Taste of Mexico: Poblano Chili Cream Sauce
Growing up in California I got an early introduction to Mexican Cuisine. My first introduction to Mexican food came from Mom, but was by no means authentic. We all loved Mom’s tacos despite the fact her secret ingredients were McCormick’s spice mix and store-bought crispy taco shells. At some point, she fried fresh tortillas and that is when her tacos were really delicious. Regardless as to how bastardized her tacos were, they caught my attention to learn more. If I’m truly honest, my love for Mexican food really generated from my love for avocados.
As I acquired more experience in the kitchen, it became clearer just how complex and exquisite Mexican cuisine is. All one has to do is analyze a mole sauce to understand the intricacies of this delicious cuisine. The ability to balance and blend layers of spices, nuts, seeds, chilies and cocoa to taste as a single sensation, requires a lot of time, nuance and skill. Mole sauce is the shining star, not one specific ingredient. Bravo Mothers and Sisters of Mexico, I tip my hat.
Years ago, I gave myself the challenge to study and learn how to cook Mexican Cuisine. However, after reading the book and seeing the movie, Like Water for Chocolate (one of my favorites), it occurred to me how much effort is involved preparing Mexican cuisine. As much as I love to cook, the prospect of spending my whole day doing it, lost its appeal. Since then, I felt the weight of this daunting task, so I am taking baby steps.
Several years ago, I started cooking with fresh chili peppers. Either fresh or roasted, green chili peppers have a bright flavor that reminds you of summer even on a blustery cold winter day. I love cooking with fresh chilies, especially in White Chicken Chili. The recipe may have its origin in the US, but it uses techniques found in Mexican cuisine to make the most of the chili flavor. I love the bright, grassy-pepper taste.
Recently, I was looking for a recipe to share that was not too complicated to make. Several of my Mexican food recipes require extensive preparation and multiple recipes to pull it off. Luckily, I made a discovery of a creamy poblano chili sauce. This is a recipe that will give you honest Mexican cuisine flavor without having to spend all day making it. I’ve read, poblano cream sauce originates from an “essential” Mexican food foundation, Poblano Rajas. Rajas means slices in Spanish, and this fundamental dish is composed of slices of roasted poblanos and white onions.
This recipe is from, More Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. Rick Bayless has done a lot to educate Americans about the qualities of Mexican food. From the first time I watched his PBS TV show, it was apparent how much he loves Mexican cuisine and respects the culture and people. Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy and Alex Stupak are my current go to references for learning about Mexican food.
My review of Tacos by Alex Stupak
What I love about Poblano Rajas and turning it into a creamy sauce is how easily it fits into modern cuisine and everyday life. Turning vegetables into a silky sauce is a brilliant idea. Roasted poblano chili sautéed with onions and puréed with Crema Mexicana, or crème fraîche, makes a delicious and luxurious sauce without being too rich or heavy. Despite smoke from roasting the poblanos, it is a bright tasting sauce. The poblanos come through distinctly. A perfect accompaniment to spoon over chicken. It’s tempting to add more herbs, like cilantro, but that would mask the poblano chili flavor. For this recipe, less is more.
Three ways to roast a Poblano Chili
The best tasting method is to roast poblano chilies over an open fire on a grill. Place the chilies on the grill and turn them over every few minutes. The goal is to get an even all over char without over cooking the peppers.
Another method is to place a poblano chili directly on a burner of a gas stove. Turn the pepper with tongs, as you would on the grill, to evenly char and blister the poblano on all sides. This method creates a good char like you get from a grill, but you can only roast one pepper at a time.
The third method, is to place the poblano chilies on a sheet pan and roast them under a broiler. The only drawback is, it takes a little longer to get a good even blister around the chilies and can cook the peppers more than desired.
If you want to have great Mexican food without spending all day making it, then Poblano Chili Cream Sauce is a great way to start. This sauce dresses up any grilled meat or fish for a party or weeknight dinner. Next, I am going to try this sauce for breakfast with scrambled eggs and avocado toast. Something tells me I will not be disappointed.
I would love to hear the creative ways you serve Crema Poblano Rajas.
