We roast a lot of chiles in this kitchen: it just seems like the right thing to do. A perfectly roasted chile can add depth of flavor to just about any dish, with the bonus being the intense, earthy aroma that will permeate the air and get your salivary glands going in all the right ways.
Hundreds of chiles later I’ve found that there are two key elements to successful roasting. The first is the char factor.
Newbie chile roasters are most often afraid of the over-scorch and, as a result, they shy away from thoroughly and evenly charring the outside of the chile pepper.
The truth is that the more blackened a chile’s skin is, the easier it will be to peel and prepare. You’re aiming for a solidly charred chile from stem to stern, so gird your loins and fear not the char.
The second key step in roasting a chile is the skin-loosening phase: a charred chile must be allowed to sweat for long enough that the scorched skin softens and becomes loose enough to almost slip off of the chile.
I personally accomplish this by carefully placing my charred chiles in a Ziploc bag, which I then seal tightly, opening only to insert additional chiles for sweating.
Again, it’s necessary to wait long enough that the skins become truly loose – your chiles won’t look like much more than soggy, sweaty messes by the time they’re ready. But appearances aren’t everything, right?
Once you’ve charred, loosened and peeled, all that’s left is to remove the seeds and stem, and chop.
The most common way to prepare a roasted chile is to slice its peeled skin into strips called rajas.
And what better way to punch up some succulent lasagna than to add those rajas to traditional layers of pasta and cheese?
Correct answer: there isn’t a better way.
So here’s your assignment for today:
Step 1: Review my quick chile roasting tutorial below and roast up some fresh chiles.
Step 2: Use your rajas in the delicious Corn & Poblano Lasagna Recipe shown here.
Step 3: Serve said lasagna to self and someone else who really, really deserves it.
Step 4: Sit back and admire your handiwork.
Lasagna or no, you’re now a chile roasting pro! And you can take those skills to the bank.
Tips For Roasting Fresh Chiles
- Ripe chiles roast best. Look for firm fruit with colorful, unmarked, waxy skin.
- Metal tongs are your best friend when roasting chiles. I opt to roast over an open flame on my stovetop, but if you prefer, you can roast your chiles inside your oven under your broiler. Either way, you’ll need to turn your chiles regularly as they char, and metal tongs are the best tool for turning.
- Keep an eye on your chiles, turning as often as necessary to produce an evenly blackened surface. Don’t be alarmed if the skin pops as it cooks, just watch the stem closely to be sure it doesn’t catch fire.
- Once the chile is charred, carefully remove it to either a Ziploc bag or large bowl covered in plastic wrap. Seal the chile inside, opening only to add additional chiles for sweating.
- Wait at least 5 minutes for the chiles to sweat: they’re ready when each entire chile is soft, soggy and shriveled on the outside.
- Remove roasted chiles to a cutting board and, using a sharp knife or your fingers, scrape or peel the blackened skin off of the chile. Remove the top of the cleaned chile, slice it open and remove the stem column and any remaining seeds. Lay the remaining flesh flat and slice it vertically into strips approximately 1/2″ – 1″ wide. If you’re using your rajas in a preparation other than this lasagna, at this point you can chop your rajas into any shape or size you prefer.
Corn & Poblano Lasagna
adapted from Marcella Valladolid’s Mexican Made Easy
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced, divided
2 c. fresh corn kernels (from about 2 ears), or frozen and thawed
2 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. thyme, fresh
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. white onion, thinly sliced
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
4 poblano chiles, charred, peeled, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1″ strips
12 (7 by 3-inch) no-boil lasagna sheets
2 c. Oaxaca cheese, shredded (mozzarella may be substituted)
Chef’s Note: I made several adjustments to this recipe, as I found it to be somewhat bland the first time around. First, this lasagna needs to be seasoned liberally with salt and pepper – up to 1 1/2 teaspoons of each. I also added 2 teaspoons of cumin to the corn sauce. Second, I prefer whole corn kernels in this lasagna, so I skip the step of processing the corn sauce in a food processor or blender. I also substituted 2 additional roasted and prepared poblano chiles for the zucchini. Finally, this lasagna, baked in a 9″ x 13″ baker, only fills the dish approximately halfway full and produces a somewhat short stack of lasagna. If you’re preparing this for a crowd, you could absolutely double the recipe, using the entire box of pasta sheets, and make a taller, more traditional lasagna. Just watch the cooking time as you will need to bake the larger lasagna for longer.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add 2/3 of the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Mix in the corn and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and thyme. Cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes for the flavors to incorporate. Turn off the heat and let cool slightly. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining garlic and cook for 1 minute. Mix in the zucchini and poblano strips and cook for 5 minutes for the flavors to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat.
Spread about 1/4 of the corn mixture over the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Cover with a layer of 3 lasagna sheets. Spread 1/4 of the poblano mixture and 1/4 of the cheese over the pasta. Repeat the layering 3 more times. Cover with foil.
Bake until the pasta is cooked and tender, about 50 minutes. Remove the foil and turn up the oven temperature to broil. Broil until golden brown and bubbly, 8 to 10 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
YIELD: approximately 6-8 servings