Chicken chili verde

Replacing tomatoes with tomatillos gives the traditional bowl of red chile a nice green hue and a fresh, lively flavor. 

Blue Kitchen
Don't be intimidated by tomatillos. This lively, friendly little fruit brings a lithe, lemony flavor to chili.

A friend once called me a Border Collie. I took her label as a compliment. It’s not that I’m covered in black and white fur, or that I herd sheep. It’s that I seem to be constantly moving, doing things, covering ground. When Marion and I travel, that’s certainly our style. When we arrive anywhere we go with an impossibly long list of museums, restaurants, shops, events to attend, friends to visit… Our weekends are often similarly overbooked.

Last Sunday, Marion left for a business trip, and my inner Border Collie slipped its leash. After dropping Marion at the airport in the morning, I drove out to IKEA in the far flung suburbs. Didn’t even buy anything, but looked at, touched and measured many. From there, I headed back into the city. Stops included a hardware store, a wine shop, the cat food store and, ultimately, five grocery stores.

When I finally returned home in the late afternoon, I headed straight for the kitchen. My grocery store stops had included gathering ingredients for this week’s recipe. The recipe involved many moving parts, cooking with two new-to-me ingredients and literally playing with fire. I was excited to roll up my sleeves and get started. Also, if it totally failed, I wanted time to devise something else to cook for this week’s post (spoiler alert: it did not fail and was, in fact, delicious).

Chicken Chili Verde, at least as cooked by me, is a good thing to tackle on a weekend when you have time to mess around. It doesn’t have to be the marathon I made it, but it will take a little time. Just set the iPod on shuffle, roll up your sleeves and have fun. You can eat it the same day, but it’s even better the next.

The first new-to-me ingredient was tomatillos. I’ve eaten countless versions of salsa verde made with these so-called “Mexican green tomatoes,” but never cooked with them. I think I maybe found the husks somewhat daunting. Turns out, that was just stupid. The tomatillo is a lively, friendly little fruit, ready to shed its husk. It is a staple of Mexican and Central American cuisine and a distant relative of tomatoes. The flavor is bright and lemony.

When ripe, tomatillos can be yellow, red, green, or purple, but they are mostly used while still green and unripened, when they’re at their most flavorful. Depending on where you live, tomatillos may be available in some supermarkets. But you’ll most reliably find them in specialty grocery stores catering to Latino customers.

The other new-to-me ingredient, at least for cooking, was poblano peppers. These large chile peppers are mild, at least when green, and are the chiles featured in chile relleno. For this recipe, they’re roasted until charred over a direct flame, then peeled. This delivers the pepper flavor without the usual chewy/crunchy outer skin.

You can roast them under the broiler, but that’s much less interesting than how I’d seen Marion roast bell peppers in the past – on top of the stove, laying them directly on the burner. That sounded like fun. Next time I do it, though, I’ll try to remember to turn on the vent. There was no appreciable smoke, but the whole apartment smelled like charred peppers later – not a bad smell, but not an expected one, either.

Chicken chili verde
Serves 4

2 poblano chiles
2 pounds tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and quartered
1 large jalapeño pepper, chopped (see Kitchen Notes)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1-1/2 cups water (plus more as needed)
2 cups cilantro leaves, lightly packed and divided, plus extra for garnish
Juice and zest of 1 lime
1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons flour
Olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder
1-1/2 tablespoons cumin powder
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed (see Kitchen Notes)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
Your favorite hot sauce (optional—we favor Cholula)

1. Roast the poblano peppers until charred on all sides, either under the broiler or over a gas flame. Transfer to a paper bag and close tight. Let them cool completely, then peel off charred skin. You won’t get all the skin off, but don’t sweat it. Remove the stems, seed the peppers and cut into a 1/2-inch dice. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, combine tomatillos, jalapeño pepper, garlic, broth, and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a lively simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. At first, the liquid may not cover the tomatillos, but eventually they will break down a bit and collapse. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Ladle out 1 cup of the cooking liquid and reserve. In 2 batches, combine tomatillo mixture with its liquid, 1 cup of the cilantro leaves and lime juice and zest. Purée until smooth. Taste and season with salt, if needed.

3. Also meanwhile, season chicken chunks with salt and pepper, then toss with flour to coat – I do this in a 1-gallon plastic bag. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven over medium flame and brown the chicken in 2 batches, adding more oil, if needed. It doesn’t need to get golden brown or cook through—you just don’t want it to be pink on the outside. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

4. Sauté onion in the Dutch oven, again adding more oil, if needed, until just softened, about 3 minutes. Add oregano and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Add puréed tomatillo mixture to the pot, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in chili powder and cumin, the return chicken to the pot. Stir in poblano peppers, beans and corn. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the chili thickens too much, add reserved tomatillo cooking liquid, as needed. A few minutes before the chili is done cooking, stir in the remaining cup of cilantro leaves.

5. Adjust seasonings and either serve in individual bowls topped with cilantro, along with your favorite hot sauce, if desired. You can also refrigerate the chili overnight to concentrate the flavors. (If you’re doing this, don’t add the additional cilantro leaves until the chili has reheated.)

Kitchen Notes

The perennial heat question. Depending on your tolerance for heat, either include the seeds and ribs of the jalapeño pepper or discard them. I left them in and the chili wasn’t especially hot, but our heat tolerance is medium-high.

Do you need two kinds of beans? It just looks nicer if you mix it up. For the white beans, I chose Great Northern. You could also use Navy. Or you could go red beans and white, red beans and black – let what you have on hand decide for you. And if you go all one color, it will still taste delicious.

Related post on Blue Kitchen: Spring, schming—It might as well be chili dogs

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