Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chili Verde, Second Edition

This past Monday we went out to visit good friends Rick and Lynn at the Synergy Art and Design Studio. I took along the goods to make chili verde for our dinner and Fayme was kind enough to take pictures through the day so I could write about it.

Our hosts...

We had visited Jon’s International Market in Garden Grove, CA on Sunday to get all the parts for the chili. Most of the ingredients may be purchased at any good grocery store but Jon’s had pork on sale and I wanted to find a good piece.

First off I had to cut the pork in half so it would fit in the browning pan.

After seasoning with salt and pepper on both sides the pork was browned in a stainless steel pan with a little bit of olive oil. Vegetable oil will work fine, too.

While the pork was browning I put the big pot on the burner with three cans of chicken broth so it could begin to heat up. When the pork was browned it went straight into the pot. After the second piece of meat was browned and in the pot I put a rough chopped white onion in the pan to brown a bit in the remaining oil and fat. When the onion was almost done I deglazed the pan with a bit of broth from the pot. After that everything went into the pot.

With everything in the pot it was easy to see the liquid level and I added some water to bring the liquid up to barely cover the meat. The pan was covered and left to simmer for some time.
While the pork simmered to tender we began prepping the other ingredients.
First was removing the husks from the tomatillos and washing them.

Next the tomatillos were cut in half and put cut side down on a cookie sheet. Accompanying them were a few jalapeno chilies and a number of garlic cloves. The full cookie sheet was slid under the stove broiler and a close watch was given since I’m not familiar with this broiler. When the tomatillo skins were brown the sheet was removed and set aside for everything to cool. These could have done with some more time under the broiler.

Fayme has become really good at fire roasting chilies on the range top so she took over that task. As each chili was done it was placed into a glass bowl and a clean plastic bag was pulled over the bowl. The chilies will continue to cook inside a covered container like this and that’s just what we want.

When you look out the kitchen window this is what you see. That's Roxy on the left and Jet on the right. They love watching the strange goings on in the house.

The jalapeno chilies hadn’t browned very well under the broiler so Fayme gave them an additional blast on the range top to finish them off.
After these chilies were cool enough to handle I rubbed off the skins, cut off the stem ends, and removed the seeds.

This is probably a good time to remind folks that rubber or latex gloves are recommended when handling chilies like this. I always forget to use them and usually end up paying for my indiscretion. It may be hours later but rubbing my eyes or visiting the restroom will remind me that chilies can be HOT. There are some places you do not want chilies to go; your eyes are only one of them. You’d think I would learn…

As I was cleaning the Anaheim chilies I also gave the roasted jalapeno chilies the same treatment. Jalapeno chilies can have some good heat to them but it can also vary quite a bit from one chili to another. It’s always tricky determining the right number to add. Too little and the dish is bland, too many and everyone is breathing fire. I don’t know how but this dish turned out just about right.

By now, enough time has passed that the simmering pork has become wonderfully tender. I fished it all out of the pot with a pair of tongs and put it on the cookie sheet to cool a little.

After removing and discarding the fat, bones, and any other inedible bits the meat was shredded into bite size pieces with a fork and the tongs. The now very mouth watering meat was returned to the simmering broth in the pot.

When things start smelling good you never know who will drop in. This old girl lives up the road and occasionally wanders down to see what the neighbours are up to.

The skinned and de-seeded chilies were combined with the roasted garlic (peeled), tomatillos, and three bunches of cilantro (I chopped off about half the stem length). Whirled through a blender in a couple batches we ended up with a beautiful green sauce that was poured into the pot on the stove.

We’re almost ready to eat!

A second white onion was chopped up and the pieces added to the pot. When the onion is cooked we’ll be ready.

Right after adding the onion was a good time to do a few other herbs. Dried oregano, dried ground cumin, and dried ground coriander were added to the pot in what seemed to be good quantities. After test tasting I added a bit more cumin and some salt. We're really close now.
These little packages of herbs are available in all the grocery stores I frequent and I really like them. They're far less expensive than the name-brand stuff in jars and the quality seems to be right up there. Best of all, when a package gets too old for the spice to still be vibrant, I don't feel bad about dumping the old one and getting a new one, most of these are less than two dollars a package.

The broth was a little thinner than I wanted so I made a paste of corn masa and water and added it to the pot. When you do this be sure to mix the water and masa into kind of a thin slurry. I made it a little thick and spent the next ten minutes chasing down and squashing chunks of masa in the broth. The masa has to cook a bit to thicken the pot so be sure you don’t add it right before serving the dish.