Taste of Mexico: Poblano Chili Cream Sauce with Grilled Chicken
Poblano Chili Cream Sauce
- 1 lb / 453 g fresh poblano chilies about 4 poblanos
- 2 Tbs vegetable oil
- 1 large white onion sliced 1/4 inch
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 3/4 cup / 185 ml creme fraiche or Crema Mexicana**
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts*
- 1/2 - 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 2 Tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- Juice from half a lime or lemon
- 1/2 tsp dried garlic or 2 fresh garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
Roast the Poblano chilies
Roast the poblano over an open flame of a grill or stove. Use tongs to turn the poblano peppers over so each side is evenly blistered and charred. You want a good sear over the peppers without over cooking them. The process will take around 5-7 minutes per pepper.
If a grill or gas stove is not available, turn your broiler to high. Place the poblanos on a sheet pan covered in aluminum foil and place under the broiler. Watch the peppers and turn them over to get an even char, about 10-15 minutes total.
Once the poblanos are blistered and blackened, remove from the flame or broiler and cover inside a bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Rest for 10 minutes or until cool.
Remove the skin from the poblanos by peeling it off with your fingers. The skin should easily peel where it was blistered. Remove the stem, core and seeds. If necessary, rinse the stubborn seeds away with running tap water, but only very briefly. You do not want to rinse away the delicious charred flavor.
Slice each pepper into 1/4 inch strips about two inches long. Set aside.
Prepare the chicken
Pound the chicken breast with a meat pounder, or the palm of your hand, to even out the thickness of each breast. Sprinkle each breast on both sides with Kosher salt and set aside.
Mix the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice and all the spices in a large bowl until evenly combined. Add the chicken to the marinade and mix with your hands to get an even coating over each chicken breast. Cover the bowl and set aside.
Make the Poblano Cream Sauce
Place a skillet on medium high heat and add the vegetable oil. Before the oil gets to the smoking point add the sliced onion and sauté until lightly browned with some crispiness. About 7 minutes. Stir the onions occasionally so they don't stick to the pan or get too brown in parts.
Add the minced garlic and oregano then stir. When the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute, stir in the poblano peppers and creme fraiche, or Crema Mexicana.
Cook and stir until the creme fraiche has thickened and evenly coating the vegetables. This should only take a few minutes.
Taste and add salt if needed.
Remove the vegetable mix from the skillet and place in a bowl of a food processor, blender, or high sided bowl if using an immersion blender. Blend the creamy poblano and onions until it becomes a silky-smooth sauce. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, to thin out the sauce if needed.
Once smooth, add the creamy sauce back into the skillet and turn the heat to low. Adjust the seasoning and add water, or creme fraiche, or stock to reach your desired thickness. The water will not dilute the flavor, but in makes it very bright and clean tasting. Add any liquid you are using in small increments to make sure you do not water it down. This sauce has some body to it and not runny.
Grill the Chicken
Heat up a stove top grill pan or outdoor grill. Add the chicken to the pan (or grill) and cook for around 10 - 15 minutes depending on how thick your chicken pieces are and how hot your grill is. For a cross-hatch pattern, place the chicken on the grill at an angle over the rack or pan. After about 2-3 minutes, adjust the chicken at the opposite angle. Cook for 3 more minutes. Turn the chicken over and repeat on the other side. The chicken is done with the juices run clear out of the holes made with a fork. No pink colored meat. You should also feel no resistance from the chicken as the fork goes through the meat.
Putting it all together
Plate the chicken and spread the Poblano cream sauce across the middle of each piece. Pour additional sauce in a container to serve at the table.
Recipe NotesBoneless, skinless chicken thighs will work well. Crema Mexicana is similar to creme fraiche. Sour cream is also a good substitute, but should be thinned with a little heavy cream. To make your own Crema Mexicana heat 2 cups of heavy cream until warm. Do not boil. Pour the cream into an airtight container, like a ball jar with lid, and stir in 1/4 cup buttermilk. Seal the jar and let it steep for 48 hours. You can use after the first 48 hours of fermenting. Store the Crema Mexicana sealed in the refrigerator up to about three weeks. If using as a condiment, like for tacos, allow the crema to come to room temperature before serving. Crema Mexican recipe is from Tacos by Alex Stupek
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