Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chili Verde

My Venture into New Mexican Cuisine
If you have never been to New Mexico, go! It's a beautiful state with wonderful cuisine. My dear friend Judith recently went on a vacation to New Mexico and brought me back some fresh Hatch peppers. Hatch peppers are a special cultivar of Anaheim peppers, which are normally quite mild. Hatch peppers have been specially bred to be spicier and, I think, more flavorful than their Anaheim brothers. Fresh, green chilis and red, dried chilis both play important roles in New Mexican cuisine. Stews and sauces made with these chilis have a beautiful color and are often served on top of other foods to augment the flavor of a dish. In restaurants, you might hear a waiter say "Red or Green?" – asking which sauce you prefer on top of your food. If you're like me and have trouble deciding, just say "Christmas" and they'll put a little of both sauces on top.

After getting the peppers from Judith, my mind was awash with ideas of what I could make. It is a rarity for me to get fresh Hatch peppers so I wanted to make something special. So many ideas and so little time! I finally decided to make some Chili Verde. This green chili is made with a tomatillo salsa, pork, and spices and simmered until the pork is falling apart. Oh, it is so good. I add it on top of EVERYTHING. I even have to resist adding it to my Cherrios.

Some of you may not be familiar with cooking with tomatillos. Tomatillo means "little tomato" in Spanish. They look like small, green tomatoes and their flavor is somewhat reminiscent of an unripe tomato. I would describe them as being slightly acidic with a refreshing citrusy overtone. Although they look like tomatoes, they are actually members of the cape gooseberry family. A papery husk surrounds the tomatillo and has to be peeled off before cooking. The husks come off easily but leave a sticky residue behind so the tomatillo needs to be carefully washed before using.

There are SO many foods that you could serve with chili verde. Over the next week or so, I'm going to post some examples of how you might use this flavorful stew. This recipe takes some time and effort to make but, I assure you, it's worth it. Thank you Judith for the beautiful chilis! Enjoy – and happy cooking!

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Chili Verde
(Printable Version)

5 lbs pork shoulder, excess fat removed and cut into 3/4" pieces
Liberally salt and pepper to taste

Tomatillo Puree:
1 3/4 lbs tomatillos, de-husked and cleaned
7 hatch chili peppers (or a mixture of 3 poblano peppers and 2 jalapenos)]

2 medium onions, chopped
1 head of garlic, all cloves minced
1 1/2 TBSP dried oregano and more as needed
2 tsp cumin and more as needed
3 cups chicken stock for a thicker stew (4 to 5 cups for a more traditional, thinner stew)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 tsp kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp table salt)
1/2 tsp black pepper

The Night before Cooking the Chili Verde
Cut up the pork shoulder into 3/4" pieces, removing excess fat. Liberally salt and pepper the pork, transfer to a large bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Move your oven rack to the highest position and set your oven to broil.

Place the uncut hatch chilis or poblanos on a sheet pan. Broil until they are charred and blackened, turning once during roasting (about 5 minutes per side). Place the peppers in a paper bag or bowl, cover, and allow them to steam. After 10 minutes, peel and discard the outer, charred skins. Remove the seeds and discard. Add the meat of the pepper to a blender.

While the peppers are roasting, de-husk and wash the tomatillos. Place the tomatillos on a sided cookie sheet. Larger tomatillos should be cut in half at the equator and placed cut-side down. When the peppers are done roasting, broil the tomatillos until the tops have blackened – about 7 to 11 minutes. No need to flip during roasting and no need to de-skin. Add the roasted tomatillos to the peppers in the blender. Puree until smooth. Add the mixture to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until needed the next day.

On the Day of Cooking the Chili Verde
Preheat the oven to 300F.

Heat a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 TBSP oil to the pot. When shimmering, add half the pork pieces and brown. After adding the meat, don't stir the meat so that the pork can develop a brown crust. Flip when the pork has browned. When fully browned, transfer to a clean plate. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot and brown the remaining pork pieces. After removing all pork from the pot, add the onions and a little salt and pepper. Stir the onions around. As they release their moisture, you will be able to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. After about 3 minutes, add the garlic and cook 1minute longer. Next, add the oregano and cumin and cook 1 minute longer. Add the pork and any accumulated juices back to the pot. Pour in the chicken stock. Add the cilantro and the tomatillo puree that you made the night before. Add the salt and pepper. Bring up to a boil, cover the pot, and bake the chili verde for 3 hours – stirring once halfway through.

After 3 hours, taste for seasoning. At this point, I normally add 1 more teaspoon each of dried oregano and cumin. You may also need to add more salt and pepper, if needed. Stir, recover the pot, and continue baking 30 minutes longer.

When finished, the pork should be fork tender and falling apart. Serve the chili verde on tostadas, chilaquiles, burritos, chimichangas, or in a bowl with some fresh tortillas. The chili verde is even BETTER the next day.

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