I love the gastronomic adventure of living in Germany, but as I may have mentioned, there are a few tastes of home that I really miss. I can generally find jalapeños and serranos, but poblano chiles are something of a rarity. Fortunately, there are several of us who look out for each other: whenever one of us spots poblanos, that triggers the alert. One day a while back, I went with Deana and Gariann on a Saturday outing and the topic of poblanos came up. That very week, Deana saw some and bought enough for all three of us. Last time, I saw them first and called Gariann from the produce aisle. Deana was on vacation, but Gariann passed the message on to Pat, who was tied up and wouldn’t make it to the store for at least four hours. Knowing the poblanos are a hot commodity around here, Gariann went and bought her own plus a dozen for Pat. Did I mention poblanos run around $6-7 a pound here? So yeah, we pay a couple of dollars each for them….the first time I kind of winced as I bought $20 worth, but I decided since I don’t think twice about an occasional 0.2 liter glass of soda that costs three euro (yep, $4.00+ for less than seven ounces), two dollars a pop for poblanos is all relative and ultimately reasonable for treat.
Well, it’s poblano feast time around here. Some of my chiles were roasted and frozen for future use, and I have three recipes to share – two are super-easy and the other one is well worth the effort.
The first step is to char the skin and then quickly steam the chiles by wrapping tightly so the blistered skin will peel right off. I generally cut a slit in the poblano and cut away the seed clump before charring, but it is also fine to do it when you are peeling. I have the best luck charring over a hot (450 F.) gas grill – turn every couple of minutes to char evenly and they’ll be done in no time. Then put them on a plate, cover tightly with foil, and let them sit for about 15 minutes before pulling the skin off with your fingers. I also know people who hold individual poblanos with long tongs over a gas stove burner. If neither of those options is possible, you can char the peppers by turning frequently in a hot frying pan or put them a few inches from a hot broiler and keep a close eye on them.
To freeze the poblanos, you can put them on a plastic-lined tray in the freezer and then transfer to a freezer bag after they are frozen, or you can first cut the chiles into strips, which are called rajas (rrah’-hahss) in Spanish. To use in recipes, thaw the chiles at room temperature for an hour or so.
The first recipe doesn’t really have a name. I guess we’ll call it…
Poblano Potato Cakes
- 2 medium baked potatoes, cooled and peeled
- 2 poblanos, stems, seeds, and skins removed (char and steam as described above), cut into narrow strips
- Salt, pepper, and Mexican seasoning to taste (I use Don Enrico brand Pico de Gallo seasoning mix)
- 2 tablespoons potato flour (or substitute all-purpose flour)
- 1 egg, beaten
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- Corn oil or other vegetable oil for frying
Use a coarse grater to grate the potatoes onto a plate. Stir in the poblano strips and season to taste. Sprinkle on the potato flour and mix lightly with a fork to combine (I believe potato flour is the same as potato starch – in German grocery stores it is labeled Kartoffel Mehl and it is used for potato dumplings).
Spread half the bread crumbs out on another plate or cutting board; heat a thin layer of oil in a frying pan (use a pan that is at least as big as the plate full of potatoes). Pour the beaten egg over the potatoes and mix with a fork to combine. Divide the mixture into four portions and press together into patties. Lift the patties with a pancake turner onto the crumbs, then sprinkle the rest of the crumbs on top and press them in.
Fry the potato cakes until golden brown, turning once. Serve plain or with your favorite topping (I like crème fraiche mixed with Tapatio hot sauce). The quantity given will make four side servings, or you could eat two of the potato cakes with a salad and call it a meal.
Next up, we have a nice easy and satisfying pasta dish. It’s great when you want to take something for a potluck that is OK microwaved to reheat, and it also hits the spot whenever some cozy comfort food is in order. This pasta dish could best be described as “rajas con crema meets mac and cheese.” I’ve made it with a couple of different kinds of sturdy pastas: fregola sarda, which is solid little nuggets of pasta, is really good, and this time I used casarecce – I liked how it held the sauce, and the shape seemed to go well with the chile strips. Macaroni or rigatoni would be fine but leave it a bit chewy so it has some substance.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 ¼ cup milk
- Good melty cheese, quantity to taste (I used three thick sandwich-size slices of gouda – munster or gruyere would also be good)
- ½ teaspoon salt (maybe more, depending on the cheese)
- 2 poblanos, seeded, peeled, and sliced (see instructions above, before the recipes)
- 8 ounces pasta cooked al dente
- ¼ cup crème fraiche, if desired
Cook the flour for a few minutes in the butter, then stir in the milk and whisk over medium heat until it starts to thicken. Add the cheese and salt and whisk until melted and smooth. Stir in the chile strips and pasta and crème fraiche if you are using it. You can serve the pasta straight from the pan or turn it into a baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes at 350 (it might need a little more milk if you do that).
