Your Jetta or Beetle might have come from beautiful Puebla, set high on Mexico’s central plain, but we know the city best for its incredible food. Think cemitas, the ultimate street food, or the fabulous Chiles en Nougada if you’re ever there at the right season. With every good restaurant in town competing for the best rendition of Molé Poblano di Sacristia, the place transcends delicious to become a food-lover’s paradise.
The Poblano chile, Puebla’s namesake, is at the heart of this bonanza; fresh, roasted, dried or fried, it is Mexico’s favorite go-to chile. In its most famous dried form – the Ancho – it’s sweet and fruity with mild heat and a rich and pungently fresh flavor. The cool thing is, because Anchos are available everywhere you can enjoy them any time you’re in the mood for a bit of that Mexican zing.
Look for clean, shiny Anchos dried flat to show off their wide heart shape. While the best ones are leathery in texture, they’re not easy to come by. But as an added bonus, Anchos are mild enough to de-stem and seed without putting on gloves. Even so, do be sure to wash your hands well after handling since every once in a while you’ll come across a hot one!
If you’re looking for a real treat, do what we did: take a cooking course at Mesones Sacristia with Chef Juan Hernandez. It’s a great way to see the city through a chef’s eyes and to get your feet wet in this culinary tradition. Meanwhile, here’s a simple and delicious way to taste the flavors of that lovely town.
1 cup of dry pinto beans
2 cups cold water
6 Ancho Chiles
3½ cups boiling water, divided
3 pounds of pork chops or shoulder steaks
4 Tablespoons of canola oil
¼ cup of flour
Salt and pepper
1 pound (about 7) tomatillos, quartered
1 large white onion, in 8 pieces
3 large carrots, roughly cut
1½ cups of meat stock
2 teaspoons of dried oregano, preferably Mexican
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
Soak the pinto beans: Put 1 cup of dried pinto beans into a 2 quart saucepan, add 2 cups of cold water and slowly bring the beans to a boil over medium heat. Once the water boils, cover the pan tightly and turn off the burner. Let the beans sit for 20 minutes. Before adding bones, heat the beans to a simmer.
Prepare the Anchos: Use sharp kitchen scissors to cut along one edge of each chile. Pull the flesh away from the knobby stem and open the chile like a book. Discard the stem, its seedy attachment and as many seeds clinging to its inside wall as you can. Tear the cleaned Anchos into strips about 1” wide and 2” long, put them into a soup bowl and pour on 1½ cups of boiling water. Let the Ancho bits sit for 15 minutes to partially rehydrate them.
Brown the meat: Cut the bones out of the pork. Cut pork meat into pieces about 1” x 2”. Slake the pieces with ¼ cup of flour and generous amount of salt and pepper.
In a large skillet, fry the bones in 2 Tablespoons of canola oil until well browned. Add them to the pinto beans and continue the beans at a simmer. Simmer until the rest of the ingredients are ready – at which time, remove the bones from the beans and broth.
Now brown the pork pieces, about 10 at a time, in the hot skillet, adding a little oil as necessary. Turn meat until medium-brown on at least two sides. Remove cooked pieces to a plate until all meat is browned.
Prepare the veggies: Take the papery skins from the tomatillos. Wash the tomatillos and then cut them in quarters. Peel the white onion, top and tail it, and cut it into 8 pieces. Top and tail the carrots and slice them at an angle into 1” chunks.
Assemble the stew: Put the boneless beans and broth into a 5-quart French oven or heavy casserole. Spread half the meat over the beans, then add half the prepared veggies and half the Ancho strips. Sprinkle with half the oregano and half the cinnamon. Grind on pepper as desired. Now layer on the other meat, veggies, Ancho strips and spices.
Add the juice from the Anchos, the meat stock and up to two cups of boiling water, until the level of the liquid is about 1” below the highest veggies. Cover the casserole and put it into a 350° oven for 1 hour.
Reduce the oven heat to 250° and continue to bake the casserole for 2½ to 3 hours until the meat is tender and the tomatillos have become part of the gravy.
Serve with big hunks of fresh crusty bread for a fabulous treat!
Copyright ©2012 by Don Hogeland