When I was a kid, I’m pretty sure my father’s list of priorities for raising a daughter were the following:
1. Raise me a in a loving, supportive home filled with laughter.
2. Teach me to value intelligence, self-sufficiency and hard work.
3. Build a deep love of spicy food as early in my life as possible.
Food with flavor and spice was always a mainstay in my house growing up, and spicy food (‘food that’ll make your hair sweat,’ as my father describes it) was on the menu regularly. It didn’t take much for me to love it quickly, further proving I am my father’s daughter, and I maintain a love of it to this very day. It’s like, if food doesn’t smack you across the face with flavor every once in awhile, why even bother?
When I think about some of my favorite spicy dishes, pork chile verde is right at the top of the list. It’s that perfect blend of spicy and sweet and tart; the layers of flavor just bowl me over. Stewing the pork and chilies together for a few hours produces a rich concoction that pairs beautifully with rice or tortillas or both. It’ll leave you a little tingly, as if you’ve received a big ol’ warm, stew-y hug.
You ready? OK, let’s do this.
Pork Chile Verde with Potatoes
You will need:
3 – 3½ pounds pork butt or shoulder, excess fat removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 large poblano peppers
4 serrano peppers
1 pound tomatillos, husks and stems removed
5-6 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano (or ¾ teaspoon Italian oregano)
2 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2½ – 3 cups chicken stock
3 medium yukon gold potatoes
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
avocado salsa (chopped avocados mixed with salt/pepper, lime juice and chopped cilantro)
cooked white rice
warmed flour tortillas
Kitchen utensils: baking sheet, heavy duty aluminum foil, tongs, large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven
You’ll have to do a bit of prep work before you get to stewin’, so let’s do it. Move one of your oven racks to the top position, turn your oven on to the broiler setting and let it get nice and hot. Take your baking sheet and cover it with one sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil. Lay your chilies out on the baking sheet, spaced evenly so they’re not touching.
When the oven is hot, put the baking sheet on the top rack and let your peppers cook for five minutes, then using your tongs, turn the chills over and cook for an additional five minutes. The chilies will start to blister and turn black, but they should not char or burn, so make sure you’re watching them closely. Once fully roasted (this should only take about 10-15 minutes total), remove from oven and place in a paper or plastic bag, closing tightly. Leave the chilies in the bag to cool; they will steam in their own heat which will make it easy to remove the skin. When cool, remove the skins and most of the seeds (the more seeds you leave, the spicier it will be), roughly chop the chilies, and set aside.
Next, score your tomatillos (cut an X on the top of each) and place on the same baking sheet as the chilies. Put back in the hot oven and cook for three minutes, then flip using your tongs, and cook another 3-5 minutes until charred. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once cool, roughly chop and place in a bowl with any leftover juices.
Next, you need to prep your pork. Grab your pork butt (heh, heh) and a sharp chef’s knife and slice your pork against the grain in about 1-inch thick slices. Trim the excess fat from each slice, then cut each slice into small chunks, about 1-inch square. You want to cut your meat in as uniform pieces as possible, as this will ensure that your meat cooks evenly. Pat your pork pieces with a dry paper towel and season with salt and pepper and set aside.
The last bit of prep work is to chop your onion and garlic, setting aside until you need them.
Now, take your big pot or dutch oven, add a few tablespoons of canola oil, and heat over high heat until the oil shimmers. Working in batches, brown your pork in the pot making sure not to add too much at one time. Don’t crowd your meat, people! This is bad news bears — if you dump the pork in all at once, the water in the meat will steam it, which will get in the way of you achieving a beautiful brown sear that takes flavor up about 78 notches. If you add fewer pieces of meat to the pot at a time, it has room to brown nicely, which you’ll thank me for later. As each batch finishes, use your tongs to transfer to a bowl and set aside. Just a warning, as the pork browns it will splatter, so be careful not to burn yourself. Using longer tongs is a great way to tend to your pork without getting within oil splatter territory.
Once all of the meat is cooked, in the same pot, turn the heat down to medium and add the onions. Cook about five to seven minutes until translucent and fragrant (is there anything better than the smell of onions cooking? I think not.) Next, add the garlic, cumin, oregano, bay leaves and cinnamon stick and stir to incorporate. Add the cider vinegar and deglaze the pot, scraping up all the brown bits on the bottom that are packed with flavor.
Add the pork back to the pot, then add the chicken stock and the honey. Turn the heat back to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about two hours until pork is tender. Check in on the pot every once in awhile during this time and give it a stir to ensure that it doesn’t burn and that everything cooks evenly.
Chop your potatoes and add them to the stew at the two-hour mark. If the stew is looking a little thick, you can add a bit more chicken stock (about a 1/2 cup). Stir to incorporate, making sure the potatoes are covered by the stew. Cook an additional 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.
If you’re serving with rice, now’s a great time to cook it; same goes for prepping the avocado salsa.
Once everything is ready to go, warm some tortillas in damp paper towels in the microwave for 45 seconds. Add rice to each bowl and spoon stew over the top. Add a spoonful of avocado salsa and you’re good to go.
This stew is hearty and flavorful and will pack a good amount of heat. It also gets better with time — the few days after I make this, it usually shows up in many a leftover meal — you can make tacos or burritos, serve it with eggs for breakfast, or serve just as is, maybe with some corn bread. It’s all good, and it’s sure to make your hair sweat in the best possible way.