I am always surprised when people think that Mexican sauces are just different types of salsa. Actually, Mexican sauces can be complex and incredibly flavorful. If you’ve never tasted an authentic mole sauce, you owe it to yourself to seek one out. Full of rich smoked chile flavor and accented with Mexican chocolate, mole sauce is in a word “soulful.” That’s the good news. The bad news is that you need to plan a day or two to prepare it.
When I am in the mood for Mexican flavor but don’t have lots of time, I make this far less time-consuming dish. It’s pretty simple to cook once you roast and peel the chilies and take the husks off of the fresh tomatillos. Remember that this dish can be as mild or hot as you like. For the mild version use the gentle Anaheim chile; for the hot version use the spicier poblano. If you are unable to find fresh chilies, the canned variety will do.
Tomatillos are small, round, green and resemble large cherry tomatoes. They have an herbal, slightly tart flavor and are often used in sauces, soups and stews. Known as tomates verde, tomatillos are easy to clean and use. To remove the husks, hold the fruit under warm running water, peel off the husk and rinse off the sticky residue that coats the skin. When selecting tomatillos, look for firm, green fruit with unwrinkled husks. Remember that when the tomatillos are cooked they become sweeter and less acidic than when they are eaten raw.
This chicken, fragrant with tomatillo, cumin and cilantro sauce, is a great dish for family and friends. Begin with a bowl of guacamole and fresh chips. Serve the chicken with vegetable rice and don’t forget warm corn or flour tortillas. I also like to serve Mexican beer with the chicken.
Chicken with Roasted Chile Tomatillo Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
3 medium Anaheim or poblano chilies (Tip: When working with chilies, always wear rubber gloves. Wash the cutting surface and knife immediately afterward.)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 medium chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), cut up
2 medium chicken breast halves, skin and bone attached
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cups chicken stock
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
11/2 pound tomatillos, husked and quartered
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Corn or flour tortillas
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
1. To peel the chiles, place on a broiler pan and broil approximately 6 inches from the heat until blackened on all sides. Use tongs to turn. Close tightly in a brown paper bag. Let rest for 10 minutes. Remove the chilies from the bag, drain and peel. Make a slit in each chile and open it up. Core, cut off the stem and scrape out the seeds and ribs. Chop the chilies into 1/4-inch pieces. Reserve.
2. Dry the chicken pieces carefully. In a large saute pan heat half of the oil over medium-high heat. Saute the chicken until lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. You may have to do this in batches, adding the remaining oil as needed. Remove to a side platter.
3. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until soft but not brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and deglaze the pan by turning up the heat and scraping the brown bits off the bottom.
4. Add the garlic, reserved chiles, tomatillos, cilantro and cumin. Bring to a boil; then reduce to a simmer. Add the browned chicken pieces and simmer on low, covered, turning the chicken once to cook evenly. Simmer until the chicken pieces are just done, about 20 minutes. (Remove the smaller pieces and breasts first.)
5. Transfer the chicken onto a serving platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
6. Add the lime juice to the pan and then reduce the sauce until slightly thickened. Add the salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning. Pour over the chicken pieces. Serve with warm corn or flour tortillas and garnish with the fresh cilantro leaves.