2 large or 4 small poblano chiles, at room temperature
Vegetable oil for frying
4 – 6 ounces Monterey jack cheese, coarsely grated (about 1-1/2 to 2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon ancho or new Mexico chile powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons all purpose flour, plus additional flour for dredging chiles
1 tablespoon rice flour
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon vodka
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small (14-15 ounce) can diced or crushed tomatoes
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1/8 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch black pepper
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/3 cup chicken stock
To loosen the skin on the poblanos, pour 1/2 to 3/4 inch of vegetable oil in a large heavy skillet. Heat over medium high heat until the oil shimmers — it should be very hot but not smoking (if you dip the tip of one of the poblanos in the oil it should sizzle). One or two at a time, carefully add the chiles to the oil. Fry for about 45 seconds, or until the skin has blistered all over. Turn and fry the other side of the chile. Be very careful — steam can condense on the top of the poblanos as they fry, which will splatter when you turn them over. It’s best to use a splatter screen if you have one. Turn the chiles a few times and if necessary, turn them over on the thinner sides to blister the skin all over. They should be mostly black.
Remove the chiles from the oil and place on a rack over a sheet pan to drain and cool. Set the skillet and oil aside for final cooking. For softer chiles, wrap them in foil while hot and place in a warm (200F) oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and unwrap to let cool, then continue with the next step.
When the poblanos are cool, peel the skin off. It should come off with a little gentle rubbing; I use a paper towel to pull off the skin since the chiles can be slippery. Carefully cut the stems out of the chiles with a small knife and pull out the seeds beneath the stem. Remove as many of the seeds as possible without tearing the chiles. Running a little water in the chiles can help dislodge the seeds.
Mix the grated cheese, chile powder, and cumin. Fill the chiles with the cheese mixture, packing the cheese in to fill the chiles entirely. (The chiles can be refrigerated at this point for several hours or overnight. Cover them with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out and let them sit for 20 minutes or so to warm up before cooking.)
Dredge the stuffed chiles in flour, making sure to coat them as thoroughly as possible.
Heat the reserved oil in the skillet over medium heat.
While the oil is heating, beat the egg whites in a medium bowl with an electric hand mixer until they’re white and very frothy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add both flours, water, vodka and salt, and beat again. The mixture should be very light and airy. Pour the batter into a shallow dish large to make coating the chiles easier.
One at a time, dip the floured chiles in the egg mixture and carefully turn them over to coat the other side. Use a slotted spatula to place them in the oil. Fry until light golden brown, about 2 minutes, then turn and cook the other side. Try to work quickly so the batter doesn’t deflate. If necessary, spoon a little of the egg batter over the second side to cover it completely. When the chiles are golden brown on both sides, remove from the oil and drain briefly on a rack or paper towels. Spoon the sauce over and serve immediately.
To make the sauce: If you’re using diced tomatoes, pulse them briefly in a food processor or with an immersion blender until they’re coarsely pureed. Set aside. Pour enough olive oil in a small saucepan to cover the bottom. Heat over medium high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion slices and fry, stirring, until the onions start to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt, oregano, cinnamon, pepper, chipotle powder and cumin and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until mixture has thickened somewhat. Add the vinegar and chicken stock and bring the sauce just back to a simmer. Keep the sauce warm while you batter and fry cook the chiles.