Chef Roberto Santibanez’ Chilie Relleno with a Picadillo of Chicken, Capers, Olives and Almonds

Stuffed chiles, or chiles rellenos in Spanish , show evidence of the many cultures that showed up on the shores of Mexico. For example, through trade came the introduction of olives, capers, raisins and almonds, and gifted cooks applied them to indigenous Mexican ingredients such as chilies, tomatoes and herbs to become dishes that are now mainstays of the Mexican repetoire.
One of them, known as a picadillos, is highlighted in this recipes from chef Roberto Santibanez. Ground chicken and other luscious ingredients with hits of mint is stuffed into dried and hydrated chile anchos. (The recipe follows at the end of the post).

Chile anchos should be dried but still pliable, and are hydrated in a lovely hot bath of water, piloncillo (see the cones of sugar below), cinnamon and apple cider vinegar. Fruit vinegars are very popular in Mexico but where I live pineapple vinegar is not an option, so apple cider will be the most accessible.
I was blessed to meet and work with chef Santibanez during his tenure at Fonda San Miguel in Austin, Texas. Years later, we met again at New York’s Rosa Mexicano where as culinary director, he developed their menu giving it bold and elegant flourishes. Check out his cookbook, Rosa’s New Mexican Table for further evidence of his talents. Roberto Santibanez is now owner of Fonda in New York and has several new cookbooks on the stands, including the newest Tacos, Tortas and Tamales.
The picadillo, is a wonderful saute of  ground chicken, tomatoes, onion, garlic, olives, capers, cilantro, mint, parsley and almonds.
That’s stuffed into those hydrated chilie anchos.
Heated and served with a wonderful cilantro-flecked cream sauce, this dish is indicative of chef Santibanez’ style combining a bit of French technique with authentic Mexican flavours.
He suggests serving with the stuffed chiles with rice and black beans. (With all due respect, I substituted a fresh and crunchy salad for the black beans.(See also below).
Chilies Anchos Rellenos de Picadillos de Pollo
(printed by permission of Roberto Santibanez)
(Makes 8 to 10, depending on chilie size)
For the chicken
2 lb. of finely chopped or roughly ground chicken
6 oz. white onion, finely chopped ( 1 generous cup)
1 oz. garlic, peeled and minced ( 2 Tbsp.)
2 lb Roma tomatoes or good quality canned, finely diced ( 4 cups approx.)
1/2 c. mild olive oil
1/4 tsp. thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 c. raisins
1/4 c. cilantro leaves only, very firmly packed, finely chopped
1/4 c. parsley leaves, firmly packed, finely chopped
6 mint springs, leaves only, finely chopped
1/2 c. manzanilla olives, pitted, roughly chopped
1/4 c. capers, well rinsed
1/2 c. slivered almonds,
salt to taste
In a medium saucepan, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil and lightly fry the onion until translucent. Add garlic and cook for one more minute, add tomatoes, thyme and bay leaves, and let sauce boil at medium heat for 15 minutes. Add capers, olives and raisins, and continue to cook for 10 more minutes.
In a large saute pan, heat the rest of the oil and add the chicken and cook until dry, stirring constantly. Salt lightly. Pour the tomato sauce into the pan with chicken and bring to the boil. Add almonds and fresh herbs and turn off the heat. Let cool.
Time to do the chilies.
For the chilies
8 – 10 chilies anchos, slit open on the side, seeds and veins removed
4 cups water
4 oz. piloncillo, grated
1/2 inch. Mexican cinnamon bark
2/3 c. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
In a saucepan combine the water, piloncillo, cinnamon, vinegar and salt. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chilies and cover, take off the heat and let the chilies soak for 8 minutes.
Transfer the chilies carefully one by one onto paper towels, patting dry. Set aside.
Stuff the chilies with the picadillo mixture and place in an oven-proof dish. Cover with foil and heat through at 350F.
Meanwhile fix the sauce.
The Sauce
1 c. whipping cream
1 c. sour cream
1/2c. white onion , finely chopped
1/4 c. cilantro leaves, firmly packed, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. sea salt
Put whipping cream and onion in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to medium and reduce for 8 minutes. Strain out the onion. Add sour cream and whisk to incorporate. Add chopped cilantro and keep warm until serving. (Don’t do this too much ahead of time).
Pool the sauce onto each plate, carefully place a stuffed chilie and drizzle some of the sauce on top (optional). Garnish with a cilantro sprig.
I served this exquisite dish with white rice, and my new favourite salad of chayote, watercress, apple and pomegranate. I dressed the salad at table with a orange and lime juice vinaigrette.

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