Poblano Chicken

Some meals just aren’t photogenic, no matter how artfully you arrange them. This dish, full of chicken, onions, and roasted poblano peppers baked in a creamy sauce, is one of those ugly ducklings, but don’t let that stop you from trying it! I bought several large poblanos on impulse last month while out grocery shopping with my mother, and have been trying ever since to figure out how to use them. Variations of this recipe seemed to be practically the only choice popping out at me, and I finally decided to go for it when it showed up in my Diane Kennedy cookbook as well.

The sauce very simply combines onion and thin strips of roasted and peeled poblano, or rajas, with sour cream or Mexican crema. I had only a few tablespoons of sour cream in the fridge, so before I could do anything else, I needed more. If you could see the jars of ferments I had going around the house lately—sauerkraut, preserved lemons, apple scrap vinegar, homemade yogurt—it would come as no surprise that my immediate instinct was to culture my own sour cream. Basically, I just stirred what I had leftover (organic Nancy’s sour cream with live cultures) into a cup of heavy cream and left it at 90F in my oven overnight. The next day, I had a slightly thickened cream that didn’t look especially like sour cream but smelled spot on. I blame the level of pasteurization, but in any case, it worked like a charm for dinner.

I served it over rice, with tortillas on the side, and my husband came back for seconds. Although the sauce split a tiny bit and the poblanos very nearly exceeded my heat level, the flavor was excellent, and I will certainly make this easy meal again. Next time, however, I will be making the tortillas myself—Jeremy bought some at the store for the first time in probably two and a half years, and it is completely wigging me out that two weeks and counting after opening the package, they still haven’t gone stale.

Pechugas de Pollo con Rajas

I used just two large chicken breasts, since that is what comes on a whole chicken, and kept the other proportions the same.

6 small chicken breasts
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 C unsalted butter
1/4 C olive oil
2 C yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 1/4 lb poblano chiles, charred, peeled, seeds and veins removed, and cut into narrow strips
1/2 C whole milk
2 C creme fraiche or thick sour cream
4 oz chihuahua, cheddar or colby jack cheese, grated (about 1 C)

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet. Cut the chicken breasts into 4 parts each; season them well with salt and pepper, and saute them in the skillet for a few minutes until both sides are lightly browned. Drain and set aside.

In the same fat, fry the onion until translucent, and add all but 2/3 C of the chile strips to the onion with a big pinch of salt. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan periodically.

Meanwhile, blend the reserved chile strips with milk and sour cream until smooth. Add a pinch of salt at the last moment—apparently it can curdle the sauce.

Preheat oven to 350F. In a casserole dish, layer half of the onion/chile mixture, then the chicken pieces, the rest of the onion/chile mixture, and top everything with the sour cream sauce. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until cooked through and bubbly. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and return to the oven until it melts. Serve with plenty of rice and tortillas (if you have good ones!).

Source: The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, by Diana Kennedy (p. 347)

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