Tomatillo Chicken Stew
September is tomatillo season around here. Little green lanterns hang from our tomatillo plants like ornaments on a well decorated Xmas tree. Do you ever cook with tomatillos? They look like smallish green tomatoes, and are even called “tomate verde” in Mexico, and are used for making salsa verde and chile verde. Tomatillos are typically boiled with some chiles to make the green salsa, but roasting them, as I’ve done in this recipe, will bring out more flavor. If you don’t have access to fresh tomatillos, you can use canned salsa verde for the sauce (sort of like using canned tomatoes versus fresh).
I experimented with the jalapeños; it’s so easy to misjudge how much heat you’ll need. The first time I made this I carefully seeded one chile and the result was that I couldn’t even taste the heat or the chile. The second time I used two jalapeños and kept all the seeds. Woo boy, big difference. It was perfectly hot for my father, and I needed a little sour cream to cool it down enough for me. Now both of the chiles were from our garden, and were not overly picante. If you are working with chiles with lots of striations, check the hotness first. If a tiny bite sets you running for a fire extinguisher, don’t use as much.
You can make this recipe with fresh tomatillos, or you can use canned chile verde tomatillo salsa as a substitute for the tomatillo sauce.
- 1 1/2 lbs tomatillos
- 1-2 jalapeño chile peppers, or 2-3 serrano chili peppers (include the seeds if you want the heat, remove them if you don't want the heat), stems discarded, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 Tbsp lime (or lemon) juice
- Pinch of sugar
- 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1-inch cubes
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 2 cups tomatillo sauce
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped
- 1/2 cup packed chopped cilantro (about one bunch, rinsed and chopped, stems and leaves)
1 Make the tomatillo sauce. Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse well. Cut the tomatillos in half and place them cut-side down on an aluminum foil-lined roasting pan. Broil for 5-7 minutes until blackened in spots. Let cool enough to handle. Place the tomatillos, any juice they have released, chile peppers, garlic, salt, lime juice and sugar in a blender, and pulse until well blended. If you make ahead, refrigerate until needed.
2 Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot on medium high heat until almost smoking. Pat dry the cubed chicken parts with paper towels. Sprinkle salt and pepper over them. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, and adding more olive oil when necessary, brown the chicken pieces on two sides. When you place the pieces in the pan, make sure there is room between them (otherwise they will steam and not brown), and don't move them until they are browned on one side. Then use tongs or a metal spatula to turn them over and don't move them again until they are browned on the other side. Do not cook through, but only brown. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and lower the heat to medium. There should be a nice layer of browned bits (fond) at the bottom of the pan.
3 Add the onions to the pan, and a tablespoon or two more olive oil if needed (likely). Add ground cumin and coriander. Cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally until onions are softened and the browned bits from the chicken have been picked up by the onions and are no longer sticking to the pan. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, until fragrant.
4 Add the browned chicken, the tomatillo sauce, chicken stock, and oregano to the pan. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, for 20 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Add the cilantro to the stew in the last minute or so of cooking.
Serve over white rice, accompanied with sour cream if needed to offset the heat from the chiles. The stew will thicken as it cools.