Viva Mexico Independence Day, September 16th and Pass the Chiles en Nogada!

Hugo’s Chiles en Nogada
What are Chiles en Nogada and where can I get them in Houston?

It’s that time of year and Mexicans in Mexico, as well as those in Houston, are celebrating Mexican Independence Day with Chiles en Nogada.  I know that many Mexican Restaurants in Houston serve them during pomegranate season, but this season, I have eaten them in three Houston restaurants and can recommend Hugo’s, Pico’s MexMex and Las Ventanas.

Only one Mexican culinary creation – Chiles en Nogada – actually was created to capture and celebrate a key moment in Mexico’s history.  The dish, while patriotically presenting the red, white and green of the Mexican flag, also embodies the essence, sophistication and (most importantly) the depth of Mexico’s culinary spectrum. This dish, like no other, shows that Mexico is NOT merely a land of tamales and tacos, but a land of sophisticated sauces and moles.  Interesting that Puebla seems to be the epicenter of all of this!

During the month of August, Mexico even celebrates the dish with a festival in Puebla, capital of the State of Puebla… the birthplace of Chiles en Nogada. The dish, along with Mexico’s premiere as an independent republic and the apparent first use of green, white and red as the national tricolor all trace to 1821.

There are more than 200 varieties of chiles which are used throughout Mexico in the very subtle ways that they add to the tastes of regional cuisines of the country… and it is important to note that the chiles are NOT all used for their shock and heat value, as the flavors vary greatly. Due to availability of many of them, I only mention a few in the Chiles of Mexico section of my blog, Jack Tyler’s Mexico.
Agustin de Iturbide

In 1821, Agustin de Iturbide signed documents in Veracruz freeing Mexico from Spain. A royalist en route from Veracruz to Mexico City (and then to become first emperor of independent Mexico) — he stopped in Puebla to celebrate his santo (Saint ’s Day) August 28. The citizens of Puebla, anticipating Iturbide’s visit to their city, created Chiles en Nogada in his honor.
Mexico’s Flag Today
To include the three colors of Mexico’s own first flag, the dish combined the green of a fresh, complexly stuffed, relatively mild poblano pepper, the white of a creamy sauce based on pureed walnuts and the scarlet seeds of brilliant, in-season pomegranate. 
 Las Ventanas’ Chiles en Nogada
The three colors are sometimes enhanced by the addition of chopped parsley… and in the case of Las Ventanas in Houston, chopped walnuts are also added for a textural experience, too. Owner Alex Sneider has added Chiles en Nogada to several authentic Mexico offerings on his menu.
At Hugo’s restaurant in Houston, Chef Hugo Ortega is from Puebla and smiles “I remember walking through Puebla’s market after school as students, still in their uniforms, shelled and prepared the walnuts for Chiles en Nogada. “ I asked Hugo for his recipe and it is below for your enjoyment.
Pico’s Mex-Mex Chiles en Nogada 

At Pico’s Mex-Mex in Houston,  Chiles en Nogada are proudly on the menu all during the pomegranate season and owner/chef Arnaldo Richards bristles at the idea of serving the dish with anything other than fresh crisp pomegranates.  A strict proponent of authenticity of his menu at Pico’s, Richards laughs at the idea of using pecans in the absence of walnuts and strawberries to replace pomegranates in the dish.

Three of the many restaurants in Houston that serve Chiles en Nogada are:
Hugo’s Regional Mexican Cuisine

1600 Westheimer

Houston, TX 77008

(Lower Westheimer area)
Pico’s MexMex

5941 Bellaire Blvd.

Houston, TX 77081

(Southwest Area near Hillcroft)
Las Ventanas

1555 Grisby Road

Houston, TX 77079

(West Houston near Highway 6)

NOTE: While the recipes for Chiles en Nogada vary from one of the above restaurants to the other, the recipe below is from Hugo Ortega at Hugo’s Regional Mexican Cuisine:

Hugo’s Chiles en Nogada (serves 8)

  12 oz pork shoulder, cut into 1 in. pieces

 4 cups pork stock or water

 3 tbs corn oil

 2 roasted tomatoes, peeled and chopped

 2 tbs chopped white onion

 1 garlic clove, chopped

 1 lb. peaches, large dice, skin on

 1 lb Washington Red Apples, large dice, skin on

 1 lb Bosc Pears, large dice, skin on

 1 ripe plantain, large dice, skinned

 1/3 cup raisins, whole

 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

 3 tbs sugar

 8 large poblano peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded carefully, stem attached

 1 tbs Salt

For the pork mixture:

Simmer the meat in the stock or water over low heat until it is soft (approx. 2 hr). Cool it and shred it. Set aside. In a large saucepan, heat the corn oil and fry the tomatoes with the onion and garlic. Cook until the liquid evaporates. Then add all the fruit, almonds, sugar and meat and cook for about 10 minutes. Cool mixture.

The peppers:

 Stuff peppers with the pork mixture, careful not to tear them. When the sauce has been made and the peppers and you are ready to serve, dredge the peppers in flour seasoned with salt.

Walnut Sauce:

 3 cups milk

 4 cups of walnuts

 1/2 cup Cinzano

 8 oz queso anejo

 1 cup sugar

 Blend all ingredients together to a smooth sauce. Serve cold over chiles.

To serve:

 Sauté the peppers and finish them in a 325 oven for 20 minutes, turning them from time to time. Put 8 peppers on your serving platter. Pour the cold walnut sauce over the peppers and garnish with pomegranate seeds. Serve with white rice if desired.

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