Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chili verde revisited

I've completely reworked my recipe for pork chili verde in the last six months. It's not that my previously published recipe was bad. I've received many kudos for it over a dozen years. Co-workers, campers and residents at work have enjoyed the its tangy combination of canned tomatillos, green enchilada sauce and Anaheim chile peppers.

While I've personally enjoyed the stew, I felt it was time to rework the recipe. Since January I've perfected my salsa technique. Salsa verde, a sharply flavored Mexican sauce made with tomatillos and spicy green chile peppers, serves as the basis for the pork stew.

All the necessary flavors are present in the salsa. I find you need a two to one ratio of tomatillos to poblano chile peppers (by weight) for the stew. Tomatillos provide background flavor while poblanos give the stew a rich chili flavor. The combination of two key flavors meld to form a complex flavor profile for the stew.

The new recipe is a blending of culinary techniques. It begins with roasting the tomatillos (husks removed), poblanos and whole peeled garlic cloves. Although I usually roast the vegetables in a hot oven spread out on a sheet pan, you can roast them in a skillet over medium-low heat.

It takes around 20 or 30 minutes to cook the vegetables until they're tender. See that they're cooked to the core, but not overcooked. Set the oven (or use the appropriate heat on a camp oven) for 375 degrees.

The process concentrates flavor, drives excess moisture out and gives the vegetables a slight char. Extra char adds extra flavor to the dish within reason. One or two jalapeno or serrano chile peppers add spiciness since the basic recipe is low on the heat scale.

Meanwhile, sear the diced pork on hot oil in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven. Lightly season the pork cubes with kosher salt and ground black pepper. Carefully place meat in the hot oil.

Sear the meat in batches to avoid overcrowding. Space between the meat cubes allows moisture to quickly evaporate and caramelize. Otherwise, moisture pools, the meat boils and doesn't brown.

Once the meat is ready, run the tomatillos, chiles and garlic (with dried oregano, cumin and chicken base) through the blender. Marry the meat and sauce together in a Dutch oven, bring to a boil and simmer for about 90 minutes or until the meat is tender. Spoon excess fat from the surface of the stew.

This process creates a wonderful stew, one with flavors that surpasses the chili verde made from canned ingredients. Use canned when you're in a pinch, but always remember fresh ingredients will give your chili verde a bright, refreshing flavor.


1-1/2 pounds tomatillos, husk removed
12 ounces poblano chile peppers
5 cloves garlic
1 or 2 jalapeno chile peppers (optional)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 pounds pork butt, diced into 1/2-inch cudes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chicken base
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Roast tomatillos, poblano chiles, jalapeno chiles and whole garlic gloves in 375-degree oven until tender and slightly charred. Meanwhile, lightly season cubed pork with salt and ground black pepper. Heat vegetable oil in a 5-quart cast iron Dutch (lodge #8) oven medium-high heat.

Saute onion in hot oil until slightly browned. Transfer to bowl. Add 1/2 the pork to Dutch oven. Turn pieces as necessary until well browned on all sides. Transfer meat to bowl. If pot is dry, add 1 tablespoon oil. Repeat process for remaining meat. Transfer meat and onion back into Dutch oven.

Cool vegetables slightly when ready. Place in blender bowl with oregano, cumin and chicken base. Pulse several times to create a smooth sauce. Pour sauce over meat in Dutch oven.

Place lid on Dutch oven. Bake at 350 degrees until pork is very tender when pierced and flavors are blended, about 90 minutes. Fold in cilantro. Adjust seasoning.

Garnish with cilantro leaves and lime wedges. Serve with warm flour tortillas and Mexican rice. Makes about 6 (1-cup) or 8 (3/4-cup) portions.


  1. Looks terrific. I recently made salsa verde using fresh tomatillos. I was really pleased with how it turned out and how easy it was to make. I would love to try this recipe. Nice presentation as well. :)

  2. Thanks, Kim. I like to use poblano chiles because they add a big flavor punch without all the heat. While I enjoy the spiciness, a milder chili works out very well for the residents at work. As I said in the article, jalapeno or Serrano chiles will give the chili a spicy profile.

    I don't know how fresh chiles are marketed in Oregon. In Northern California, poblano chiles are often mislabeled as the pasilla. The poblano is the large deep green chile. They weight 4 to 6 ounces each.