Chili Verde

Despite our lack of snow, winter is here and I’ve wanted to make a hearty stew. I showed this Chile Verde recipe from Simple Recipes to my dear wife, and the next thing I knew we were on our way to our favorite mercado to pick up the ingredients.

2 pounds tomatillos
1 head garlic, whole
2 jalapenos
1 bunch cilantro leaves
5 pounds pork shoulder (aka pork butt)
2 large white onion
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 (7-ounce) can diced green chiles
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

This recipe boosts the flavor and adds some smoky goodness to the dish by fire-roasting all of the veggies first, so set your grill up for a direct cook at 500°F. While it is getting up to temp, prep the veggies by husking the tomatillos and cutting the onion in half, leaving the root end and skin on.

Put the tomatillos, onions, and jalapenos directly on the grill. They will cook at different rates, so use a pair of tongs to keep everything moving. Start the onions cut side down and flip when they get some nice grill marks, about 3 minutes. Let them finish cooking skin side down so they kind of roast in their own juices. Turn the tomatillos and peppers often so that they pick up a nice char. Remove the peppers when the skin is mostly blistered. Pull the tomatillos and onions when they start to soften. Put the garlic on just as you’re taking the smaller tomatillos off and cook for just a couple of minutes until the papery skin starts to char.

Once the veggies are done, you can move inside to the oven or set up the grill for an indirect cook. I opted for the “more fire = good” option and set the Big Green Egg up for a 350°F cook using the plate setter and a trivet to diffuse the heat.

While waiting for the veggies to get cool enough to handle, trim the excess fat from the pork butt and cut the meat into 2-inch chunks.

Load the meat into a large, oiled Dutch oven and season with a little salt and pepper. Move the uncovered Dutch oven to the grill and let the pork cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until the meat is browned and most of the fat has rendered out, about 2 hours.

While the meat is cooking, peel the garlic, skin and quarter the onions, and skin and seed the peppers. Load all the roasted veggies, cilantro, and half the chicken stock into the food processor for a whirl.

Pulse all of the ingredients until they are finely chopped and start to form a smooth sauce. Add more chicken stock if needed.

Once the pork is nicely browned and rendered, pour off all but a couple tablespoons of fat from the Dutch oven. Pour the verde sauce over the pork and add the cumin, green chiles, oregano, chile powder, and the rest of the chicken stock. Stir to combine. Add just enough water (about a cup) so that the meat is just floating in the sauce.

Put the lid on the Dutch oven, close the grill, and let everything simmer together for an hour, stirring about every 15 minutes. 

Add another cup of water to the Dutch oven and let it cook, uncovered, until the pork is falling apart and the chili has reduced to a thick stew (about 1 hour). Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt, pepper, and a maybe a little more chile powder.

Served as a stew with tortilla chips on the side. It’s also great with rice and beans (with plenty of corn toritilas for chasing the sauce) or cook it until it’s a little thicker for taco filling.

The Verdict: ★★★★½ This thick, meaty stew was wonderful. I left just enough fat in the pan so that the sauce was luscious and rich. The pork and cumin provided a meaty base while the peppers and the tomatillos added a nice green heat at the top.

The original recipes included some anaheim or poblano chiles, and I would add those next time to give the dish a little more “middle” heat.

The Nutrition: Lusciousness comes at a price – 439 calories per 2-cup serving and 11 Weight Watchers points. Drain off more of the oil and serve it over sauteed bell peppers and onions to make it a little healthier.



Achiote Oil

Why does some Mexican food taste so much better when we have it dining out versus making the same dish at home? Part of the secret may be achiote oil.

Annatto seeds (achiote in Spanish) are deep red seeds with a great rich earthy/nutty taste. They make up the base of achiote pastes and sazón seasonings that give many Mexican dishes a wonderful depth. Cooking the annatto seeds in a hot neutral oil for a few minutes infuses it with all that wonderfulness and gives you and easy way to bump up the color and flavor of a dish.

1 tablespoon annatto seeds
1/2 cup peanut oil

Heat the oil and annatto seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat until the seeds just start to sizzle. Hold the sizzle, swirling the oil often, for 1 minute and then move off the heat and let it cool. Don’t cook the seed much longer than this or they will burn, turn bitter, and make the oil green (yuck).

Carefully strain the oil (annato is used as a food dye, so it will stain just about anything it touches) into a glass jar (I use an old hot sauce bottle).  Store on the counter top for up to 4 days and in the fridge for at up to a month.

Use a little achiote oil to  add a deep flavor and color to almost any dish. It’s traditional in yellow rice, but it’s also a nice base to sauté some garlic and onions in for veggie dishes, or I like to use it as part of a marinade for seafood.

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