In the immortal words of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, “I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you… fire!” That was the challenge of my Targaryen course. The words of House Targaryen are “Blood and Fire”, and while I spent a brief moment considering something like blood sausage, it was mercifully very brief. Besides, while you can do a few things cooking with blood, you can do lots of things cooking with fire! In the end I settled on Spicy Chicken Rellenos in Tequila Lime Sauce, a dish which combines a little bit of spicy fire with blackened peppers that require, er, the fiery kind of fire.
This dish comes straight out of the Emeril Legasse playbook, by the way. It’s been made very successfully in the past by my friend Doug, who introduced me to it, and it came to mind as ideal for this occasion. In my original conception I was going to go even farther in pursuit of my theme – I’d found a local exotic meat and game supplier in town who could get me alligator and even python meat! So it was not only going to be “flame-blackened” peppers, but it was going to be stuffed with “dragon” meat.
Thus my plan was to make a baseline version of the original dish in order to remind myself how it worked, and then to test drive the alternatives with alligator and python meat, and then make a taste judgement as to which worked the best. They should both be whitish meats, and the substitution seems like it should work. However, this plan fell by the wayside after we tried the original. It was just so good! Really a centerpiece of the whole experience. In fact my girlfriend, who’s ordinarily not particularly casual about swearing, described her first bite in the immortal phrase “f**k that’s awesome!” At that point I decided not to mess with what is clearly perfection. Also, this is the frozen wastelands of the north where I live; neither python nor alligator are anything like approaching local. Which means that importing the exotic meats was going to be quite expensive. I’m still terribly curious about how it would have turned out – I’m willing to bet that if you live in an alligator or python-friendly part of the world where those things are cheap, this would be a worthwhile experiment.
This is also a dish which desperately cries out to be devoured with a margarita. Even if that’s not normally your tipple, they go together like George R.R. Martin and a pervading cruelty to his favoured characters. So now the CDC lab (that’s Centre for Delectability Creation) had to go to work figuring out a mix for non-alcoholic lime margaritas, for two of my guests are non-drinkers.
I, in a fit of generosity (if I didn’t like margaritas) or selfishness (since I do) bought my girlfriend a (Jimmy Buffet’s) Margaritaville machine. It is a ridiculously overspecialized blender designed for making iced drinks, but oh my! does it do that job quite well. The obvious thing to do is simply to put together a margarita using the normal recipe and just omit the booze, or replace it with water (for the tequila) and orange juice (for the Triple Sec) to keep the liquid volumes the same. Which is what we started with, but that was another fail. It doesn’t work. The experiments continued. Fortunately it was hot weather while this was going on, so Ellen’s kids really scored as her official taste-testers. Eventually the interwebs provided the answer – thumbs down from the kids, but thumbs up from the adult who’d actually tasted a real margarita before. We had our accompanying drink.
By this time the momentum of the event had entirely taken me up, and was steamrollering over anything resembling common sense, so I ran out and bought a set of 12 margarita glasses. While I was at it, I bought some paper plates to use as doilies – the rellenos had to go on a real stoneware plate that could take both the cutting and the lime sauce, but I’d been stacking all the course-specific dishes on the main plates, and putting stoneware on stoneware involved some pretty horrendous scraping noises. So I needed an intervening layer to cut the (almost exact) noise of fingernails on a chalkboard.
Of course, the final step in the making of rellenos is the deep frying. Which is another way to bring fire into the dish – if your pot is too small to handle the boiling-up overflow when a relleno is dropped into it, and your oil is hot enough, and you have a gas stove with an open flame, then you have all the ingredients for a massive oil fire in the privacy of your own home! During my test run, I chose a pot which ended up being a little too small, and while I avoided it catching fire I do now have a distinct stained-brown cast to my metal burner casings. It’s about time, frankly; now they at least look used. So for the actual dinner, I used a bigger pot, and it was pretty much exactly the right size. I think some of my camera-toting guests were a little disappointed, actually. You can find a video of the actual relleno dipping at my friend’s blog, which he was updating live as the dinner went on. All in all, far less exciting than it could have been.
After the first test drive of this dish, I made the decision to re-order my menu a little bit. I’d originally categorized the ceviche as an hors d’oeuvre and the rellenos as the entrée, but it was so good that I worried about people coming to it too full, or too shell-shocked, to really appreciate it. Also, it seemed like it would be better sandwiched between the (cold) salad and the (cold) ceviche, so it made sense. So I swapped them.
Scott and Margaret had lived in New Mexico (or was it Arizona?) for a while, so they were very up on their pepper-based cooking, but they gave it a passing grade. The key is to start preparation enough ahead of time. Roasting and skinning the peppers in time-consuming, chopping is time-consuming, stuffing can be time consuming (and messy), but all these things can happen ahead of time. If you just think about the battering, dredging, and frying, that part can happen right there on the spot quite quickly. Which is how I arranged it. My sous-chef (a.k.a. girlfriend) came over Friday to do some serious chopping for this party, and then on Saturday morning all I had to do was roast and skin the peppers and fry up the stuffing. Then at some point in the afternoon I made up the batter and the dry mix, and stuffed the peppers and threw them in the fridge. Then when guests were here it was quick and painless to fry up the rellenos and serve them fresh and hot. While I was frying, Ellen had plenty of time to make up the tequila lime sauce.
Non-alcoholic lime margarita
6 oz. can frozen limeaid concentrate
¾ cup orange juice
2/3 cup unsweetened grapefruit juice
4 cups small ice cubes (25 to 30)
coarse salt (optional)
lime wedge (optional)
- Combine limeaid concentrate, orange juice, grapefruit juice in blender. Blend until smooth.
- Add ice cubes and blend until slushy.
- (optional) salt rim of glass; garnish with lime wedge.
Spicy Chicken Rellenos with Tequila Lime Sauce
A delightful recipe from Emeril, which I made no modifications to.