Stealing from the Restauarant: Seasons 52's Chile Rellenos

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Photos by Eric Barton
Start with some good, fresh poblanos.


Even before I went on Saturday for lunch, there was little doubt that I'd hate Seasons 52, even though New Times named it Best Chain Restaurant in 2005. I mean, the place is run by the fine folks who brought you Red Lobster and, for Christ's sake, Olive Garden. Then there's the fact that everything on the menu is touted as healthy -- not something that could be pulled off, I figured, by the restaurateurs who have sold frozen lasagna to millions.

But the place has the best damn chile relleno I've ever had. The poblano was perfectly charred, the stuffing a beautiful mix of tender chicken, flavored heavily with cumin, and the stuff melting on on top a light touch of authentic Mexican cheese.

Wow, from the Olive Garden people.

Two days later, I put the dish together at home, give or take. It took about 30 minutes, and while it wasn't quite the dish I had, it was a fine approximation. Here's how.

Roast some poblano peppers in the oven or on the grill until they're covered in a dark char.

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Cool them in a covered bowl or paper bag, then peel off the black skin. Butterfly them and clean out the seeds.

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For the stuffing, saute onion and red pepper in a pan. Add chopped spinach and tomato, then some cooked meat. Seasons 52 uses very moist pulled chicken, but I had some leftover smoked pulled pork that I used as a substitute. The restaurant's stuffing also was heavily flavored with cumin; I used a tablespoon of the ground stuff and still didn't come close to the flavor. (Next time, I'll put two tablespoons of cumin seed in the mortar and pestle.)

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Turn off the heat and add a dollop of goat cheese. Seasons 52 doesn't use much -- which leaves the rellenos in the healthy category -- but if you're serving to guests, use a huge dollop. Add some chicken stock to give the mixture an almost runny consistency. Put a few spoonfuls on your butterflied peppers.

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Fold them shut and turn them over so the slit you made to split them open is on the bottom of your greased cookie sheet. Now add some cheese. Queso blanco was all I had, but cotija would be better.

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After baking them for 12 minutes, I plated them with a succotash of corn, black beans, onion, and cilantro. Sriracha decorated the dish.

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So in the end, mine wasn't quite as healthy, with the extra goat cheese and pulled pork instead of chicken. But the smoky pork and extra cheese did make the dish that much better. Either way, I'm just still shocked that the people famous for giving you all the soggy breadsticks you can eat came up with such a terrific dish.
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