The word poblano is the adjective to describe a person or thing that comes from Puebla, a state in Mexcio. Like a Candian comes from Canada, a Poblano (or Poblana) comes from the state of Puebla. So that’s how this pepper gets its name—it’s from Puebla.
Characteristics of the Poblano
The poblano is a very dark green to almost black in color and about three to six inches in length. In terms of spiciness, the poblano is flavorful, but mild. It gets a Scoville rating between 1,000 and 2,000 units. Which is to say it’s a little warmer than a pimento pepper, but milder than a jalapeño. In dried form the color is significantly darker and it is known as “chile ancho”
Using The Poblano
Chiles Rellenos. This is just the Spanish phrase for “stuffed peppers.” Except instead of the traditional bell peppers, they use the poblano. These durable peppers are perfect for filling. And you can stuff them with all kinds of fun things like meat, fruit (yes, really), and cheese. When you see “chiles rellenos” on a menu, it is usually referring to poblanos filled with various cheeses. Some cooks then go on to coat the pepper in an egg batter and deep fry it. I think the frying is gratuitous and rather than boring white cheeses like mozzarella or queso blanco, I prefer it with a mixture of fine white cheeses like chevre. Add a nice Mexican white wine like La Cetta Cenin Blanc, which happens to pair marvelously with slightly spicy, non-meat dishes. I ordered it on a whim and was more than pleasantly surprised.
Chiles in Nogada. This iconic Mexican dish really deserves its own post. Here’s a picture. Note the colors—green (the poblano), white (walnut sauce), and red (pomegranate seeds)—to represent the Mexican flag. Stay tuned.
My Own Experiment
To put the poblano pepper into practice, I tried out this recipe (below) that initially I thought was little more than just plain goofy. But then I tasted it and loved the fiesta of flavors. For a vegetable side dish (or warm salad, as Kennedy calls it) that’s a little off the beaten track, you might give this a try. It’s also a great way to put some of that bumper zucchini crop to good Mexican use.
Chiles Rellenos Con Calabacitas
(Chiles Stuffed With Zucchini)
Adapted from The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy
2.5 T Olive oil
2/3 C. Finely chopped onion (yellow or white)
2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
1.5 lbs. Summer squash (green or yellow zucchini, Mexican zucchini, or patty pan squash) trimmed and cut into ¼” cubes
Salt to taste
½ t Mexican oregano (Don’t fudge this one. Go to Penzeys and get the $2 bag of authentic Mexican oregano)
4 T White wine vinegar
1 T Fresh lime juice
2 T Good quality, fruity olive oil
4 oz. Queso fresco
6 Medium poblano chiles, peeled and cleaned and ready for stuffing
1 T butter
Shredded romaine lettuce, sliced radishes and/or halved cherry tomatoes
I’m not going to lie: this recipe is going to take a little bit of labor, especially if you haven’t done a lot of Mexican cooking, but it is completely doable. And once in a while we really need to flex those culinary muscles. I recommend doing it in parts.
Start with the poblanos. Wash and dry and set them on a cutting board. Pull the grate off of your gas burner and fire it up to high. Taking a long tongs or meat fork, you’re going to roast that pepper until it is evenly charred and blistered all around. Make sure you get the whole thing or the shin isn’t going to want to come off. This is going to take a little time so you might want to put some music on.
As soon as the pepper is charred, you are going to stick it into a large, heavy duty Ziploc bag for at least ten minutes so it can ‘sweat.’ You don’t need to seal the bag, just fold it over. Load up your next pepper. Repeat the process until you’ve roasted all of the peppers.
The peppers can sit in the bag as long as you need them to while you go on to do other things. I recommend doing them in the morning.
When they have cooled, take one out of the bag and lay it on a cutting board. Using a large knife, scrape off the skin. Set the pepper aside and repeat the process. Leave the stem in tact, just get the skin off.
Then take one of the peeled peppers, and this part is a little tricky, so pay attention: whatever you do, don’t take off the stem! The top part will stay where it is. But you will make a slit along the length of the pepper and kind of get in there to get the seeds out. You can use the knife to cut the seeds away from the stem, just don’t cut the stem. A spoon can help pull the seeds out.
Okay, the hardest part is over. Throw those guys in a tupper and let’s get going on the filling.
Put 1 ½ T oil in a large skillet and heat. Add 2 T chopped onion and 1 chopped garlic clove. Fry for about 2 minutes without browning.
Add zucchini and salt and cover the pan. Allow it to cook until just done (about 8-10 minutes).
Transfer to a heat safe bowl. Add the rest of the onion and garlic, oregano, vinegar, lime juice, olive oil and cheese to the zucchini mixture while it is still warm.
Stuff the chiles so they are filled, but not overflowing. Close them with 2-3 toothpicks.
Heat the butter and 1T oil in the skillet and then fry the peppers until they are browned on each side. Be careful when you turn them that the filling doesn’t spill out. Just be gentle and it will be okay. Use a spatula and a tongs together for best results.
Then place the pepper on a bed of shredded lettuce, tomato, and/or radish. Serve hot or room temperature.
To Learn More
When I was recently in Mexico I decided it was time to really start to get my head around Mexican cuisine. So I set out to find the cookbook that would help make that happen. I purchased Diana Kennedy’s The Essential Cuisines of Mexico. This cookbook is a compilation of three of Kennedy’s earlier works. It is definitely a good place to start.
If you’re beyond the starter manuals, check out Kennedy’s Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy. I happened to page through this in a museum bookstore in Oaxaca and if I had been able to squeeze the big honker into my suitcase, I would have. Cookbook-slash-coffee-table-book-slash-food-porn, it’s a real marvel.