Floor-Lickin’ Good

The tomatillo gets its due in chile verde

Chile verde is a simple dish, but so rich and complex that one might expect it to be harder to prepare than it is. The ingredients in my chile verde combine into something greater than the sum of their parts in remarkable fashion, such that the finished product can make an average cook look like a genius.

I call it “my” chile verde recipe, but it’s adapted from bits and pieces I’ve picked up from various other recipes. I kept messing with my recipe until it got to the point of such awesomeness that, when a housemate once knocked a finished batch off the counter before dinner one night, the five-second rule was cast out the window. We scooped it off the floor and into bowls with a spatula, and ate it with the abandon of desperate drug addicts sharing a soiled needle.

Pork is typically used, but most any meat will do. I like it with venison, and recently made a batch with lamb, which resulted in a dish that tasted like something from an Indian restaurant. It seems that chile verde can do
no wrong.

The tomatillos’ tartness penetrates the meat, tenderizing it and creating new flavor combinations. Meanwhile, the tomatillo becomes transformed into a surprisingly rich and edible version of itself, with a softer, less tart and less strange flavor.

Floor-Lickin’ Chile Verde

1 pound tomatillos

1 pound meat (pork, lamb, venison, beef)

1 pound chile peppers (the more variety, the better)

2 c. cilantro, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 head garlic, peeled

5 bay leaves

red wine for cooking

1 quart chicken broth

1 tbsp. cumin powder

1 tbsp. garlic powder

Cut the meat into one-inch (or smaller) cubes, and brown it in the pan or under the broiler. Using a tender cut of meat makes the job a bit simpler. After browning, tough cuts of meat should be braised in three parts water and one part red wine, with five or so bay leaves and a sprinkle of salt. Bake at 300 degrees in a covered dish until the meat softens, adding more water and wine as necessary.

With your meat in an oiled pan on medium heat, cook until it begins to sizzle and add the onion and garlic. Savor the aroma as you stir.

Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and cumin. When the onions are translucent, add one quart of chicken stock (or jus from your braising) to the pan. Simmer for 30 minutes.

As the meat simmers, the next steps take place in the food processor. Remove and discard the husks from the tomatillos, slice them in half and purée, along with the cilantro, garlic and chile peppers, trimmed and de-seeded as necessary per your heat tolerance.

Stir this mush into the meat pan and simmer for another hour or two on low heat, seasoning with salt and pepper, stirring frequently and adding water or stock as necessary. When you’re ready to finish cooking, stop adding water and allow the gravy to thicken a bit. Serve with tortillas or rice, or in a bowl like soup.

Whether made with a succulent piece of pork or a slow-cooked lamb shank, chile verde is a dish worth waiting for. And if necessary, it’s a dish worth eating off a dirty floor.