To accompany the bowls of chili verde I chopped up some cilantro and a few green onions. There was also sour cream and some Mexican cheese. You’re on your own for what kind of Mexican cheese to use. There are a lot of different kinds and they all look very similar in the store refrigerator. I don’t know what’s what so if I pick a good one it’s purely by chance. We also had warm flour tortillas on the side.

This batch of chili verde was voted to be a resounding success. It turned out a bit spicier than the first batch but Fayme was still able to eat it. Although, I have to remember to have milk on hand for her when chili is served. It really does help control the heat.

This was really a great day with some good friends. Many thanks to Rick and Lynn for hosting us and for taking some of the leftovers. With four people the amount I made was just about right for a couple meals for everyone.

Our neighbour, Morgan, has used this recipe to make her own version of chili verde and she did something that never occured to me. It's certainly worth passing along here.
Morgan used a cut of pork that had quite a bit of fat on it. Now, fat can help the meat stay moist and flavorful but too much of it makes for a greasy dish. Morgan simmered the meat in the broth and when it was done she refrigerated the broth overnight. The next day it was easy to pick the cakes of solidified grease off the top of the broth and dispose of them. From there she picked up where she left off and continued making the dish.
The cut of meat I used had fat but not a great amount of it. It never occured to me that de-greasing the broth would be desirable for other cuts. Depending upon the cut of pork you use, and the time you have available to make the dish, this step could be something you want to do.
Thanks, Morgan!
Happy eating!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chili Verde For The First Time

I made a mistake today:
I made a dish I’d never done before and I forgot to get any pictures other than one right before I started eating. I hate it when I do that.

Let me start at the beginning…

This past Saturday we went to a friend’s wedding up in Ventura, CA. Our good friends Sal and Aimee let us hitch a ride along with them so we got to visit with them, too. Once at the wedding we all sat with Ken and Barbara and their young son, Jack. Unfortunately, Jack began to get a little vocal during the ceremony so Barbara took him outside the building and she consequently missed much of the ceremony.

The reception and dinner was held immediately after the ceremony in the same room. One of the meat courses was a sliced pork roast. Sal brought up the idea that the leftover pork would make a great chili verde. He went on to describe the chili verde his grandmother makes and it really sounded pretty special. While I’ve made more than a few gallons of chili con carne I’ve never made chili verde (green chili for non-Spanish speakers) so I paid close attention to what Sal said. I asked a few questions along the way and got an idea for how the dish is made.

After dinner we weren’t fast enough to snag any of the leftover pork but by now I couldn’t let that stop me. I hit the grocery store Sunday afternoon.

We already had four pork chops that needed to get cooked and to them I added a couple small pork roasts that were on sale. About 1 3/4 pounds of tomatillos, two white onions, two bunches of cilantro, a number of garlic cloves, three jalapeno peppers, and a handful of Anaheim chilies gave me a bunch of good stuff to work with.

For the pork chops I de-boned them and diced the meat into somewhat large chunks. Those chunks got tossed into an oiled skillet in a couple of batches to brown. The second batch was accompanied by a diced onion. When the pork chunks were browned they went into my big pot where some cans of chicken stock and some water were heating up over a low flame.

On the two small pork roasts I roughly boned them and cut the meat into big chunks, about four inches square, or so. These chunks also went into the skillet to brown. The bones still had quite a bit of meat left on them so after they were browned everything went into the pot to begin simmering. Somewhere along the way I dropped in about five or six peeled and smashed garlic cloves.

While the pork was happily simmering I peeled the husks off the tomatillos and washed them. After cutting them in half I put them on a foil lined pan with the cut side down. After adding the jalapenos and a handful of garlic cloves (unpeeled), the pan went under the broiler until the tomatillo skins were browned.

Moving right along… After the tomatillos cooled they went into the blender in a couple batches. Each batch also got a bunch of cilantro, washed with most of the stems chopped off. Also included were the jalapenos (seeded) and the garlic that had been roasted (now peeled). The pretty green slurry from the blender got dumped into the pot with the simmering pork and now things were looking really good.

Somewhere along the way Fayme volunteered to roast the Anaheim chilies for me. Since she enjoys it and also does it better than I do, how could I refuse?

After the chilies cooled off a bit I peeled them and took out the seeds and stem. The chilies went into the blender and got a very rough chop there. At least it was as rough a chop as a blender can give. We’ll just say they weren’t pureed.

Now it was time to relax and let the pot simmer and tenderize the pork. Somewhere along this step is a good time to taste the chili broth to check for spices. I added some salt, oregano, and cumin. Oh, and the second onion, diced.

