Sunday morning, I needed to use some macerated strawberries and fresh blueberries that were waiting in the fridge. Rather than top a bowl of cereal with them, I decided to make crepes.
Crepes sound difficult but are only as hard to make as you want them to be. I use a very simple recipe that works with minimal hassle.
After enjoying the berry crepes for breakfast, I still had about half a recipe of batter left. A fond memory of a crepes treat years ago inspired me to experiment.
Strawberry and Blueberry crepes in a strawberry yogurt sauce.
Back in the 1980s, the Hotel Paso del Norte was renovated and expanded into an El Paso showplace replete with a Tiffany glass dome over what had been the lobby and now is a bar. After the renovation, the historic Trost designed hotel became the Westin Paso del Norte*. I had the pleasure of organizing a number of functions there for the then Texas Tech Regional Academic Health Center at El Paso.
I was invited to a Chef’s Table, a private dining area off the kitchen of the hotel where guests enjoyed an elegant meal with then Chef Paul Bellegarde. We dined on blue corn crepes filled with quail in an exquisite sauce. I was naïve enough to ask Chef Paul for the recipe. He pulled an old chef trick on me. He gave me the list of ingredients, but no quantities and told me to figure that out for myself.
I made the blue corn crepes a few times and filled them with chicken in an herby sauce; they were quite passable. I have never tried to cook quail and don’t really know if I could find them in El Paso. I know there are some in a flood control basin near my house, but I am not a hunter, especially within the city limits.
As I thought about what to do with my leftover batter, I thought about Chef Paul and the many great meals of his I enjoyed. He later served as chef de cuisine for the Hospitals of Providence and for the University Medical Center here in El Paso.
As I worked out what might be a good thing to do with my batter, I decided on savory crepes with a chicken and green chile filling and sauce. I used measurements equivalent to half the original crepe batter and substituted corn meal and mesquite flour for the white flour. Mesquite flour has a nutty/sweet flavor and made a good tasting batter. The corn meal added a little texture and helped hold the batter together. I combined the left over batter and my amended version. That gave me six good-sized crepes and one not so good that became my test taste and reward for all the work. I felt I was on the right track .
It was still morning, so I made my crepes, let them cool, layered them between sheets of waxed paper and refrigerated them until evening.
Crepe cooking in a shallow skillet.
A finished crepe.
For my sauce, I sauted onion and garlic, added low sodium chicken broth and then boiled two chicken thighs and about ¾ lb of chicken breast to make an enhanced broth. I skinned the thighs and removed the bones, but boiled the bones in the broth. By the way, this was done without a recipe, but I am giving you the ingredients!
When the chicken was done, I removed the meat to a platter cool a little and strained the savories and bones from the broth. I removed the thighbones and celery pieces and scraped the onion and garlic bits back into the broth. When the chicken was cool enough to handle I cut it into about a 3/8 inch dice, covered it and set it aside. I also diced a few roasted and peeled and green chiles. For garnish and kick, I brushed oil on a couple of jalapenos and lightly charred them on the grate of a gas range burner.
As dinnertime neared, I made a roux using equal parts butter and flour. As the roux thickened and lost its raw taste, I began to add small amounts of the broth and stirred like crazy with a small beater to make a smooth sauce. When the sauce was simmering and of a good thickness, I added the diced chicken and chopped chile and brought it up to temp. I didn’t want the roux and sauce to be too dark in color because mesquite flours cooks dark by itself.
I warmed my crepes in a pan and filled them with chicken and chile removed from the broth with a slotted spoon so they wouldn’t be too soggy. I wanted to tuck the sides and ends of the crepes to make a nice package on the plate. That’s not as easy as it sounds. It is a skill I’ll have to work on another day.
On the plate, I drizzled a bit of sauce over the crepes, sprinkled chopped cilantro and pickled red onions on top and served them with a simple salad.
Cornmeal and Mesquite Chicken and Green Chile Crepes. A flame roasted jalapeño adds a little kick.
I was very pleased with the texture of the crepes with the corn meal. It added a very subtle rich undertone to the dish. The mesquite flour made the crepes a little darker than they might have been otherwise. There was no sugar in the original recipe. The mesquite made the crepes a little sweet that balanced the rich chicken sauce. I had been worried about the sweetness, but it was just right.
Below are the original recipe for the crepes and the half-recipe with corn meal and mesquite flower I developed. If you choose to try this recipe, you could use all corn meal – white, yellow or blue, and it would work. If you want mesquite, get food grade meal from a reputable source.
I made the half recipe because I had what looked like half a recipe of left over batter to begin with. You could halve the original recipe or double the corn meal and mesquite version.
1 Cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vegetable oil
¼ tsp salt
Combine flour, milk, eggs and oil. Add salt.
Heat a lightly greased 6-inch skillet; remove from heat. Spoon in 2 Tbsp. batter; lift and tilt skillet to spread the batter evenly. Return to heat and brown on one side only. Carefully using a spatula, release the edges of the crepe from the pan. Peek under the edge to check doneness. Your batter and subsequent crepe are very thin, so you don’t need to brown both sides. To remove, invert pan over paper toweling.
Repeat with remaining batter. Fill with your favorite filling.
Note: You may add a Tbsp sugar to the batter if you are making sweet filled crepes.
HALF RECIPE CORN MEAL MESQUITE CREPES
¼ Cup plus one Tbsp corn meal
2 Tbsp mesquite flour or meal
¾ Cup milk
½ tsp vegetable oil
dash of salt
Combine corn meal, mesquite flour, milk, egg and oil. Add salt.
Heat a lightly greased 8 inch skilled; remove from heat. Spoon in ¼ Cup batter. Lift and tilt skillet to spread evenly. Return to heat and brown lightly. This crepe will be a little bit thicker than the simple crepe above. Loosen the edge of the crepe all around and peek under the edge to check for doneness. The surface should be honey colored. Carefully take the edge of the crepe between the thumb and forefinger of each hand and turn it over. After a minute or so, that wide will be done. It will have spots of color and not be an even brown like the first side. Slide the finished crepe out of the pan onto a waiting plate.
Repeat with remaining batter. Fill with a savory filling.
CHICKEN AND GREEN CHILE CREPE FILLING
Chicken thighs, skinned and boned, but use the bones in your broth
Seeded and chopped long green chiles
Butter and flour for a roux
Re-read the description above and cook the filling and sauce, or as Chef Paul instructed me, go figure it out and make it!
PICKLED RED ONION
I like pickled red onion as a garnish on dishes with green chile. I slice onion strings using a hand held mandoline (a chef’s knife works, too). I put a generous half cute of the onion strings in a glass measuring cup and cover them with white vinegar. I microwave them for a minute to a minute and a half and let them cool until needed. They become a very tasty garnish.
*A few years ago the Mexican Camino Real hotel chair acquired the Paso del Norte and operated it. Sadly, it has declined considerably. The property has been acquired by and El Paso group who, this month, announced their intent to restore the hotel to its former glory and make it a showplace convention hotel. The city has given them 10 years of tax rebates to encourage the project. Let’s hope it becomes a star in downtown again.