I can tell you exactly where I was when first encountered the now ubiquitous bar staple jalapeño poppers. One of my first restaurant jobs was working in a small sit-down place attached to a bar. The bar’s owner’s wife had decided it was time they opened a place fancier than just the usual shot-and-a-beer, fish-sandwiches-on-Fridays waterhole that litter most Rust Belt cities. She wanted a place with tablecloths (vinyl), flowers on the table (silk), and real silverware (18/0 stainless steel). I am fairly certain they were laundering money, and I do know for certain they were running numbers out the back of the bar. The bar was full of smoke and old men, the restaurant was lunchtime diners looking for something new and curious locals at night.
I think the restaurant lasted all of nine months. Still, I worked there one summer with my best friend Craig even though we had little to no experience running a kitchen or a front house and no one seemed to notice how hungover we’d be when we showed up in the morning or evening. And the fish sandwiches were great (and enormous), the chicken soup was even better, and Craig and I spent the summer learning to set things on fire in the kitchen when we weren’t learning how to make a perfect Italian dressing or Greek marinade.
Anyway, like most small, independent, 20-years-before-farm-to-table was hip, our chef would do much of the ordering from the local SYSCO sales representative. Like pharmaceutical sales, SYSCO hired nothing but beautiful people, and our head chef looked forward to our SYSCO rep like it was his monthly prison visit. (Maybe it reminded him of his previous monthly prison visits.) She’d come by every week with her enormous binders of food products she was hawking and they’d sit at a back table and split a bottle of wine as they went over every new item coming down the pipeline as he put in the order for canned tomatoes and bulk ground pepper. Anyway, when SYSCO got into the frozen jalapeño popper business, they did so in a big way. Big presentation. Flyers for all the staff. Free boxes sent to try both in the bar and in the restaurant. By the end of the summer, I saw them at every bar in town. Cream cheese, cheddar, jalapeño pepper and breading. SYSCO was going to make sure the nation had all the jalapeño poppers they could handle. and people loved them. Suddenly popper-everything on every menu. Only Americans can take something as graceful as a beautiful chile relleno and muck it all up.
Which is not to say I don’t love the taste combination. I do. One look at my Smoky Habanero Jalapeño Popper Bread recipe will tell you that. But doing the extra distance to make beautiful stuffed jalapeños filled with moist corn bread, melty cheese and spicy chorizo isn’t that difficult. Making a perfectly golden crust is even easier. Give the poppers a break and make the real thing.
Jalapeños Stuffed With Chorizo And Corn Bread
You will need:
1 1/2 – 2 pounds large jalapeños
8 ounces chorizo
4 ounces freshly shredded Monterey Jack cheese or crumbled cotija cheese
4 ounces crumbled corn bread (either sweet or plain is fine)
3/4 cup – 1 cup flour
2 large eggs
Generous pinch of kosher salt
Oil for frying
Ranch dressing of choice for serving
If you happen to be an ovo-lacto vegetarian, you can make this recipe using soyrizo in place of chorizo.
Wash and dry the jalapeños. Now there are a couple of ways you can char the peppers before sweating off the skin. I personally prefer putting them directly over a medium flame on my gas stove, laying them on burners, and blackening on all sides. This also works with electric stove tops, but I would not recommend this method with a glass top range. If you have a gas grill you can light up pretty easily, you can also do them in a big batch that way. Putting them under the broiler and turning at least once or twice during baking, either gas or electric, works well too.
No matter how you cook the jalapeños, you need to blacken and blister them on all sides, and until the start to get a little soft when you squeeze them with a pair of tongs. If you have ever blackened peppers like a
poblano before, you’ll know it takes about three to four minutes on each side of the pepper to get the right amount of “done” to properly soften them. There is something about the smaller jalapeños though that make them a little tougher, like a tiny Darren Sproles, so add a couple of minutes to your usual heating time.
Once the peppers have been blackened, place them into a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to trap in the heat and the moisture. This will steam the peppers and make it easier to remove the skin and seeds, and it will make the jalapeños more pliable for stuffing. Let rest until completely cool, about 20-30 minutes.
While the jalapeños are steaming in their own heat (kind of like what happens to Eli Manning’s forehead under the helmet, remove the chorizo innards from the chorizo casings or crumble out of the big tube if you live in a part of the country where you can buy chorizo like you can buy breakfast sausage, and brown over medium heat in a skillet, breaking it apart into smaller pieces as it cooks. Remove from heat and allow to cool. As the chorizo cools, your softened jalapeños should be cool enough to handle for the next step.
Word of advice; wear disposable kitchen gloves for this part unless you know you have skin of steel. Some people do. Some people can handle jalapeños all the day long and not have their hands turn into flaming balls of pain, better known as the Doug Martin Syndrome (because what else would explain his balls dropped percentage this season). I’ve heard you can also rub vegetable oil all over your hands to prevent the capsaicin in jalapeños from burning your skin, but that method has never worked for me.
Working one jalapeño at a time, remove the pepper from the bowl and place on a cutting board. Using the back of a knife, gently scrape off the charred skin of the pepper — it’s okay if some of the black parts remain, then carefully slice open on one side the length of the jalapeño. Using a spoon or your fingers (or better yet, a tomato husker or grapefruit spoon if you happen to have either one), scrape out all of the ribs and the top pith of the pepper that are all covered with seeds, leaving the top of the pepper on with the stem handling the pepper. Repeat until all the peppers are skinned and deseeded.
After you are done with the jalapeños, mix together the crumbled corn bread, cooked chorizo and cheese in a bowl. Carefully stuff a couple of tablespoons of the mix into the jalapeños, securing closed with a couple of toothpicks if necessary. Dredge through the flour and refrigerate for at least thirty minutes on a flat service to firm up a bit before frying. You can also do up to this point the day before to save yourself some time on game day.
Take your two eggs out of the fridge and carefully separate the whites from the yokes and then allow to come to room temperature while the jalapeños are resting in the cold. (That’s the trick when beating egg whites, they separate best when cold, but beat to a stiffer consistency when warm.) After about thirty minutes — just about when you’re ready to take the jalapeños out of the fridge, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until the form firm peaks, fold in a generous pinch of kosher salt and one egg yoga at a time and then beat again until firm.
Don’t want to mess with making a meringue? Then dredge the floured stuffed peppers in an egg wash and then bread crumbs before cooking, but it’s not the same light, airy chewiness you get from the meringue. (You also risk your peppers falling apart in the heat.
Heat about 1/2 of inch of oil in the bottom of your skillet to about 375º; you can tell the oil is ready if a pinch of flour sizzles vigorously when you toss it in the oil. Working in batches, dip the stuffed jalapeños in the eggs and then place in the skillet. They’ll immediately puff up, but cook until golden and then flip, about 3-5 minutes on each side. Drain on clean kitchen towels and keep warm in a 250º oven while finishing the the rest of the peppers.
If you used toothpicks to keep the jalapeños closed during frying, give them a gentle twist and then remove from the peppers.
Serve with a cooling ranch dressing. Or sour cream. Or lots and lots of beer. The heat from the peppers and the heat from the chorizo can get to you if you eat too many of these hot peppers and you’ll melt faster than the Steelers offensive line.