Feliz Navidad! Mele Kalikimaka!
This recipe truly is a labor of love. It takes hours and hours of prep time, but it is a tradition at our house every Christmas and instead of making it just for three of us for Christmas dinner, we made it as one component of our Christmas Dinner Party for some friends visiting from the mainland and some close friends from Hawaii. Along with the Chiles en Nogada, I also smoked a Beef Brisket in Mesquite and a Ham in Apple wood with chipotle, beer, mustard and brown sugar glaze. All that remained after 16 guests filled their plates a few times was a ham bone.
So, without further ado... here is the recipe. I urge you to set aside a full day to make this and have an extra set of hands for the walnut peeling! My son Jay (aka Butchy Fuego) was kind enough to help me with the walnuts. This tedious (but worthwhile) part of the sauce making can be done a day ahead and the walnuts stored in milk.
Chiles en Nogada
I first learned how to make
Walnuts for the sauce:
2 cups (7 ounces) walnut halves and pieces, you’ll need 50 (about 1 ½ pounds) very fresh walnuts in their shells
For the chiles and pork-and-fruit stuffing:
1 1/2 pounds ground pork shoulder with 2 ounces of chopped ham (or equal parts of veal, beef & pork with two ounces of chopped ham)
3 tablespoons lard or oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 small white onion, diced
16 very large (about 2 pounds) fresh poblano chiles, choose good-looking chiles with their stems intact if possible
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Cups of chicken broth
½ cup raisins rehydrated in hot water & drained
2 generous tablespoons dried mango, candied biznaga cactus or citron, cut into 1/4 -inch dice
1 small pear, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4 - inch dice
1 small Jonathan or McIntosh apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4 - inch dice
2 medium fresh peaches (or extra pears or apples), peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4 - inch dice
1 ripe, medium-small tomato, seeded and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried marjoram or Mexican Oregano
A pinch of saffron
A pinch of ground cloves
A pinch of ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
Salt, about 1 generous teaspoon
1/3 cup (about 1 3/4 ounces) silvered blanched almonds.
1 ripe, medium-size plantain, peeled and cut into 1/4 - inch dice.
For finishing the sauce:
1 to 1 1/2 cups milk
1 slice firm white bread, crusts removed
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt, about 1/2 generous teaspoon
1 cup of dry brandy
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, preferable freshly ground Mexican canela
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream or Mexican crema or crema fresca
For the garnish:
8 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1. Peeling the walnuts. If using mature-green walnuts, break away the soft, green, outer layer with your hands. Working with 5 or 6 at a time, crack open the nuts, remove the meats in the largest pieces possible. Drop the walnut pieces into a small pan of boiling water, immediately remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel, then peel: the thin, brown skin that covers each piece will peel off in fairly large pieces if the nuts are very fresh; use a small pick or pointed trussing needle to help lift the skin out of the crevices. Continue until all are peeled. Store the nuts in a bowl of milk.
2. Heat the onions and garlic in the oil till the onions are translucent. Add the meats and then the tomatoes. Add the chicken broth and cook till most of the broth has evaporated and the meat has become tender.
3. Roasting the chiles. The open flame method: Place chiles directly over the gas flame or on a medium hot charcoal or gas grill. Roast, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened on all sides but not soft, about 5 minutes. The broiler method: Lay chiles on a baking sheet set about 4 inches below a preheated broiler. Roast, turning occasionally until blistered and blackened on all sides but not soft, about 10 minutes. Place in a plastic shopping bag to steam. Peel the charred skin off the chiles and rinse them if necessary. Make a long slit in the side of each chile and carefully remove the seeds and veins.
4. The stuffing. Before you start cooking, complete all the initial peeling, coring & chopping of the stuffing ingredients (put the fruit in a little sprite to prevent browning, though a little oxidizing of the apples and pears won’t spoil the appearance of the dish.)
Into the meat, stir in the raisins, candied fruit, pear, apple, peach, the tomato, herbs and cinnamon. Mix well, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet and simmer until the apple and pear are tender (but not mushy) and the flavors are blended, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, usually a generous teaspoon.
While the meat mixture is simmering, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium-small skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds and fry, stirring nearly constantly, until they are a deep golden color, about 3 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon and cool. Add the diced plantain to the skillet and stir it frequently until nicely browned and sweet, 3 or 4 minutes. Add to the meat mixture along with the almonds. Remove the filling from the heat and let cool uncovered. (There will be about 6 cups).
5. Stuffing the chiles. Stuff the chiles with cooled filling, packing it in well and re-forming them in their original shape. Place on a baking sheet and cover with foil.
6. Completing the sauce. Within a couple of hours of serving, prepare the sauce. Put the peeled walnuts into a blender jar along with 1 cup of milk (from soaking the walnuts), the bread, sugar, salt, brandyand spices. Blend until a drop of the puree no longer feels gritty when rubbed between your fingers (this will be more successful with the mature-green walnuts); if the mixture should clog in the machine or if only the mixture at the bottom is moving through the blades, add more milk a little at a time, until all the mixture is moving through the blades again. Finally add the cream and blend for just a few seconds; add additional milk if necessary to achieve a medium consistency. Taste for salt and sugar; the sauce should have a slightly sweet edge with just enough salt to bring up the flavor of the walnuts. Set aside at room temperature.
7. Finishing the dish. Half an hour before serving, place the chiles in a 250-degree oven to heat through. Break the pomegranate apart under water, pick out all the seeds and place them in a small dish.
When you are ready to serve, add a little cream to the sauce if it is thicker than a medium-consistency custard sauce. Place 1 or 2 chiles (depending on how you have chosen to serve them) on each warm dinner plate. Spoon the room-temperature sauce over the warm chiles, generously covering them half away from the stem. Sprinkle the sauce generously with the pomegranate seeds, garnish with the parsley, and serve at once. Or, you can serve them traditionally on a round plate with the chiles in a circle.
Timing and advance preparation: Start a day or so ahead, peeling the walnuts (allow 1 1/2 to 2 hours); they will keep for a couple days in the refrigerator tightly wrapped. Finishing the dish will require a little less than 2 hours. The chiles may be prepared and the stuffing made a couple of days in advance; store them separately, covered and refrigerated. Complete Steps 5 through 7 shortly before serving; the sauce can gray if prepared too far ahead.