

I hope you're not getting full yet, because we still have three courses to go in The Crown Jewel Affair Chef's Menu!

Chiles en Nogada (Chiles in Walnut Sauce) is one of 16 internationally inspired recipes featuring POM Wonderful variety pomegranates and POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice, created by notable chefs around the nation as part of POM Wonderful Chef Series 2010.

Chef Cindy Pawlcyn, a pioneer in the development of wine country cuisine, is the owner of three of Napa Valley’s beloved restaurants: the legendary Mustards Grill, the eclectic Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen and her most recent creation, the West Coast seafood house Go Fish. Chef Pawlcyn shared her Chiles en Nogada recipe, which also happens to be in one of my favorite cookbooks, Big Small Plates. I designed my entire Crown Jewel Affair menu around this dish.

As explained in the cookbook, "the origins of this dish go back to 1821 and a victory banquet in Pueblo, Mexico, commemorating the defeat of the Spanish." The white of the walnut sauce, red of the pomegranate seeds, and green of the chiles represent the colors of the Mexican flag. "It's a celebratory dish, especially good for Christmas..."

The recipe gives you the option of baking the chiles, or frying them like you would with chile rellenos. Although baking would be easier for a dinner party (they do need to be fried right before serving), I chose to fry ours for the party, for a more stylish presentation.

Okay, it's time to be honest here. I now have a love-hate relationship with Chiles en Nogada. There is a tremendous amount of work involved with preparing the filling and walnut sauce, roasting and peeling the chiles, carefully stuffing the chiles, and then either baking or frying the stuffed chiles.

Did I mention peeling the walnuts? OH MY, John's mom will never forgive me after I asked her to help with that miserable task! Soaking the walnuts overnight in milk is supposed to help the skins come off easily. NOT! As John explained to our guests (see The Crown Jewel Affair video, here), it took about a hour to peel three walnuts. Chef Pawlcyn refers to it as "a pill of a job" but says it "makes a big difference in taste and appearance." I made half the sauce with the peeled walnuts and half with the skins on, and seriously could only taste and see the tiniest difference. Save yourself the frustration, unless you know an easier way, and skip the walnut-peeling horse pill.

This is my attempt, and I still couldn't get all the skins off

Thank you, Diane!

I grilled the poblano chiles until the skin blistered, and then placed them in plastic grocery bag, sealed, for about 15 minutes to allow them to "sweat" before peeling. This was a breeze compared to peeling walnuts, but then you must carefully slit the chiles, remove as many of the seeds inside without further tearing the chiles, spoon in the filling, and then try to fry the chiles without loosing the filling (I used a few toothpicks to keep them closed while frying and them removed the toothpicks before serving).

If you're feeling brave, you can find the recipe for Cindy's Chiles en Nogada here. Kai said it was his favorite dish at the party, and it absolutely is extraordinary. Remember, it's a "celebratory dish" and you won't want to attempt it for a simple, weeknight dinner!

Before we moved on to the next course, Braised Lamb Shank Ragu, we offered this Lemon Sorbet Palate Cleanser, embellished with a few pomegranate arils.



Anonymous said...

This does look like a great dish for when you have plenty of helpers home for the holidays ... Beautiful!

Kai said...

My favorite dish out of all these delicious creations.