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What is Chile Relleno?

By Nick Doniger
Updated May 16, 2024
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The chile relleno is a type of stuffed pepper that is filled with cheese, battered, and fried. In Spanish, the word relleno translates to stuffed. Most chile rellenos are made with roasted poblano chiles and Monterrey Jack cheese, though some variations exist. A typical chile relleno recipe is relatively simple, requiring only peppers, cheese, batter, and frying oil. Sometimes, other ingredients are used to stuff the chiles, and various sauces and condiments may be served with the dish.

It is recommended that fresh chiles are used when preparing a chile relleno dish. Such chiles, however, must first be roasted, peeled, and cooled. After the seeds are scraped out, the peppers are ready to be stuffed. Canned whole chiles may be used if fresh ones are unavailable, though most chile relleno recipes recommend that the peppers are not too moist to avoid having them fall apart in the frying process.

Typically, Monterrey Jack cheese is used in chile rellenos, though this is not always the case. Some recipes may call for queso blanco, a white Mexican cheese, and modern variations may include cheddar. Cheese is stuffed into the hollowed out top of the peppers. It is considered important that the chiles are not over-stuffed.

The most commonly used chile relleno pepper is the poblano, or ancho chile. Anaheim chiles or pasilla chiles may be used as well. Poblanoes are perceived as best due to their large size, width, and thick skin. These aspects, along with their relative mildness on the Scoville heat scale, make them quite similar to bell peppers. Additionally, the thick skin makes them easy to roast.

Chile relleno recipes commonly require only a few different ingredients. All of these recipes will include peppers, cheese, and batter. A chile relleno batter may be prepared by simply whipping egg whites together with some salt and flour. Once the stuffed, chiles are dipped into this batter, they may be fried in hot oil until crisp. It is recommended that vegetable oil is used, as oils that are lighter in color and flavor tend to be optimal for deep frying. Though chile rellenos are traditionally fried, they may be baked as an alternative to lower their fat content.

Some variations exist among how chile rellenos are prepared or served. Occasionally, recipes may include beef, garlic, onion, and spices in the filling, in addition to whatever cheese is used. Chile rellenos may also be served with a wide array of condiments, such as red salsa, salsa verde (green salsa), or hot sauce. Most often, the dish is served with a Mexican-style tomato sauce or enchilada sauce.

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