Turkey Chile Verde

We have an abundance of tomatillos in our garden this year. Whereas the tomatoes have been suffering from too much water early in the season, too little heat, nematodes and wilt, the tomatillos we planted are vigorous. A couple volunteers from last year’s crop that are having a good time of it as well.

Are you familiar with tomatillos? They look like small-ish green tomatoes, but surrounded by a papery husk. It’s best to pick them while they are still green, if you wait too long, they can lose their distinctive tartness. The best thing to make with them is salsa verde, or green salsa, which you can then use in all sorts of dishes.

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With this weeks bounty we decided to make a Mexican chile verde, but instead of using pork which is traditional, using turkey thighs instead. By the way, chile verde made in state of New Mexico is made with Hatch green chiles. Chile verde made in most of Mexico is made with tomatillos. It’s the tomatillo salsa verde that makes the dish green. So, same name, different dish. The dish we’re working on today is the tomatillo variety.

I have found that turkey needs more help, when it comes to seasoning, than pork. It also greatly benefits from a little smoky flavor. So, I’ve added more spice than I would normally with a pork chile verde, and also included some chipotle chile powder for a touch of smoky flavor. But the amounts are just guidelines, and depend so much on your specific ingredients, and taste.

By the way, my dad says “let your readers know that this food critic gives it 5 stars.” My mom just brought over a huge bowl of tomatillos from her garden (as if I don’t have enough) and wants me to make it again. Enjoy!

Turkey Chile Verde Recipe

  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 4 hours
  • Yield: Serves 8.

Ingredients

Salsa verde:

  • 1 1/2 lbs fresh green tomatillos
  • 5 cloves garlic, peel ON
  • 1 jalapeno, stems and seeds removed, chopped*
  • 2 poblano chiles
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, rinsed, roughly chopped, including stems
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • Pinch sugar

Turkey:

  • 3 lbs boneless, skinless turkey thighs**
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 2 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Pinch of ground cloves

* You can moderate the heat of this dish with the seeds from the jalapenos. Taste the tomatillo sauce after you blend it. If it needs more heat, blend in some of the jalapeno seeds.

** If you can only get bone-in, skin-on, that's okay. Remove the skin and discard or save it to use it to make turkey bacon. Cut as much meat as you easily can away from the bone, and then cook the meaty bone with the turkey chunks. Remove the bone when the meat is cooked and shred the meat from the bone.

Method

1 Roast the poblano chiles over a gas burner or under a broiler, until blackened almost all over. Place chiles in a paper bag, close the bag, and let the chiles steam in their own heat for a few minutes. Remove the chiles from the bag, remove the charred skin, the stem and the seeds. (For a step-by-step, see How to roast chile peppers over a gas flame.)

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2 Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos. Rinse the tomatillos with water (they may be a little sticky). Slice the tomatillos in half and place cut-side-down on a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil. Toss the garlic cloves (peel on) in with the tomatillos. Cook under a broiler until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes. Let cool to the touch, then remove the garlic cloves from their skins.

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3 Place tomatillos, garlic, jalapeno, poblanos, cilantro, salt, lime juice, and sugar in a blender. Start on a low speed and then increase the blender speed and purée until smooth. Set aside (can make a day ahead and refrigerate until needed).

4 Cut the turkey thigh meat into 1 to 1 1/2 inch chunks, cutting away and discarding any tough gristly bits or big pieces of fat. Pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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5 Heat olive oil in a large (6 to 8 qt) Dutch oven or high-sided sauté pan on medium high or high heat (hot enough to sear the meat). Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan (a crowded pan will make it harder for the meat to brown), sear the chunks of turkey on all sides (do not stir the meat in the pan until they have browned well). Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

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6 Add the chopped onion and the cumin to the pot, and cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the onions are translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds more. Return the turkey to the pot. Add the tomatillo sauce and the chicken stock. Add the chipotle powder, oregano, bay leaves, and ground clove. Add a teaspoon of salt, and a little freshly ground black pepper.

