As fall begins to kick in each year, millions of Americans across the country are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. We rang in the occasion with a special guest, Thomas Schnetz, chef, and co-owner of Doña Tomás, Flora, Xolo, and Fauna in Oakland, and Tacubaya in Berkeley, who stopped by our office to show us Mexican-style stuffed chiles done right.
Behind the stove at the Williams-Sonoma test kitchen, chef Schnetz walked us through the art of making chiles rellenos (stuffed poblano chiles) by making a special version, chiles rellenos en nogada. The vegetarian entree is a showstopper, so much that his restaurant Doña Tomás sells around 50 orders of it a day. In fact, he also serves the dish every holiday.
“Chiles rellenos en nogada is a kind of chile relleno for around the holidays, with a walnut sauce, picadillo filling, and pomegranates on top,” he explained. “It’s nice for Christmas Eve, because you can make it a day before, then throw it in the oven when you’re ready to eat.”
Schnetz, who is half-German, half-Mexican, pointed out that his chiles rellenos recipe is a flexible one that’s compatible with many seasonal vegetables. While this version calls for butternut squash, in the summer, he prefers to replace it with fresh corn instead. One word of advice: when preparing the vegetable stuffing, remember to allow the butternut squash mixture to cool before folding in the goat cheese, so the cheese doesn’t melt prematurely.
Chiles Rellenos en Nogada
6 poblano chiles
5 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 cups peeled and diced butternut squash (cut into 3/4-inch/2 cm cubes)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 lb. (500 g) cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 Tbs. fresh chopped thyme
1/2 cup (2 oz./60 g) shredded Monterey jack cheese
1/2 cup (2 oz./60 g) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled
6 tomatillos, peeled and rinsed
1 dried guajillo chile
1/2 white onion, coarsely chopped
Handful of fresh cilantro leaves
Sour cream for serving
Working with 1 chile at a time, using tongs, hold a chile over the flame of a gas burner, turning it as needed, until charred on all sides. Repeat with the remaining chiles. Alternatively, preheat the broiler, place the chiles on a baking sheet and broil, turning as needed, until blackened on all sides. Place the chiles in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool. Once the chiles are cool enough to handle, gently peel off charred skin, slice open the chiles on one side and carefully remove the seeds and membrane. Set the chiles aside.
In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt 2 Tbs. of the butter. Add the butternut squash and a large pinch of salt. Sauté the squash until the tip of a knife can be easily inserted, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
In the same pan over medium-high heat, melt 1 Tbs. of the butter. Add the yellow onion and a pinch of salt and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the onions to the bowl with the butternut squash.
In the same pan over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 2 Tbs. butter. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to the bowl with butternut squash and onions. Let the mixture to cool to room temperature.
When ready to stuff the chiles, set up a stove-top steamer or preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C).
Add the thyme and cheeses to the butternut squash mixture and stir to combine. Stuff 1/4 cup of the mixture inside each roasted chile. Place the chiles in the steamer or arrange on a baking sheet, the side with the slit facing up. Steam or bake until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.
While the chiles are cooking, make the sauce. In a large pot, combine the tomatillos, guajillo chile and white onion. Add water to cover and place over medium heat until the tomatillos have softened but not burst. Remove the heat and pour the mixture through the colander, reserving the solids and liquid separately.
Transfer the solids to a blender and add the cilantro. Puree the mixture until it forms a thick salsa, adding some of the reserved liquid as needed. Season to taste with salt.
To serve, place 3 to 4 Tbs. of the sauce in the center of a plate. Top with a chile relleno and a dollop of sour cream. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.
Recipe by Thomas Schnetz, chef/owner of Doña Tomás