9/10/12

Chiles en Nogada Redux



Each September Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain and its national pride during Fiestas Patrias, with lots of fireworks, mariachis, tequila, and, of course, chiles en nogada, Mexico’s most ‘patriotic’ dish.

A true mestizo food, the origins of this rich concoction are enshrouded in legend. The story goes that Agustín de Iturbide, 'emperor' of Mexico, arrived in Puebla on August 28th, 1821, having signed the Treaty of Córdoba affirming Mexico’s independence from Spain.  He was offered an elaborate comida in honor of his saint’s day, prepared by the nuns of the Convent of Santa Mónica. Don Agustín refused all the tempting platters offered him, fearful of being poisoned (either by the Spanish, who considered him a traitor, or the insurgents who suspected him of planning yet another monarchy; they were right). He feigned stomach trouble, but when the exquisite chile en nogada was served, he couldn’t resist. Records show that versions of this dish existed long before these events, but it’s a good story, and the dish has been associated with Mexico’s independence ever since (August and September also happen to be the months when the star ingredients, walnuts and pomegranates, are in season). Chef, culinary historian and restaurateur Ricardo Muñoz Zurita admonishes that nogada made with dried, packaged nuts, is “vastly inferior” and “should not be taken seriously”. Restaurants offering the dish year-round are automatically suspect.

Chile en nogada is a green poblano chili, filled with ground seasoned meat, bathed in cream and walnut sauce, then sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and parsley. The red, white, and green of the dish are the colors of the Mexican flag, symbolizing Las Tres Garantías (the three guarantees) of the Constitution: union, religion, and independence.

There are as many recipes for chile en nogada as there are cooks, and most Mexican families have a jealously guarded one. The controversy of whether to capear (fry in batter), or leave it natural is a perennial dilemma. For me, that extra turn in oil is gilding an already fattening lily, so all of the chiles en nogada mentioned in this article are sin capear. I’ve sampled many over the years – at the tables of Mexican friends, in humble market fondas, and at high end gastronomic temples, both here and abroad, and I’ve come to a conclusion: this classic dish should not be tampered with. A “deconstructed” version I once had at a trendy New York eatery, posed a naked chili atop its sauce instead of underneath, deeply offending my visiting Mexican friends.

It seems that all the best recipes come from somebody’s grandmother, but getting someone to share that carefully guarded secret is another matter. Regina Gómez Dantés, language teacher and native capitalina hosts an annual chiles en nogada party, continuing a tradition started by her mother in the 1950’s. She reluctantly agreed to share her mother’s recipe –only because I have known her for 20 years!



Los Chiles en Nogada de Doña María Esther Dantés Arce
serves eight
For the picadillo:
1 k. (2lb) tomatoes
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
4 slices bacon
4 slices Serrano ham
¼ k. (1/2lb) each ground beef and loin of pork
1 plantain
2 slices pineapple in syrup
1 slice biznaga (candied fruit)
100g (3.5oz) each chopped almond and pecan
50g (2oz) chopped black olives
30g (1TB) chopped capers
4 tart apples, peeled and chopped
2 pears, peeled and chopped
2 peaches, chopped
Olive oil
8 medium poblano chilies
Pomegranate seeds
Chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Nogada
1 package (1/2lb) Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1 cup whipping cream
½k (l lb) fresh nuez de castilla (walnuts)

Prepare the chilies: Roast over an open flame or under the broiler until the skin blackens, turning frequently – place in a paper bag for 20 minutes. Remove blackened skin by rubbing, but do not
run under water; it doesn’t matter if a little bit of skin is left.
Make the picadillo: Sauté the ingredients up to the meat in a little oil until well seasoned; add nuts and biznaga, and lastly the fresh fruit, diced to 1/4”. Season with salt and pepper.
Prepare the nogada: put all ingredients in the blender; add sugar to taste.
Stuff prepared chilies with meat filling, pour sauce over chilies and dot with pomegranate seeds and parsely. Serve with white rice, nothing else.