When the pork got tender I fished out all those larger chunks and shredded them with a fork. The bone pieces got the meat pulled off and shredded, bones were discarded.

Put the meat back into the broth, add a bit of corn starch to thicken things up, we’re ready to eat.

Thanks, Sal!

I’m glad you put the idea into my head to make this dish, it really turned out good. When I make it again I’ll see if I can remember to take more pictures so the story will be a little more interesting.

Happy Cooking!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Salsa Fresca for Pasadena

Tomorrow we’re going to our monthly gathering at the Pasadena archery range. It’s nothing formal, just a bunch of friends who get together to practice somewhat primitive art in various forms.

Some people work on bows, some on arrows, a couple people will usually flint knap. There are always folks working on and throwing atlatls. We have folks interested in fiber arts and at least one very talented bead worker.

We never go hungry at these gatherings because someone is always bringing stuff to munch on. It may be a tray of cupcakes, jugs of homemade pineapple drink, cookies, homemade cheese, or a big jar of pretzels from Costco. There’s always something.

I thought it’s been some while since I made salsa so at the store yesterday I gathered up the ingredients. I want to make a decent sized batch so I can take it to Pasadena to share with everyone.

Tomatoes, I used Roma tomatoes this time but they’ll all work.
Anaheim chilies
Poblano chilies
Jalapeno chilies
White onion
Salt, spices

How much of each one to use?
Well, this is going to frustrate some people and I’m sorry for that, but I make salsa by look and taste so I don’t have specific measurements. It’s kind of chancy to do it this way. A couple times I’ve put in too many chilies and had to run to the store to get more tomatoes to even out the tomato/chili ration. This time I almost used too many tomatoes but stopped cutting them just in time.

Making this salsa isn't difficult. The chilies are fire roasted and that takes a little bit of time but for the rest you pretty much just chop everything up and mix it together.
It's really easy to fire roast chilies on the kitchen range but since I had a pretty good amount of them I used the gas bbq on the patio.
As the chilis came off the grill I put them in a plastic shopping bag so they'd continue to steam and cook. When they cooled off enough to handle I peeled the skin, removed the stems and seeds, and chopped them up. Be sure not to rinse the chilis in water as you peel them. Doing so washes away a lot of the wonderful flavor.
The Guerilla Chef has a great tutorial for roasting chilies and he remembered to take pictures (I forgot when I did mine).

Here are the pictures I did remember to take...

Why yes, I do like garlic...

White onion...

I cut a corner on the jalapenos and roasted them in an iron spider on the range. I didn't peel the jalapenos but did remove the stems and seeds before chopping them.

Freshly fire roasted Anaheim chilies and Poblano chilies...

Readying the chilies for dicing by removing the stems and seeds. I've already peeled them at this point.

The bowl of diced chilies...

By this point I've already gone to the biggest container I have short of a 5 gallon bucket. I just need to finish by chopping the cilantro and adding salt, chili powder, and ground coriander.

Oh, yeah... lime juice, too. I didn't use all these, just to taste.

Done and ready to eat. I hope everyone enjoys it tomorrow.

Something to keep in mind when taking on a project like this: you've got to have good tools!
That means a knife designed to chop and dice and the knife has to be sharp.
Cutting tomatoes can be frustrating if your knife isn't sharp. Cutting this many tomatoes with a dull knife is begging for a slip and an injury.
The chef's knife is probably my most used tool in the kitchen. I keep it sharp because it works better that way. If you've got dull knives your time in the kitchen isn't going to be nearly as enjoyable as it could be. 
Thanks for reading! 
Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Simple Mid-Day Snack

I was looking in the refrigerator yesterday to see what I could dig up for lunch.
There were lots of possibilities: tuna sandwich, lunch meat sandwich, leftover chicken curry, Japanese noodles... and probably much more that I didn't notice.
But after thinking about it I decided on something simple and light.
I decided on a mixed bowl of... stuff. That's the best way I can think to describe it, stuff.
I cut a cucumber into strips and sprinkled it with Kosher salt. A nice tomato got the same treatment. Some blu cheese and feta cheese with herbs went into the mix along with a small handful of Kalamata olives. Pepperoncini peppers rounded out the dish.

Feeling the need for something crunchy I added a bowl of crackers but ended up not eating very many. The bowl of mixed stuff was so good I just forgot all about the crackers.
This may not have been a very orthodox lunch snack but it sure was good.
I encourage you to give a look past the regular sandwiches and other lunch foods to see what you can come up with. You could well surprise yourself.

Thanks for reading!