7 Bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to low (enough to maintain a low simmer), while the pot stays uncovered. Cook for 3 to 4 hours, uncovered, until the turkey is tender. If at some point you think that too much liquid is going to evaporate, cover the pan. Otherwise keep it uncovered. You want the sauce to become more concentrated. Adjust seasonings to taste. You may need to add more salt than you would expect.

Serve in a bowl, with chopped fresh cilantro, and sides such as chopped avocado, thinly sliced lettuce that has been seasoned with vinegar and salt, sliced radishes, thinned sour cream or crema fresca, and with fresh heated tortillas or tortilla chips. Or serve with rice and beans, or wrapped up in a large flour tortilla, burrito style.

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8 Comments

  1. Jody

    Can the final step (cooking for four hours on the stove top) be done in a slow cooker?

    Great question. I think it could be, if it were kept uncovered (or partially covered) and the temp was high enough so that a low simmer could be maintained. ~Elise

  2. nestra

    If some of us had to cheat and use prepared salsa verde, how much does this recipe take?

    About 3 cups, but you could get by with two and just add more chicken stock, enough to cover the meat. ~Elise

  3. homegrown countrygirl

    Tomatillos are great for showing up as volunteers. Sometimes I don’t plant any at all and still get a bunch! Your photos are absolutely fantastic, as always, I can almost taste the sauce in that first picture!

  4. kaela

    When tomatillos are overflowing at the markets, I make a chile verde ‘base’ (essentially up to step 3 above) and freeze it in recipe-sized portions for chile verde all winter long. Definitely a favorite: I’ve made the SR pork version many times and it never fails to please a crowd.

  5. claudia

    That looks yummy, and such an interesting way to make the salsa, here (Mexico) we always boil the tomatillos w/ 2 cups of water, cilantro, one jalapeno, garlic and a bit of onion and some salt.. then blend them until smooth and put it in a colander, just so most of the seeds are out and it’s not too harsh on the stomach (I think you’re ahead of us removing the husks, which also add to the acidity!). We call it salsa verde (green salsa).

    It’s funny cause I feel I’ve poured salsa verde in practically everything, except for turkey! great post :)

    Hi Claudia, I make the salsa verde both ways, roasted or boiled. Either way it’s great. The roasted way just brings out a bit more flavor because of the browned parts. But the boiled way is a lot faster. ~Elise

  6. Rebekah

    SO, my own revisions of 4 hatch peppers and 1/2 a habernero was a bit too much… LOL. As I’m writing this I think I can still feel the heartburn ;) Though my husband loved the flavor so I’ll definitely be giving this a round 2. Thanks!

  7. :D

    I made this last night and it was hands-down delicious. The only thing I did wrong was I used too much cilantro. In your recipe, you specify 1 bunch cilanro, but my bunch was quite large. Plus I practically used the whole bunch inlcuding the stems close to root ends. My salsa verde after blendng became creamy because I blended until smooth and I guess with all that cilantro I used made it creamy like. The chili was still delicious. I was able to cook the chili in 3 hours and everyone loved the chili. How much cilantro should be used?

    Sounds like if the chili turned out well you used an amount of cilantro that worked. There are no hard and fast rules on this. The sauce should end up creamy-ish, not chunky, because of the tomatillos. ~Elise

  8. Melody

    I made this recipe over the weekend and decided it was too strong to eat as a main dish. My partner loves to experiment with Mexican cooking and made the suggestion to simmer the stew down to a spreadable consistency and use it to make enchiladas. This was a wonderful idea. He poured a tiny amount of red sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. He then took a large tortilla and filled it with the Turkey Verde, refried beans, queso, and a small amount of Mexican cheese sauce. He made four enchiladas and poured the remainder of the red sauce over the top, then put 1/2 cup queso on the top. He put them in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. He garnished each enchilada with lettuce, tomatoes, salsa and sour cream. They were great.

    Love it! ~Elise

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