Poblanos Rellenos de Picadillo Dulce

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Smoky poblanos are stuffed with a lightly sweet and spiced ground beef filling with and served over a silky, rich tomato sauce.

Poblanos Rellenos de Picadillo Dulce
Photo:

Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Active Time:
30 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs
Servings:
6

When Zarela Martínez first appeared in the pages of Food & Wine, in a short blurb in 1983, she was a new darling of the New York City food scene. She’d moved to the city after a six-year catering stint in El Paso and had a “richly traditional brand of home-style Mexican cooking” that was available via her Zarela line of supermarket products. A January 1985 item invoked Martínez’s Café Marimba on the Upper East Side as a herald of a hot new trend of “upscale” Mexican restaurants. By that May, her “Marvelous Mexican Menu” was getting F&W’s full feature treatment. Martínez has always known precisely who she is, and she’s justifiably proud of it. She is an educator and historian at heart. From that first feature to her 1994 Poblanos Rellenos de Picadillo Dulce recipe, Martínez offers what she calls “building blocks” in the form of recipes and techniques that empower people to understand what they’re making, where and who it comes from, and how to make it their own. She will never compromise, never simplifying or substituting, but rather, explaining and always giving credit where it’s due. Of everything — the books, podcast, shows, music, restaurants, products, recipes, and thoroughly artful living and loving — Martínez wants the core of her legacy to be that she is an ethical person, one who pays people for their labor and knowledge, trains the spotlight toward them, and makes them know they’re valued. 

In 2022, F&W named Martínez’s Poblanos Rellenos de Picadillo Dulce recipe a F&W Classic recipe for the way it has stood the test of time. Looking back at the poblano recipe today, Martínez speaks about the Spanish origins of the ingredients dating back to the 1600s, lamenting that no one then — or now— wanted to know about food history, but she was going to teach them anyhow. “You know, I never looked at what other people were doing,” she says. “I did my thing and hoped that people would like it.” 

There’s a lot to like in these smoky peppers, filled with a Picadillo Dulce of lean ground beef seasoned with briny pimiento-stuffed olives and sweet cinnamon, that sit atop a pool of vibrant red-orange caldillo de tomate, a simple, silky tomato sauce.

Ingredients

Caldillo de Tomate

  • 3 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil

  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion (from 1 medium [9-ounce] onion)

  • 3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)

  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled San Marzano plum tomatoes

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar (optional)

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Picadillo Dulce

  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) sherry

  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

  • 1 pound 90% lean ground beef

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion (from 1 medium [9-ounce] onion)

  • 1 (7-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained

  • 1 cup thinly sliced small pimiento-stuffed green olives (about 5 ounces)

  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds or 2 teaspoons ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon canela (Mexican cinnamon), preferably freshly ground, or 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (see Note)

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Additional Ingredients

  • 6 large fresh poblano chiles (about 1 1/2 pounds)

  • Vegetable oil, for frying and greasing baking sheet

Directions

Make the caldillo de tomate:

  1. Melt lard in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring often, 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is slightly softened, about 4 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, pour tomatoes into a medium bowl, and crush with your hands. Stir crushed tomatoes into onion mixture; bring to a vigorous simmer over medium-high. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture reduces and resembles the consistency of chunky tomato sauce, 16 to 18 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in salt, sugar (if using), and pepper. 

  3. Transfer tomato sauce to a blender. Secure lid on blender, and remove center piece to allow steam to escape. Place a clean towel over opening. Process until very smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to a medium saucepan. Cover and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.

Make the picadillo dulce:

  1. Bring sherry to a gentle simmer in a small nonreactive saucepan over medium. Stir in golden raisins, and remove saucepan from heat. Let steep until raisins are plump, about 20 minutes.

  2. Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high. Add beef and 1/4 cup water; cook, stirring and breaking up beef into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until beef loses its pink color, about 6 minutes. Stir in onion, chiles, olives, garlic, cumin, canela, salt, black pepper, cloves, and raisins with sherry. Cook, stirring often, until onion is softened and liquid is absorbed into beef mixture, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside.

Make the poblanos rellenos:

  1. Cut a 1 1/2-inch slit lengthwise in each poblano near the stem end. Pour oil to a depth of 3/4 inch in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet; heat oil over medium-high to 350°F. Working in 2 batches, fry poblanos in hot oil, flipping once or twice, until blistered all over, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer poblanos to a bowl, and let cool slightly, about 20 minutes.

  2. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet with oil. Carefully peel blistered skins off poblanos under cold running water; discard skins. Gently wash out the majority of the poblano seeds, being careful not to let poblanos split further down the chiles’ sides.

  3. Carefully stuff 2/3 cup picadillo dulce into each poblano, inserting mixture through 1 1/2-inch slit. Place poblanos, stuffed side up, on prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until heated through, about 10 minutes.

  4. Spoon caldillo de tomate evenly onto plates or a large platter. Arrange poblanos on top, and serve.

To Make Ahead

Stuffed poblanos can be covered and refrigerated up to 24 hours before baking. Let poblanos come to room temperature while oven preheats. Caldillo de Tomate may be stored in refrigerator, covered, up to 3 days or in freezer up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator before using. Picadillo dulce can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in refrigerator.


Notes

  • Lard for the Caldillo de Tomate can be found at most grocery stores near the cooking fats or in the international aisle–or opt for vegetable oil instead of lard for a vegetarian version. 
  • Flash-frying the fresh poblanos in step 6 makes peeling them quick and easy. Alternately, chiles can be blistered over the open flame of a gas stove. Cook over high, turning poblanos occasionally using tongs, until well charred on all sides, 4 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand 20 minutes. Proceed with step 7.

Suggested Pairing

Juicy, spicy Zinfandel: Brown Estate Napa Valley

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