Autumn along San Antonio’s Paseo del Rio is truly a season of change—especially at the Zuni Grill (511 River Walk), where chef David James’s revamped menu creates a casual and innovative bill of fare with an intentional nod to the Southwest. But don’t expect a run-of-the-mill chile relleno at Zuni.
James forgoes the typical batter-dipped version for a poblano purely as nature intended it. Then he does nature one better, stuffing the chile with hickory-smoked chicken accented with pecans and pears. Add to that a side dish of spicy mango-fig chutney, and the results are as mellow as a fall stroll on the River Walk itself.
Hickory-Smoked-Chicken Chile Relleno
6 large whole poblano chiles
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 2 1/2-pound hickory-smoked chicken
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 small pears, thinly sliced
1/4 cup Riesling wine
Mango-fig chutney (see recipe, below), 2 tablespoons per serving
Rub chiles with oil, then roast over coals or open flame until blistered. Peel skin off under running water. Cut off tops (reserve) and clean out seeds. Keep chiles warm. Discard bones, skin, and fat from chicken. Shred meat.
Sauté celery, onions, and pecans in butter for 3 minutes. Add pears and wine. Reduce heat and cook until pears are tender. Add chicken and heat through.
Spoon mixture into chiles, place each on bed of warm mango-fig chutney, and replace tops. Serve with plantain chips (see recipe, below). Serves 6.
1/4 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon roughly chopped ginger root
1/2 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 jalapeño, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
Juice of one orange and one lime
1 26-ounce jar mango slices (or 8 ripe mangoes, peeled and sliced)
8 mission figs
Grind first 5 ingredients together in spice grinder. In saucepan over low heat, simmer mixture and butter for 2 minutes. Add brown sugar and cook 2 more minutes. Add juices, mangoes, and juice from jar; simmer for 10 minutes. Press figs into chutney with back of spoon and heat for 3 more minutes. Makes 1 quart. (Chutney refrigerates well for at least 7 days. Try warm on toast as alternative to jam.)
4 large green plantains
Salt to taste
Peel plantains under running water (to avoid staining hands) and slice thinly. In large cast-iron skillet, heat 1 1/2 to 2 inches oil. Fry plantain slices in 2 or 3 batches until browned. Drain on paper towels, place in paper bag, and toss with salt.