Can someone give me a quick 101 on Mexican cuisine? Do these New Mexico chile rellenos represent another school of Mexican cooking?
Some notes from a gringo relleno lover from Colorado. Rellenos are usually the staple I use to gage quality of Mex-fare in any place that serves them. I have tried them in probably 30-50 different restaurants in the Denver area alone. Not all restaurants bother including them on the menu, partly - I suspect - due to the relative difficulty in making them well. There are only 2 of those 30-50 restaurants where I would order them again (and again, and again...)
Rellenos are generally stuffed with cheese, but some places will also stuff with chicken, shredded beef, etc. Rellenos can be made with any kind of chile, but hatch and Anaheims seem to be the most common. The chiles have to be physically intact and of top quality for the relleno to be worth a damn, further complicating the process. Fresh roasted peppers make all the difference in the world; to me there is no dish that so showcases the pepper itself than a relleno. You cannot just pop open a can of random peppers and start cooking. Never had them with Pasillas but would love to try them, Goner!
In being dragged kicking & screaming into a Chevy's once I discovered they serve rellenos made with poblanos; they were just as bad as I'd imagined. I have once made rellenos myself with a handful of largish jalapenos, and somewhere a fool had probably tried making one with a habenaro (but certainly not two of them). A serrano would be a tough fit. Once in Cincinnati I had one made with a bell pepper, further reinforcing my longstanding opinion that there is no Mexican food worthy of note east of the Mississippi (except maybe the Mex Village in Detroit).
There seem to be 2 major schools of thought w/ regard to relleno preparation: the soft and the crispy. Opinions vary (and are like what?) as to which is better, but most acknowledge that soft is more "authentic" if one can use so strong a term here. Soft, when done right, are generally just battered in egg whites with enough flour to give some lumpy consistency, then pan-fried in pretty damn hot oil (or lard). Crispy are all over the map: I have sampled and loathed the corn-dog variation, the won-ton, the fish-&-chips batter, even a deep-fried chimichanga-style wrapped in tortilla. To me, the heavier the batter, the worse the relleno, but light batter will not salvage a bad chile.
And you can't have a good relleno w/o the proper accompaniments. Mine are always smothered in green chile - chili verde - and while a good green chili cannot correct the potential shortfalls in relleno, it can at least give you something interesting to munch on instead. Throw that on a plate w/ some beans, rice, a couple fresh tortillas and optional guac, lettuce, tomato, pico de gallo, Negra Modelo, etc. and you have a pretty substantial meal.
Sorry to be long-winded & somewhat evangelical. This is religion to me. Off to lunch!