The last recipe needs a little background. Not long ago, Gariann had a milestone birthday, and she and her husband had a Thai cooking party to celebrate the occasion. Well, two of the guests were the afore-mentioned Pat and her partner Sue, Thai cooks extraordinaire. And guess what Pat, Sue, and Gariann taught us how to make? Thai scotch eggs – yes, really! I’d never heard of them before, but I guess they are really a thing. And let me tell you, they were delicious! You start with boiled eggs and wrap them with a red curry-spiked ground pork mixture, then roll them in panko crumbs and chopped peanuts, and they are deep fried and served with a coconut milk-peanut sauce. Well, I’ve gotten into traditional Scottish fare since our Christmas trip to Edinburgh, and after the Thai party, I got to thinking about other possible variations, and not surprisingly my thoughts turned to a Mexican influence. And that, my friends, is how I came up with….
Poblano Scotch Eggs
- 4 eggs
- 2 poblano chiles, seeds, stems, and skins removed; cut each chile in half lengthwise
- 1 pound ground pork (use unseasoned meat, not sausage)
- 1-2 tablespoons Tapatio bottled hot sauce (or your favorite brand)
- ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- a generous bunch of cilantro, chopped
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 cup dry bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- ¼ – ½ cup finely chopped peanuts or pistachios, if desired
Cook the eggs to the desired degree of doneness – for hard-cooked eggs, put them in a pan of cold salted water and bring to a boil; as soon as the water starts to boil, take the pan off the heat and cover. After 9 minutes, drain the hot water and fill the pan with cold water. Peel by gently cracking all over; it is easier if you can find the little hollow spot on the big end of the egg and work your finger under the thin membrane that surrounds the egg. Soft-cooked eggs are harder to handle, so use extra care if you like them that way.
Once the eggs are peeled, wrap each one in a long strip of poblano and secure with a toothpick. Combine all the seasonings with the pork, then mix in about half of the beaten egg. I started out with a tablespoon of Tapatio and a half teaspoon of cayenne, and then I took about a teaspoonful of the mixture and cooked it in a pan so I could taste the spice level. We like our spicy food to have a kick, so I bumped up the heat with more Tapatio and cayenne – if you like a milder spice, start out with less seasoning and cook a little bit so you can taste test and adjust accordingly. My poblanos were very mild, but if you have hotter ones you might want to cut down a little in what you add to the meat.
To cover the poblano-wrapped eggs with the pork mixture, divide the pork into four portions and pat each one out on a square of wax paper or parchment paper. Think of an interrupted Mollweide map projection as you are patting the meat out, but you don’t need to worry about exact precision. Place an egg on the meat and use the parchment to bring the meat all around the egg and press it together, then repeat with the other eggs and you will end up with four softball-sized meatballs. If you are making one of these Mexican scotch eggs for someone who doesn’t like poblanos, simply skip the chile-wrapped-around-the-egg step (as I did in the photo below).
Put the bread crumbs on a plate and drizzle with melted butter, mixing to blend evenly. Beat the tablespoon of milk into the remaining half of the beaten egg – you’ll coat the meatballs with the egg, and it is easiest to do if you have a small round deep bowl (like the one in the photo, an ice cream dish from Ikea). After you dip the meatballs in the egg mixture, roll them in the crumbs and then, if desired, in the chopped nuts, pressing the crumbs and nuts into the meat.
Now here’s the easy part – instead of deep-frying, I baked the meat-covered eggs on a rack at 375 F for about 45 minutes. The little bit of butter in the crumbs gave me a nice crunchy crust without the mess of frying, and it also is more economical since it takes quite a bit of oil to have it deep enough to do the job.
I didn’t try the microwave for leftovers, but reheating in the oven (uncovered) gave very good results. One of these eggs makes a very generous serving, so depending on the rest of the menu you might go with half an egg per person. These are really good with a spicy tomato or tomatillo salsa, rice, a simple roasted winter squash, and a crisp green salad. Mexican scotch eggs are fun to make with people, so get a few friends together and try something new and delicious.