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If you don´t have the energy to make your own, many restaurants are offering chiles en nogada this month. The best we sampled were carefully and lovingly prepared, with attention paid to the creaminess of the sauce, the contrasting texture of the filling, and a delicate balance of sugar, spice and salt. So here are some of my favorite places to enjoy that rare combination of pleasure and patriotism, chiles en nogada.

Fonda Mi Lupita
Buen tono 22, at Delicias, near the San Juan market, Centro histórico
Tel. 5521-1962
Open Monday-Saturday 1pm-6 pm

Excellent, perhaps the best chiles en nogada (and, at 80 pesos, the cheapest) are only occasionally served in this funky hole-in-the-wall fonda, best known for its mole poblano. Prepared with attention to detail, the picadillo is chock full of fruit, spiced with cinnamon, clove and nutmeg; the meat is hand chopped, not machine ground, making for a more rustic texture. The nogada, thick and creamy (and not sparing of the expensive walnuts), is fragrant with cinnamon. The waitress explained that the recipe came from the grandmother of the owner, Don Rosendo. Four Star.

La Ki-K (formerly La Fonda de Don José)
Fernando Montes de Oca 42, corner of Atlixco, Condesa
Tel. 5211-9564
Open Sunday-Tuesday 9AM-6PM, Wednesday-Saturday 9AM- 11PM

This pleasant, unpretentious Condesa eatery features a sidewalk terrace and an extensive menu of Mexican and international dishes. Chef Federico Ramirez, son of the original owner, explained that his recipe for chiles en nogada comes from his maternal grandmother, Doña Simona Cantú – no surprise. The meat here is shredded, flavorful, and a bit picante; the nogada is only slightly sweet--a blue ribbon example.

Izote
513 Mazaryk, Polanco
Tel: 5280-1671
Open Monday-Saturday 1pm-1am, Sunday 1pm-6pm

A friend’s mother thinks Patricia Quintana’s version is the best in town, so I had to check it out—I always listen to mothers about food. Izote is one of the best-known restaurants in Mexico, and chef Quintana has a high reputation for her refined classic Mexican dishes. She does not disappoint with her chile en nogada. The flavors are well balanced (if a bit milder than those mentioned above) and beautifully presented, but at $350 pesos (“is that for one or two?”) is outrageously over-priced.

El Cardenal
Three locations:
Palma 23, (between 5 de Mayo & Madrero) centro

Juárez 70 (inside the Sheraton, facing the Alameda)

Paseo de las Palmas 215 (Colonia Lomas de Chaputepec)

This 60 year old highly successful institution had languished for years in its dusty original location like a Chekovian widow until someone decided to re-fashion it as a purveyor of Nueva Cocina Mexicana - something it does with mixed success. I Always eat something good here, however, and return from time to time; I still prefer the now spruced up original location on Palma. And the chiles en nogada we sampled recently were superior.

Sanborn’s (La Casa de Los Azulejos)
Calle Madero 4 corner of Eje Central, Centro
Tel: 5512-1331
www.sanborns.com.mx
Open daily 7am–1am

Everybody in Mexico knows this venerable institution with its branches all over the country. It’s the old standby for a late-night bowl of soup or the ‘clean’ breakfast for your visiting relatives, but not generally recognized as a culinary Mecca. I thought I’d see how a chain, the oldest in the country, might do this classic dish. I went to the source, the original 18th century Casa de Azulejos in the Centro, to sample the fare. Predictably, Sanborn’s version is less carefully fashioned: the chile was undercooked, the filling bland and the sauce runny. But, not bad for corporate cooking, and for $115 pesos you also get a soup, salad, dessert and drink, all traditional Mexican recipes and all very good. Goes to prove that even our institutions still produce 'real food'.

Text and Photos © 2009/2012 Nicholas Gilman - all rights reserved

11 comments:

  1. I love a good chile en nogada.

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  2. I would greatly prefer a chile en nogada if the creamy sauce were held to an absolute mininum, and the platillo were served hot, not lukewarm or room temperature.

    But then, it wouldn't be a traditional C en N, would it?

    Looks like I'll just pass on this dish once again.

