Salsa verde is one of my favorite things in the entire world. Chile peppers, tomatillos, and onions get a nice char under the broiler, on the grill, or in a pan, developing a wonderful, smoky flavor. The tomatillos get cored, and the peppers seeded (you can leave seeds in according to how hot you like your salsa). Then they go for a whirl in the food processor with salt, pepper, and a fistful of cilantro (or not, if you’re a genetic cilantro hater). And that’s it! SO EASY.
The Green Chiles
Let’s start from the beginning. For an authentic, New Mexican spin on the salsa verde classic, it’s great if you can get your hands on Anaheim peppers from Hatch, New Mexico. The conditions and old-school chile-cultivating methods in this Southern New Mexico town produce hot, incredibly flavorful chiles, which become available around August. In New Mexico, you can’t miss their arrival: hand-cranked chile roasters pop up all over the state, filling the air with a wonderful, hot-roasty smell. I live in Wisconsin, but for about two weeks each year, one of my local grocery stores—RANDOMLY—carries Hatch green chiles. Every year, I happily stock up and spend the next weekend roasting, peeling, and bagging them. If I can’t get Hatch chiles, I use a mix of poblanos and jalapeños.
Why char everything first? You don’t have to, of course: you can make what’s called a “raw” salsa verde. But charring not only allows you to remove the tough skin of the peppers, but it also brings out a wonderful, smoky sweetness from the caramelization of the vegetables’ sugars. In short, charring adds a depth of flavor that you just can’t quite hit with the raw version. I have a grill pan that I use to char my veg. You can roast under a broiler, on a grill, or even directly over the flame of the stove (I don’t like this last one because—although it looks cool—it makes a ginormous mess).
Salsa Verde: more than a topping for chips
Roasted or raw, it’s what you can DO with the salsa that’s so amazing. Of course, you can eat it with chips—and I highly recommend that. You can also make the most FANTASTIC, tender, flavorful pork with a slow braise in salsa verde-infused sauce. Or maybe you make enchiladas: you can use your leftover braised pork, like I did, or grab one of those lovely rotisserie chickens from the store (we call them “frickin’ chickens” in my house).
For the pork option, I use a boneless pork shoulder roast (pork butt: pork loin is just too lean for this long braise, and comes out a bit tough). I trim off the external fat, and then cut the roast up into bite-size cubes. The cubes get a nice salt-and-peppering, then get a sear (in small batches) on all sides in a screaming hot pan with a bit of lard.
“Lard?!” you say. Yes. It’s really not that bad—it has significantly less saturated fat than butter—and it makes a huge difference in the flavor. So suck it up. Pork fat is awesome.
Back to the pork. The now-carmelized pork goes into the crock pot, where it gets a dousing with a good amount of salsa verde, enough beef broth to cover, S & P, a bay leaf, a couple of good pinches of Mexican oregano, and maybe some cumin for additional smokiness. On goes the cover, and away I go for eight hours.
Pork Salsa Verde or Green Chile Stew?
When I return, I am faced with a delicious dilemma. The pork is fall-apart tender and delicious, with lots of wonderful, savory juice. At this point, I could throw in some potatoes (cut into small cubes), a can of posole corn, and a few more roasted green chiles, add a bit more broth, and cook on high for another hour or so—I’d have New Mexico-style Green Chile Stew. I could serve dinner buffet-style in a DIY taco bar with all the fixings. Or, I could chop up the meat a bit (optional), toss it with some more salsa verde, and serve it over rice with tortillas. All of these options are wonderful. For this post I went the over-rice route.
And then, there are leftovers…
I mix 2 and a half cups of my salsa verde with a half cup of Mexican crema (you can also use sour cream). Then, I toss the leftover pork with a quarter of my sauce. Next, I take some corn tortillas and give them a light coating of olive oil. Into a 350° oven they go until slightly crispy (if you get them too crispy, they’re very hard to roll).
About half of the remaining salsa goes in the bottom of a large casserole dish. I begin assembling my enchiladas: about 2 tablespoons of my pork mixture goes in the middle of each tortilla, which is then rolled up and placed in the casserole dish…then repeat, repeat, and repeat until my casserole dish is full. The rest of my sauce goes over the top, and then the whole thing gets cheesed generously with queso fresco or enchilada cheese. I make sure to cover all exposed tortilla with sauce and/or cheese: the kids don’t like those crunchy bits. Thin slices of top with some thin slices of onion (white or Vidalia). Into the 350°oven it goes until golden and bubbly.
The final product gets a sprinkling of chopped cilantro (I am lucky that my whole family has escaped the genetic cilantro-hating affliction!). I serve with green-chile rice and refried beans, with more salsa verde on the side.
YUM ACCOMPLISHED. If I’m pushed for time, I opt for a Chilaquiles version of the enchiladas, substituting thick tortilla chips for the tortillas (inspiration = Rick Bayless). Not only do the chips stay “toothy” in the sauce, but there’s also no need to roll individual enchiladas!
The Salsa Verde Meal Plan
This sequence is a variation on the “Saucy Two Step” (make the sauce ahead and then do easy, delicious stuff with it!). It happens over the course of three days (which, I guess, makes it a waltz instead of a two-step?!): 1) make the sauce; prepare and sear off the pork; 2) make the Salsa Verde Pork in the slow cooker; 3) make Salsa Verde Enchiladas. When I tested the meal plan for this post, all but Day 1 happened during the workweek!
The Salsa Verde recipe (link below) makes a LOT, so feel free to cut it in half. Or better yet, freeze your leftover sauce for another time! This is also fairly hot: if you prefer a milder salsa, cut the number of chiles by half and be sure to seed them carefully before you put everything in the food processor. Also remember to remove the white-ish membranes inside the chiles: this is the part of the chile’s anatomy with the most capsaicin (the active ingredient in chiles that makes them hot).
Here is my meal plan for making salsa verde and putting it to good use, followed by links to each recipe.
- 10 Hatch chile peppers or 6 poblano peppers
- 5 jalapeno peppers
- 2.5 lbs. tomatillos, husked and rinsed to remove the stickiness under the “wrapper”
- 3 medium onions peeled and cut into thick rings
- 1.5 cups cilantro (loosely packed; or to taste)
- 1 tsp. Kosher salt or to taste
- 2 tsp. cumin optional
Char vegetables on all sides until dark brown splotches appear. Place the chiles in a plastic bag and allow them to sweat for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, core the tomatillos. Remove chiles from plastic bag and peel off the skins. Remove the stems, seeds, and membranes as appropriate for your desired heat level: remember that if you’re heat-sensitive, the membranes adjacent to the seeds are where most of the capsaicin (the active ingredient in chiles that makes them hot) lives.
Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender; purée until smooth. Adjust seasoning as needed to taste.
This is the perfect slow-cooker recipe for a busy weeknight. The pork is incredibly tender and flavorful—perfect for serving over rice with tortillas on the side. You can either freeze the leftovers or use them to make truly yummy enchiladas or chilaquiles.
It’s almost unreal that you can make a meal THIS good on a busy weeknight. But you made the sauce on Day 1, the filling on Day 2, and now all you have left to do is crisp the tortillas, roll your enchiladas, and bake! “But that TAKES too long!”, you say. Then opt for the chilaquiles version of this recipe! Instead of tortillas, you can save yourself time by using tortilla CHIPS! This version eliminates the need to roll individual enchiladas.
A crazy-easy breakfast! A sunny side-up egg gets dressed up with salsa verde, “instant guacamole”, and avocado slices and served with a lightly fried corn tortilla. This is a favorite Sunday brunch in the Frank family.