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Pork Chile Verde

By Steve Dunn Published

Our new-school approach to making stew brings every element of this tangy, fragrant, meaty Mexican classic to its full potential.

Before I delve into the specifics of my recipe for chile verde con cerdo, the classic Mexican stew of pork simmered in a tangy tomatillo and green chile sauce, I have a secret to share: When it comes to braising meat, all recipes work more or less the same way.

Of course, I’m not talking about specific ingredients. American pot roast, daube Provençal, and pork vindaloo are made with completely different seasonings and taste nothing alike. But if you look closely at how each dish is put together, the processes have the same basic approach: Brown the meat to build a flavorful fond, add a modest amount of liquid, cover the pot, and simmer it all gently until the meat is tender and the liquid has reduced to a concentrated, deeply savory sauce.

Associate editor Steve Dunn scrapes the verdant sauce from the food processor.

The beauty of this universal framework is that once you know how it works, you can make countless variations. Tuscan peposo. Chinese red-cooked beef. Hungarian goulash. Even if you’re not familiar with a particular braise, you have a road map for how to make it-—a pretty powerful culinary tool.

That’s where I started with my recipe for chile verde. When I applied the basic formula along with a handful of the test kitchen’s best braising practices, I found my way to a dish of tender pork cloaked in a vibrant, meaty sauce—perfect for serving alongside rice or tucking into warm tortillas.

Scrappy Tricks

Fat-streaked, collagen-rich boneless pork butt roast is almost always the cut used in this chili; during cooking, the collagen breaks down into gelatin that turns the pork supple. I trimmed a roughly 4-pound roast, cut it into 1½-inch chunks (which would be as easy to eat wrapped in a tortilla as from a fork), and seasoned it with kosher salt to help it stay juicy. I didn’t brown the pieces; we often forgo that step when meat sitting above the surface of the liquid will brown during braising (as it would here) and/or when a sauce has so much flavor that a lack of browning isn’t noticeable. Skipping browning saves time and prevents the meat’s exterior from drying out.

What Makes This Chili “Verde”?

Hint: It’s more than just green chiles. The braising liquid gets its vibrant flavor and color from four key components.

 

Charring the vegetables, a common step in preparing chile verde, concentrates their flavors and imbues them with a pleasant touch of bitterness. So while the salted pork rested, I loaded up a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet with tomatillos (husked, rinsed, and dried), moderately spicy poblano chiles (stemmed, halved, and seeded), a large onion (cut through the root end into wedges), and a handful of unpeeled garlic cloves. I drizzled the vegetables with oil and slid the sheet under the broiler for about 10 minutes.

When the vegetables were charred, I peeled the chiles and garlic, discarding the skins (there was no need to peel the thin-skinned tomatillos), and blitzed everything in a food processor until it formed a rough puree. Then I sautéed some oregano and cumin in a Dutch oven before adding the salsa, pork, and a few cups of chicken broth blended with water; bringing it all to a simmer; and braising the mixture gently in the oven.

To produce a rich fond, we actually start by simmering the meat scraps in water, which extracts their fat and flavorful juices more efficiently than searing does.

The pork turned nicely tender after 90 minutes, but the liquid remained thin even after I cooked the chili for another hour. Plus, it tasted sharp and lacked the meaty backbone that any chili should have.

The savory flavor produced by browning would balance the acidity nicely, but I had a workaround that allowed me to leave the stew meat alone: browning the pork trimmings instead. It’s a trick we’ve used when we want to build fond without subjecting the meat to a hard sear.

I placed the trimmings (chopped coarse to maximize their surface area) in a Dutch oven with a cup of water and brought the mixture to a simmer. Strange as that sounds, we’ve found that you can produce a much richer fond by simmering the meat first, since the liquid extracts meat juices and fat much more thoroughly than searing does; when the liquid evaporates, the bottom of the pot is coated with a substantial layer of fond.

Built on that rich layer of fond, the chili tasted noticeably meatier. In fact, a good bit of browning had accumulated on the interior walls of the pot, too. Letting the pot sit covered after braising trapped steam that loosened that “side fond” so that I could scrape every last bit into the chili. But the chili’s consistency was still so soupy that the pork pieces floated in it like little icebergs. 

A Smarter Way to Braise

Braising meat in a stew such as our Green Chili with Pork (Chile Verde con Cerdo) is simple: You build up flavorful browning and then slowly simmer the meat in a covered pot until it’s tender and the modest amount of braising liquid reduces to a flavorful sauce. Our updated approach still incorporates those key elements, but we rethought every step to maximize flavor and efficiency.  

 

Put the Salsa to Work

Clearly, there was too much liquid in the pot, so I incrementally decreased the amounts of broth and water I was adding—until I eliminated both altogether. The salsa alone made a fine braising liquid and reduced to a tight, concentrated sauce by the time the meat was tender. The pectin-rich tomatillos helped, too, thickening the sauce as it cooked.

Charring the tomatillos, poblanos, onion, garlic, and jalapeño concentrates their flavors and imbues them with a pleasant touch of bitterness.

I tweaked the flavors, adding a jalapeño for more distinct but measured heat; bay leaves for herbal depth; cinnamon, cloves, and sugar for subtle warmth and sweetness; and minced cilantro for freshness.

The contrast between the rich pork and the tangy, spicy sauce reminded me why chile verde is one of the world’s greatest braises, and I was gratified to think that my new-school method had made it even more efficient. 

Recipe Green Chili with Pork (Chile Verde Con Cerdo)

Our new-school approach to making stew brings every element of this tangy, fragrant, meaty Mexican classic to its full potential.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.