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

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  3. I just had a chile en nogada at Azul y Oro at UNAM, and it was fabulous! They offered it three ways -- with the nogada "salada," or savory; with sweet nogada, or half and half. I got the half-and-half version, and the presentation was impressive. They let me choose a chile from a baking sheet, then spooned the first sauce, and the second, careful not to let them overlap. Then waitress sprinkled on the pomegranate seeds and finished with a "Provecho!" I felt like I was participating in something storied and special. I highly recommend the experience there!

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  4. Hey, I've tried a lot of places for Chiles en Nogada...even the one in Azul y Oro (UNAM), which I personaly didn't like at all... one of the worst i've tried actually.
    My personal favorite is the one served at "LOS GIRASOLES" restaurant al Polanco... absolutely AMAZING
    The nogada sauce es orgasmic...truly!

    Cheers,
    A.M.

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  5. I was looking for a good chiles en Nogada recipe on google today and happily found your post. I love the hand written original recipe that's included.thanks,
    Kathy

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  6. Dear Nick,

    Have read your article on Chiles en Nogada with great interest. As you know, after 20 years living in Mexico, the topic Chiles en Nogada arises fervorous discussions and disputes; I have no intent of doing so now, but would like however to make two points :
    1.- About the recipe : The Nogada sauce (at least according to the traditonal recipe is made out of Goat Cheese -instead of Philadelfia Cheese- battered and linked with Jerez (cherry liquor) and of course white peeled nuts.

    2.- About the best Chiles en Nogada Venues : Not a restaurant, but Chiles en Nogada to take; one of the finest Chiles en Nogada Kitchens is perhaps that of the Clarisas Convent (Convento de Tecamachalco). Throughout the season (september and october), Clarisas Nuns may take your order at phone 5589 1968, price is about $100 to $120 per chile. Chiles are not battered, served cool and the Nogada is genuinely made with goat cheese and cherry liquor. Should you want to try those Chiles cooked by the Clarisses Nun's tell them upon your phone request, that you have been recommended by Mrs. Quesada (my mother who is a regular customer). The trip to Tecamachalco is worth.

    For those interested in the genuine traditional mexican cuisine, I recommend to look after the excellent facsimilar edition of the "Nuevo Cocinero Mexicano" edited by Miguel Ángel Porrúa, México 1986 after the original edition of Edición Príncipe País-México de Charles Bouret, 1888, originaly decorated with the gravures ot the same edition Príncipe París-México, Librería de Charles Bouret, 1888.

    Here is a pitoresque extract of one of the nogada preparation recipes (that you wil enjoy translating) : "...La salsa se hace moliendo nueces frescas bien limpias y despellejadas, agregándoles un poco de pimienta y un poco de pan remojado en vinagre; después de bien molido todo, se sazona con vinagre bueno, echándole después sal fina y aceite de comer, dejándose el caldillo bien espeso.
    Se advierte que la nogada se pone negra echándole la sal con mucha anticipación à servirse, por lo que será bueno sazonarla casi al levarla à la mesa..."

    Saludos,

    Salvador.

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  7. Well, I am a gringo who has eaten and concocted C en N while in Mexico; some recipes are divine and others trey ordinaire for sure. My own recipe was deemed 'sublime' whether eaten cold or hot. I like the idea of cherry liquor, especially if with chicken breast. There is a post-proletariate [East] German restaurant [Walzwerk] in San Francisco, CA which serves up a chicken breast with a cherry cream sauce which is reminiscent of a C en N minus any picante-ness. It is really delicious.

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  8. The Chiles en nogada at El Mexicano on Regina st. are terrific! Almost as good as my mom's and my grandma's.

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  9. Two recommendatios, Paris 16, Reforma 368 only Fridays, and Las Cazuelas de la Abuela, Centro Comercial San Jerónimo

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  10. A belated comment vis a vis the 'queso Filadefia' issue. I'm not fan of cream cheese either (other than on a bagel, and certainly not in sushi) , but this is someone's MOTHER'S recipe, and we can't argue with it. And I've eaten it on more than one occasion, and it's GOOD!

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