The chile rel has gone contemporary. In its classic, batter-coated, cheese-filled form, it remains a staple of the Mexican combination plate. But at innovative restaurants, the chile is acquiring bright new sauces and unconventional stuffings. At the Parkway Grill in Pasadena, chef Hugo Molina has eliminated the batter and added a heady sauce made with dried chiles, tomatoes, onions, corn kernels and a splash of Pinot Noir. The stuffing consists of chicken, corn, cilantro and cheese--not the Jack cheese used in most Mexican restaurants but mozzarella. This mixture is placed in plump, dark-green pasilla chiles, which are then baked, not fried. Regarded as the authentic chiles for stuff-ing, pasillas are usually available in Mexican markets, where they are often referred to as poblano chiles. There are also dried pasilla chiles, and these are used in Molina's sauce. To add to the confusion in nomenclature, there are two types of dried pasillas , the chunky pasilla ancho ( ancho means "wide") and the long, slim, dark pasilla negro chile, also called pasilla largo. The ancho works beautifully in the sauce, but the pasilla negro may also be used. The dried chiles are boiled with the other sauce ingredients, then pureed and strained. The sauce is enriched with butter and poured onto each plate in a pool that is topped with the stuffed chile.
THE PARKWAY GRILL'S STUFFED PASILLA CHILES 4 to 6 large fresh pasilla chiles8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded pound boneless chicken breast, cooked and chopped3 tablespoons fresh corn kernels2 tablespoons chopped cilantroChile Sauce Steam chiles, or simmer in water, covered, until firm-tender, about 5 minutes. Peel. Do not remove stems. Slit around tops of chiles about 1/2 inch from stems, leaving tops attached to body of chiles. Carefully remove seeds. Mix cheese, chicken, corn and cilantro. Stuff chiles with mixture. Press tops closed. Bake at 500 degrees 5 to 6 minutes, until cheese is softened but not entirely melted. To serve, spoon Chile Sauce onto each pre-warmed plate. Place 1 chile on sauce on each plate. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Chile Sauce pound dried ancho or pasilla negro chiles1 small red onion, sliced 1/2 pound tomatoes3 cups water cup Pinot Noir1 1/2 teaspoons salt cup soft butter2 tablespoons fresh corn kernels Wash chiles and remove stems. Place chiles, onion, tomatoes, water, wine and salt in large saucepan. Simmer 30 minutes or until reduced to 3 to 3 1/2 cups. Puree in food processor or blender and strain. While sauce is hot, stir in butter until melted and add corn kernels. Keep sauce hot until used.
PRODUCED BY ROBIN TUCKER / FOOD STYLIST: OLIVIA ERSCHEN PLATES AND GLASSES FROM NANCY EPSTEIN GALLERY, BEVERLY HILLS FLATWARE FROM THE PAVILION AT TANNER MARKET, PASADENA TABLE FROM CENTURY PAST ANTIQUES, LOS ANGELES