So, you think you know what pimientos rellenos are? If you’ve only tried them in the US, then please forget everything you know about them as the Spanish version is in a league of its own. Growing up in California I’d tried them a million times but never was a big fan, so when I moved to Spain, I approached them with the same enthusiasm – “thanks, but no thanks.” Somehow though, I eventually tried them and realized they literally had nothing in common with what I’d tried in the past, except for the pimiento I suppose. Now they are one of my very favorite Spanish foods and a plate that I begged my soon-to-be mother-in-law to teach me how to make. You’re in for a real treat on this one folks!
In Spain, you can find the pimientos served many different ways, but my favorite version is pimientos stuffed with bechamel – yes, the same delicious, magical, creamy stuff that croquetas are made of. Just as with croquetas, the bechamel used for the pimientos can be made with virtually any type of flavor/ingredient – shrimp, jamon, chicken, cod or even mushrooms.
If you see the croqueta recipe on my site, you can learn how to make the bechamel with chicken and jamon, but this time, we’re going to learn how to make it with shrimp and monkfish. As usual, quantities here are not exact – the idea is to achieve the right consistency, so you’ll have to be brave with the amounts you choose to use. Also, note that the recipe below is for a lot of pimientos (so that you can reserve and freeze them), so obviously, if you want to make a lot less, modify the quantities substantially. Let’s get started – here’s what you’ll need:
Shrimp in their shells (plan for about 1/2 cup shrimp once peeled)
Fillet of monkfish
7+/- heaping spoonfuls of flour
30 pimientos del piquillo (you can find these jarred at the grocery store – and for sure at Whole Foods)
One large onion
1 carton of Tomate frito (which Heinz apparently sells in the US)
4 cups 2% milk
1/2 cup red wine (well, a whole bottle would be nice, then you can have a couple glasses while cooking!)
In a medium sized pot, add a fillet of monkfish to boiling water. Once it has cooked for a few minutes, add your shrimp (with their shells!). The shrimp will cook quickly, so you will want to remove them just after a minute or so. Remove the shrimp, leaving the monkfish to cook until it’s fully cooked but still soft – once complete, remove from the water, leaving the water boiling (you will use this water to create your broth).
Now you will want to remove the shrimp from their shells and throw the shells back into the boiling water (heads and all – the Spaniards will always tell you that the heads are the best and most flavorful part!). Let the shells continue to boil in the water while you break the monkfish and peeled shrimp into smaller pieces (once done, set aside). Meanwhile, fill a small pan with milk and turn on medium heat.
After the shells have been boiling for about 15 minutes, you will want reserve your broth by pouring it through a strainer. To extract the maximum flavor, mash the shells into the strainer so that all the flavor and juices are completely removed.
In a medium pot, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot sufficiently. Now heat it up (not too hot). Once warmed start adding your flour one spoonful at a time (plan for about 6 large spoonfuls, but it could easily be more or less depending on the amount of oil you use) – the flour should sizzle, but not so intensely that it burns. You will want to stir the flour until it reaches a pasta or dough-like consistency.
While doing this, if you see that the milk is starting to heat up sufficiently (the top is curdling), turn off the heat.
Now you will want to start adding your milk, using a strainer to remove any of the cream that has accumulated on top. The objective is for your bechamel to achieve a mashed-potato-like consistency, so before you reach that point, start adding some of your fish broth (reserve some of your fish broth for the sauce). If you ever feel like your bechamel is too soft, you can add more flour. Note that how much milk and broth you end up using will depend on the consistency of the bechamel.
Once you’ve achieved the ideal consistency, add a little bit of nutmeg, salt and white pepper, and then finally the shrimp and monkfish. Stir and then test to see if it needs more salt. Now your bechamel is done and you will want to set it aside (likely in the refrigerator) to cool while you prepare your pimientos.
The amount of pimientos you need will depend on the amount of bechamel you’ve made. Start by removing the pimientos from their container, reserving the container liquid for later use. When removing the pimientos, be sure to extract the extra liquid with your fingers, adding the liquid to the other reserved container liquid. Lay out your pimientos side by side so that they are ready to be filled. With your cooled bechamel, you will want to begin filling your pimientos fully (if you have leftover bechamel – use it to make croquetas!).
Meanwhile, fill a deep pan with oil (preferably olive oil) and heat it up on high. Separately, fill a plate with flour. Also, beat one egg and reserve it in a bowl.
Once your pimientos are all stuffed and the oil is heated, you will want to roll your pimientos first in the flour and then in the egg. The next step will be to add them to the oil, but try to have several floured and egged pimientos completed before adding them to the oil so that they are all cooking for about an equal amount of time. Once in the oil, you will want to turn them regularly until they reach a dark golden brown color. When they achieve this color, remove them from the oil and set them aside on a paper towel to drain. After you’ve completed all of them, you will want to place them side by side in a large dish (or multiple dishes) to prepare them for the sauce and finally the oven.
In a large pan you will want to begin sauteing your diced onions and also one chopped garlic clove. While it’s cooking, add one heaping spoonful of flour and mix in thoroughly. When your onion is cooked, you will add a cup of fish broth followed by tomate frito, the remaining liquid from the pimientos and a half cup of red wine. Stir and let cook until your sauce has reached a thick, smooth consistency. Once your sauce has thickened, you will pass it through a strainer in order to remove the pieces of onion and garlic so that you are left with a smooth sauce (although, I admittedly don’t see anything half bad about a chunky sauce).
When your sauce is done, just cover your dish of pimientos fully with it. Then you must put your dish in the oven at a very high heat for about 15 minutes so that your sauce thickens even more and almost becomes crispy on top.
Now you can be a pimiento relleno lover just like me. Sadly, though, the Mexican pimientos rellenos will never be able to compete – lo siento.