Chile Verde

I stuck a draft version of my recipe for this Southwestern American/Mexican recipe in Feeding Amsterdam. The dish is, if anything, even more popular with the Dutch than my chile con carne. And since tomatillos are next to impossible to find in the Netherlands, it’s something that most Dutch have never even imagined. See the end of the recipe for a variation using chicken.

INGREDIENTS

4.5 lbs. (2 kilos) fresh ham. By “fresh ham” I mean uncured meat from the hind leg of a pig. This is not easy to find in Middle America because the vast majority of these legs are turned into hams, but you can find it in specialty markets. It’s very lean with little connective tissue between the large muscle divisions. I get mine at Casa Guadalupe on Mission Street, where it’s called pierna. An excellent alternative is a Boston Butt pork roast, which is frankly almost as good and a lot cheaper.

Lard or oil for browning the meat.

2 pounds (0,9 kilos) tomatillos. The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica) is in the same genus as the poha (P. peruviana) and in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family with the tomato. You cannot make real chile verde without them, and when i’ve made this dish in the Netherlands, i’ve smuggled them in from San Francisco.  That said, you might be able to find them at a groente juwelier in Amsterdam.

1 pound (0,45 kilos) mild green chiles. I especially like Pasillas, but or Anaheims or Anchos are also good. You don’t want “sweet” or bell peppers.

Fresh jalapeños. The number of jalapeños is entirely dependent on who’s coming to dinner. Take into account that they will lose some of their piquancy as the dish cooks down, but be gentle.  This dish should not be as “hot” as Chile con Carne.

1 bunch of fresh green onions.

1 large bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro).

2 or 3 stalks of fresh green garlic. Of course if you’re making this dish outside the short fresh garlic season, you’ll have to use 1 head of dry garlic instead.

Salt.

TECHNIQUE

  1. Trim the excess fat off the meat. Sometimes, especially if my doctor isn’t watching, I render the fat scraps and then use this to brown the meat in the next step, supplementing it with oil since in my experience butchers everywhere tend to trim fresh ham well because you’re paying a premium for it.
  2. Cut the meat into 1 ½ in. (3-4 cm.) chunks and then, in small batches, pat them dry with towels and brown them in the oil or fat in the bottom of a large, heavy pot, transferring the batches into a large bowl when done. Drain off the remaining fat and return the browned cubes to the pot.
  3. Husk and stem the tomatillos, and wash off the sticky sap. Seed the peppers. Trim and chop the onions and garlic. Throw the last inch off the stems of the coriander into the compost and reserve about half of the leaves for the end of the recipe.
  4. Chop all the vegetables in a food processor and dump them into the pot with the pork. Bring to a simmer.To get it going, you may need to add a small amount of stock or water, but not too much because the vegetables and meat will yield some liquid as they cook. Adjust the heat to maintain the simmer, and cook until the meat is almost falling apart and the green vegetables have cooked down into a thick green sauce. You may have to add a little more liquid, but remember that you want the sauce to be quite thick at the end.
  5. When the sauce gets thick enough, it will start to stick and burn if left unattended, so just before it burns is a good time to throw in the reserved coriander leaves, stir for a couple of minutes, and call it done. Well, assuming that the pork is fork-tender. Cooking time varies according to the pork, how well you browned the pork, and the altitude – two to three hours.

VARIATION

In the summer of ’08 my friend Stephen invited me to a garden party for our friend Ian, and I volunteered to bring Chile Verde. Too late, I remembered that many of the guests don’t eat pork. So what to do? Well, I considered just making a regular Chile Verde and calling it “Long Chicken in Green Sauce”, but I knew Ian’s extensive residence and study in Polynesia and the East Indes would allow him to see right through this subterfuge.

So I went down to Casa Guadalupe and bought a six pound stewing hen (una gallina vieja). I simmered her for 3 hours in a mixture of half chile verde green stuff puree (see above), a quarter water, and a quarter canned chicken stock. Pulled her out, broke her into quarters, and let her cool while I boiled down the cooking liquids and sucked the fat off with a bulb baster. Tore the chicken off the bones and broke up the meat into chunks. Threw the chicken with the reduced cooking liquids into a casserole and simmered it another few minutes while I watched Andy Roddick humiliate himself, taking his nation down with him, until I could bear it no longer. Turned off the fire, covered the casserole, stuck it into a carrier, and Segwayed to the party.

Never before have I taken to a party a dish that got as many requests for the recipe.

And oh, that schmaltz that I skimmed off the top? It was a pale green and richly, richly flavored from the chiles and vegetables. Delicious for a variety of uses.

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