Chile verde is my go-to Mexican comfort food. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s braised meat with lots of green elements, like green chiles, cilantro and other herbs, as well as tomatillos.
And the tomatillos are the reason that I make chile verde so much.
You see, I have these funny little tomatillos that grow in my garden. I never planted them. They just appeared. Lots of gardeners in my neighborhood get them, so I think they are wild, or at least feral. There do happen to be a number of various “ground cherry” species growing all over the country, so I am not certain which one this is. All I can tell you is that this is a welcome weed.
So whenever they’re ripe, I pick masses of the little buggers. You can find them in Mexican markets sold as tomatillos de milpa.
You strip off the husk, and inside is a kinda sticky green tomato-like thing. When they get perfect, the fruit fills the husk and sticks to it, so sometimes you may need to husk them under cold water. You want tomatillos when they are green and unripe; they turn purple when they are dead ripe. I know of no recipe that calls for fully ripe tomatillos. Do you? Seems weird.
When I am inundated with tomatillos, I make loads of my tomatillo salsa verde, which is great on tortilla chips, and can it. Once canned, you have almost instant chile verde.
Chile verde, or green chili, is a staple in Mexican restaurants around here. It appears to be a dish from the Sonoran Desert area of Mexico, and there are versions of it all over that country, some using tomatillos, some not. The version we in America are most familiar with seems to have originated on our side of the border in New Mexico.
Making the sauce is kind of a production, like most good Mexican sauces. (Ever make mole? Not easy.) You put the tomatillos and garlic on a grill or under a broiler to char, then add roasted green chiles — both hot and mild — cilantro, etc. and chop up everything in a food processor.
As I mentioned above, you can do all this way ahead of time by making salsa verde and canning it.
Once you have your salsa verde, its easy. Keep in mind that tomatillos are acidic. For geeks, their average pH is 3.8, which is only a little milder than an orange. This means your chile verde will be acidic, too. So go easy on the lime until you’ve tasted it.
Meat is up to you. Think pork first, wild or domesticated. Chicken, pheasant, turkey (wild or domestic) are other good choices. Think light meat first, although I will admit, it’s damn good with elk and yes, even things like squirrels or jackrabbits. Play with it!
I serve my chile verde with rice, Mexican cotija cheese, cilantro and a dollop of sour cream — and yes, I know sour cream is also acidic, but in comparison to the chile verde, it feels soothing.
You can also serve chile verde on tortillas, and a chile verde burrito is damn good.
- 3 to 4 pounds wild boar or pork shoulder
- 3 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, sliced root to tip
- 1 quart stock (chicken, game, etc)
- 4 to 6 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 pounds tomatillos
- 1 head garlic, separated into cloves but not peeled
- 2 to 4 jalapenos, ,eeded and chopped
- 4 Pasilla, poblano, Anaheim or green bell peppers
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, loosely packed
- 3 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- Cilantro, Mexican cheese and sour cream, for garnish
- Keep the pork or wild boar in large pieces -- cut them only small enough to fit into your Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot. Salt the meat well and brown it in the pot in the lard over medium-high heat. When the pork has browned, remove it and add the onions. Cook the onions until they get a little brown on the edges. Return the pork to the pot, add the bay leaves, stock and as much water as you need to come halfway up the sides of the meat. Cover pot and cook over low heat until the meat falls apart -- about 3 hours for a wild boar shoulder.
- To prep the sauce, slice the tomatillos in half and arrange, cut side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Put the garlic cloves on the sheet, too and set under the broiler. Remove when they are a little charred, but not burned to a crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- While the tomatillos are broiling, set the jalapenos and the pasilla or Anaheim chiles directly on your gas burner or over your grill. If you have an electric stove, add them to the broiler as well. Blacken the skins of the peppers, turning them as needed. Once the skins are black, put the chiles in a paper bag. Close the bag to let the peppers steam themselves for 20 minutes. When they've steamed, take them out of the bag and remove the skins. Do this in the sink to minimize the mess. Remove all the seeds and the stems of the peppers, too. (Note: If you've ever been burned working with chiles, you might want to wear gloves for this. Working with the roasted jalapenos might irritate your skin.)
Put the tomatillos and the roasted chiles into a food processor. Peel the garlic and put the garlic in, too. Add the 1/2 cup of cilantro and a healthy pinch of salt. Buzz until everything is combined but there are still some little chunks; you want texture to the sauce. Mix in the oregano and cumin and set the sauce aside. Fry this sauce in the lard, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- When the meat's ready, lift it out of the pot and onto a baking sheet to cool a little. Keep the pot uncovered and turn the heat to high to boil down the braising liquid. Shred the meat with your fingers or two forks.
- Once the braising liquid has boiled down by about 2/3, remove the bay leaves and return the pork to the pot. Add the chile verde sauce and mix well. Serve over white rice with cilantro, some Mexican hard cheese and sour cream.
A note on the chile verde sauce. I make big batches and can it, which is a lot easier. It's basically the same recipe as here, only with a bit more vinegar. If you're looking for a base recipe, this one is a good start. Once you make this, it will keep for a week in the fridge.