Searching for a perfect chile relleno

By Helene Rodriguez

When I worked as a reporter and restaurant critic in Abilene, Texas, several years ago, I pledged to find the perfect chile relleno.

I searched high and low, from the taquerias in the city’s northside barrios to the chain restaurants on the city’s southside mall strip, but to no avail. I quickly realized I was not only looking in the wrong places, but in the wrong state.

Nothing matches up to the green chile of our enchanted Nuevo Mejico, a state where our official state co-vegetable is the chile, sharing this honor only with the pinto bean. Not only that, but here in New Mexico, our official state question, and I am not making this up, is “Red or green?” Our official state tool is the chile roaster. Our official state symbol is the chile ristra. And our official state food is none other than the chile relleno.

I tasted a few good chile rellenos in Abilene, some stuffed with meat, some stuffed with cheese, onions, celery and other vegetables. But I never did find the perfect chile relleno.

There was one chile relleno I had that looked more like a giant overstuffed jalapeño. It was much too hot.

For the most part, though, most of the chile rellenos there were bland. They looked innocent. They resembled chile rellenos but they were just chile relleno wannabes dressed up in a sea of cheeses and sauces that could not save them. I didn’t get up the nerve to try the chile rellenos at one commercial restaurant called Ta’Molly’s. With a name like that, you can’t even expect to get a decent tamale.

I haven’t given up my search for the perfect chile relleno. There’s some pretty fiery competition in Clovis/Portales. Yes, we New Mexicans know our chile rellenos. Now there is one place trying to pass off a deep-fried burrito stuffed with green chile as a chile relleno.

Then there was that time when I worked for the Hobbs Daily News-Sun when our chief photographer made an unforgivable chile blunder.

This photographer, an Iowan by birth (he knew corn, not chile), took a photo of chile plants waiting to be picked. For the record, it was a good photo. But the caption underneath the photo read “This chile will be picked and later made into dishes such as chile rellenos.” The problem was that the chile in the photo was red. None of our editors caught that boo-boo. Our newspaper was immediately chastised by an alert reader who pointed out that chile rellenos are only made with green chile.

Duh!

These days, I’ve shifted my focus from finding the perfect chile relleno to trying to make the perfect chile relleno, and I’ve been doing that through trial and error. Last Monday, my sister Julie and I, with the help of my daughter, Laura, made chile rellenos. Julie recommended coating them with bread crumbs. Mom didn’t have bread crumbs, so we used corn meal, a big mistake. Needless to say, this was the worst batch of chile rellenos I’ve ever made.

Determined to get it right, I made more chile rellenos the next day, this time using the Italian seasoned bread crumbs Julie recommended. I also made one with flour. They both came out good, much better than the first batch, but still not restaurant quality.

I’ve been surfing the Internet for tips on how to make the perfect chile relleno. The first time we used whole eggs. Julie recommended using only egg whites, so I used only egg whites the second time, but I forgot to mix them.

Duh!

Next time, I think I’ll try separating the egg whites and yolks and then folding them together, unless any of you have any better suggestions.

In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to make the perfect chile relleno.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com