Just char a few chiles and wrap them tightly in foil to steam; peel off the blackened skins; slice the tender flesh into lengths (“rajas” means “strips”); and sauté them in butter with sliced onion and perhaps garlic, tomatoes, or corn. Then, pour in “a copious amount” of tangy-salty Mexican crema—a genius move that tempers the chile’s capsaicin with casein. “You feel a little heat, but at the same time the cream is cooling you down,” Jinich said.
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Peel—But Don’t Rinse
When you blacken a chile, the skin develops charry flavor compounds that linger on the flesh, imbuing it with smokiness. So when you’re stripping away the skin, don’t be tempted to rinse off stray bits that cling to the flesh—or you’ll wash away flavor. To prove it, we sipped the water in which a freshly peeled chile was rinsed. You guessed it: liquid smoke.
Chile selection depends on the region. In Mexico City, where Jinich is from, poblanos—the earthy, vegetal peppers with a mild kick—are typical. As I made a plan for blackening a pound of the dark‑emerald beauties, I remembered that she compared this step to roasting marshmallows: “You want the outside to really char and burn and roast, but you don’t want to burn the inside.”
The usual routine is to rotate whole chiles over a fire, but since not everyone has access to an open flame, I opted to use our method for roasted bell peppers: After halving and seeding the poblanos, I pressed them flat on a foil-lined baking sheet and slid them under the broiler, where the skins charred quickly and evenly. For easy cleanup, I wrapped the chiles in the foil on which they were broiled to steam.
Ten minutes later, the paper-thin, blistered skins lifted easily from the flesh, which was now infused with a gentle smokiness but not burnt. Perfect. I cut the poblanos into meaty 1/2-inch strips (just right for tucking into a tortilla) and then sliced half of a white onion, the allium of choice in Mexican cuisine. I sautéed the onion, along with minced garlic, in a couple pats of butter before stirring in the rajas.
Crema time. The pourable condiment, sometimes dubbed “table cream,” lies somewhere between heavy cream and sour cream: It’s more viscous and savory than the former but thinner and less acidic than the latter. Once reduced, 3/4 cup of the dairy hugged the vegetables in a velvety embrace.
The slightly spicy poblanos were heady with charred complexity, and the sweet, buttery onion and crema provided modest richness. I often eat rajas straight from the skillet, but lucky for me, they hold well in the fridge, so there’s always a chance to try them another way—and then another.