The day I learned to make relleno, I felt an indescribable pride. Raised to stand on my own two feet, independent and knowledgeable both at books and in the home, the ability to command a complex, labor-intensive dish is something this home cook aspired to for ages. My only regret is that my mother wasn’t around to see this happen…but I am pretty sure she’d be proud – heck she probably would have been learning right alongside me.
For many, the relleno is a family-style meal, which also involves using more than one member of the family’s help! When making a big meal like this, it’s not uncommon to see Mom, Aunt, Niece and Grandma running the show. Young children are often sent to run errands and learn to steer clear of the cooking space, sneaking ever closer as the smell of the bubbling pot gets more and more intense.
Considered a primarily Mestizo dish, the relleno consists of a mixture of chicken, pork or beef, eggs, and the unique black recado. Recado is mostly known as the red achiote paste that is used to make delicious gravy for stewed chicken. However, there is a black version of it made by burning corn tortillas which is then mixed with a little water, roasted peppers and seasonings to make a paste that then turns the soup a thick black with an indescribable flavor.
There are many steps to the making of relleno, but as always, mise en place (aka, have everything you need at hand) and dedicating a little time and effort will yield truly delicious results! Let us know if you try this version!
Relleno: Serves 8
1 4-5 lb chicken
Black Recado – 2 blocks (2”x3”inch blocks)
1lb ground beef or pork
8 hardboiled eggs
1tbsp chicken consommé
1 tbsp beef consommé
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 medium onions, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
15 allspice seeds
2 sticks cinnamon
1tbsp dried oregano
1 bunch cilantro
Wash and clean the whole chicken with lime or vinegar. Keep all skin on (will be used to seal stuffing for later).
Season the beef or pork with 1 cube (1”) of recado diluted in a small amount of water (1/4 cup), 1tsp black pepper, beef consommé, ¾ of the diced onion, ¾ green pepper, the garlic, ½ of the celery.
Cook the ground meat on medium flame, stirring constantly.
In the meantime, peel hardboiled eggs, and separate the yolks from the whites.
Finely chop/mince the whites or mash with a potato masher until finely ground
Add to the beef mixture and combine over low heat until the egg takes on flavor of the meat (taste test). Turn off the heat
Break 2 remaining (raw) eggs over the beef mixture and stir to combine, and set aside.
Take chicken neck, and reinsert into cavity, sewing the excess neck skin shut to seal.
Stuff the chicken at its base cavity with small handfuls of the ground meat mixture. Add one egg yolk after each handful of the mixture, and repeat process until the cavity is full, or all meat has been used.
Sew the cavity shut using the excess skin, to ensure the mixture does not fall out during cooking.
If there is some meat leftover, place in a foil packet. Seal completely then prick a few holes to allow some steam to escape.
Place the whole chicken in a large pot. If you have a foil packet, add it to the pot as well.
In a separate container, dissolve the remaining black recado cubes in some water, then strain into the pot (straining is necessary to prevent the thrash from mixing into the soup). Add cilantro, remaining onion, sweet pepper, celery, chicken consommé, garlic powder, oregano, spice seeds and cinnamon sticks. Add water to the pot until it covers the chicken by about 3 inches.
Place over medium heat until chicken is cooked (approximately 1 hour) – add salt if necessary when checking to see if chicken is cooked.
Serve hot with corn tortillas. (Some serve this with rice).