Taste of Oaxaca – Relleno

Our third and last class with Pilar was all about relleno. In this class, we made two distinct types of tamales and two types of chile relleno. Because the tamales take a little while to cook, we started off with these. In Oaxaca, the most traditional form of tamales is chicken with mole negro, wrapped in a banana leaf. This is also called tamales de mole negro en hoja de plátano. If you thought you saw a little baggie of lard on the mise en place for this dish, you’d be correct. If access to lard is not easy or one has lard phobia, shortening would work as well. What was interesting about this was that the fat was whipped up until thick and fluffy, almost like whipped cream, before it was added in to the masa. In order to soften up the fresh banana leaves, they’re toasted over an open flame to get the cells to soften up so it’s flexible enough to fold up. To make the tamale, you spread a thin layer of the masa mixed with lard onto the banana leaf, while leaving a 0.5″ border. A layer of plastic on top of the masa makes it easy to flatten out and push around with your fingers without making a mess. Then put a small pile of shredded chicken in the middle, and spoon over some mole negro. Fold into thirds, by folding over the top and bottom edges over the filling. Fold into thirds again, lifting the left and right edges over the center. Tie up into a cute little package with a strip of corn husk, and steam for about 30 minutes.

The next tamale is more uncommon – it’s dulce, or sweet. Again, lard would typically be added to the masa here, but Pilar was flexible enough and substituted matequilla (butter) instead, which was also whipped up the same way as the lard. In addition, a bit of chicken stock and cinnamon was added to the masa for extra flavor. We used dried corn husks to fill with the masa, small diced piña (pineapple) and shavings of coco (coconut). Wrapping them up was quite simple – you just fold the husk in half, and roll it up by using the natural curl of the husk to form a little package. Tie up with a strand of corn husk, and it’s ready for the steamer. It can be served with toasted coconut shavings and a pineapple sauce on the side for dessert.

Our first chile relleno was called chiles de agua rellenos de frijol y quesoChiles de agua can be really hot or mildly hot – it really varies between chiles. They say it got its name from the amount of water one has to drink to put out the heat. The chiles are first put on a flame to blister the skin, then sweated in a covered vessel for a few minutes to make peeling the skin off easier. Then make an incision to remove the seeds, and then fill with the frijoles and top with a slice of cheese and epazote. Bake in an oven for about 10 minutes, or until heated through.

The second one was my favorite dish of the day, chiles pasilla oaxaqueño rellenos de picadillo. The pasilla oaxaqueño chile is only found in Oaxaca. I don’t remember the name of the fresh chile that it’s made from, but it’s dried and lightly smoked. The chiles were first toasted, then carefully cut open to remove the seeds while leaving the stem and the chile intact. They were then soaked in water until soft, then stuffed with a saute of shredded chicken, garlic, onion and tomato mixture with capers, olives, raisins, parsley, almonds, and other spices. Lightly roll in flour to get the egg batter to stick. The batter was simply eggs with the whisked yolks folded into the whites that were beaten to stiff peaks. Batter each chile separately and immediately place into the frying oil. Fry until crisp and golden, and retract onto a plate lined with paper to allow the excess oil to get sucked away. Serve warm.

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