Tomatillo Chicken and Salsa Verde

tomatillo_01_croppedIt’s tomatillo time!  This distant green relative of the tomato with the papery husk has a sweet and sour citrusy flavor that really pops fresh, and mellows on cooking.  That’s why this recipe uses both cooked tomatillo sauce and fresh salsa verde to round out the flavor profile.

We served these with good corn chips to dip in the extra sauce on the plate, but if you can tolerate rice then this goes beautifully with rice cooked in chicken broth and a little chile pepper.

I use a single 12″ cast-iron pan for the entire process from roasting to baking.  I highly recommend getting one, because it’s very versatile and you don’t lose any flavor by transferring ingredients from dish to dish.  Plus..you know…cleanup! 🙂

You can turn the leftover chicken into enchiladas by briefly deep frying fresh corn tortillas, dipping them in the salsa verde to soften, then filling with meat, cheese, and rice or beans before topping with sauce and cheese.

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken (I like thighs, but you can use breasts if you pound them tender)
  • 15 ripe tomatillos if small (roma-size).  If you can only find larger ones, get 10.
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro (don’t use dried or the packaged paste), chop off the stems below the branches and discard.
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2-5 serrano peppers (to taste – we used 2 and it was enough for a bite but not enough to clear the sinuses)
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup queso fresco or cotija (Mexican crumbling cheese)
  • Oil for browning chicken.

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. slice the peppers in half lengthwise and remove seeds and membranes.  If you’re not used to handling hot peppers or have any cuts on your hands, wear nitrile gloves.
  3. heat a dry steel or cast-iron pan/skillet on medium-high until a water drop sizzles.  Don’t use Teflon or other non-stick coating pans.
  4. place the whole tomatillos on the pan and let sit, turning every few minutes, until there are a lot of blackened/blistered patches all over the skin.  Repeat with the peppers, only roasting the skin side down until blackened/blistered.
  5. put tomatillos, peppers, cilantro bunch (reserve a couple for garnish), garlic, lime juice, and salt in a blender and blend until smooth.  You now have salsa verde! Test for spiciness; you can still roast and add more peppers at this stage.
  6. brown the chicken in oil over high heat, but don’t cook through.  Brown up the onions a little at the end, and deglaze the pan with some of the salsa verde  (pour some in, scrape it around with a spatula, and then remove with all the flavor bits you’ve picked up).
  7. Place chicken in an oven-safe pan in a single layer over the onions.  Pour half the salsa verde over the chicken.
  8. Bake at 450 for 35-45 minutes, until chicken is tender
  9. If there aren’t a lot of drippings/sauce left in the pan with the chicken, add water or chicken broth  to deglaze/thin.
  10. On each plate, add:
    1. 1-2 pieces of chicken
    2. 1/4-1/3 cup cooked sauce and drippings from the pan
    3. 1/4-1/3 cup raw salsa verde
    4. 1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco
    5. Chopped fresh cilantro garnish (optional)

Substitutions:

There really isn’t a good substitute for tomatillos.  The flavor is pretty unique.  If you would like to try it with green/unripe tomatoes, add a splash of lemon juice to it, and then let me know how it turns out.  Otherwise, look for tomatillos at Latinx or Hispanic markets, world markets like H-mart, or supermarkets with a wide produce selection.

If you can’t find good queso fresco or cotija cheese, you can substitute finely shredded monterey jack.

If you can’t find serrano peppers, you can use jalapeno, but you’ll need more.

If you don’t have an appropriate pan for roasting, you have a few options.  You can roast the tomatillos and peppers directly on the electric burner or by holding in the open flame of a gas burner, if you’re VERY CAREFUL and turn off your smoke alarm first.  You can also put the oven on high broiler and put the tomatillos and peppers (skin side up) on the top rack.  Pull the peppers out and flip the tomatillos when they blacken.  You’ll lose a little flavor this way as the tomatillos will “bake” slightly.  Put a cookie sheet underneath, as they may drip.

Finally, if you lack multiple ingredients or tools to make the sauce, or are very short on time, you can substitute commercial salsa verde.  Pour one bottle over the chicken to cook, and reserve another to use at the end.  If you must go this route, I recommend Herdez brand.  Try to jazz it up with some fresh cilantro and lime juice though, to give it some freshness.

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