I am a huge proponent of eating pretty much anything in taco form. Whether it’s scrambled eggs, beef bulgogi, or Greek yogurt and chili crisp, little tortillas are just the most wonderful vessel for getting edible goodness from your plate to your face hole. So this recipe for pollo verde (literal translation: “green chicken”; or more accurately, chicken in green sauce) goes into some detail about using tacos as your delivery vessel of choice but you could just as well enjoy the chicken and its slightly tart, rich, earthy green sauce with a fork and knife, flanked by some rice. Once you’ve made it, I’ll let you decide how to deliver it to your own face hole. But the contrast of comforting, stewy chicken and fresh, punchy garnishes folded into a tortilla wouldn’t be a bad way to go.
I’m calling this recipe pollo verde because the inspiration comes from my experiences with Latin American cuisine, but I am loathe to liken it to a more specific dish name. Throughout Latin America, different regions have different ways of taking advantage of the wonderfully sour flavor of the tomatillo and the flavorful kick from various types of green chilies. I took a cooking class in Antigua, Guatemala where we made a chicken with green sauce and due to an administrative mishap I was never emailed the recipe after; rather than ask, I’ve been reconstructing the dish from memory, making alterations along the way as I try more chickens in green sauces in other regions.
But what I liked about what I learned in Guatemala was the (probably not traditional) idea of using a blender to bring the sauce together. Less chopping! You are responsible for knowing your own blender’s limitations, but mine is pretty darn accommodating when I chuck fairly big hunks of vegetables and hard seeds into it and expect it to return to me an even, thick sauce. This recipe assumes that your blender can hang like mine.
Pollo Verde, Tacos Edition
(Makes 4 big saucy servings)
Ingredients for Chicken
- 4 chicken thighs*
- 4 medium tomatillos, husked (Mine were unevenly sized so I used 5.)
- 1 poblano pepper
- 1 jalapeño pepper
- 1 serrano pepper
- 1/2 medium yellow onion
- 3 scallions, trimmed
- 1 bunch cilantro, trimmed
- 1/2 cup raw pepitas/pumpkin seeds, without the shells
- 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
- 2 tbsp butter, optional
- olive oil
*I like using bone-in/skin-on chicken thighs for any stewy type of recipe because I am convinced it adds more flavor. But you could do this with boneless/skinless if you are so inclined.
Ingredients for Tacos
You should know by now that you can include whatever you want in your tacos, so I’m only going to tell you how I made the ones in the photos. You be in charge of your own taco-eating destiny.
- 12+ small yellow corn tortillas
- 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup water, boiling temp
- 1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
- 4 red radishes, thinly sliced
- lime wedges
- cotija, finely crumbled
The first thing you might want to consider tackling is the quick-pickled onions to top the tacos. The longer they sit, the more the color from the outside will bleed into the pickling liquid, coloring the white parts of the onions, and giving them that overall vibrant magenta look. Place your sliced onions in a small bowl and pour over the vinegar and boiling water. Give it a mix. Try to use a bowl where the onions can be fully submerged in the liquid. I did this part a few hours before I started making the rest of the taco components. If you don’t have the time or forget, these will be a perfectly good taco accompaniment even if you don’t make them until you’re ready to start cooking.
Now for the main event. To prep your vegetables for the green sauce, cut up your onion and tomatillos into big chunks and separate the white parts of your scallions from the green. Trim and cut open the peppers and remove the seeds (or not…I’ve never made this with the seeds but if you enjoy a spicy kick I’m sure it’d be great with the seeds included). Heat up a large pan (large enough to fit all your chicken in a single layer) and add a little drizzle of olive oil. Add the onions, tomatillos, peppers, and the whites of the scallions into the pan, season with a bit of salt, and sear the exposed areas until there’s some nice caramelization just on the outside.
Add your bunch of cilantro, the green parts of the scallions, and your pumpkin seeds into your blender. Carefully add your seared veggies to the blender as well. Return the pan to the stove on low heat and add the chicken broth. Use a wooden spoon to gently scrape the flavor bits off the pan and then pour the broth into the blender. Blend until smooth and set aside.
Turn that same pan back up to medium heat. Meanwhile, generously season the chicken all over with salt and pepper. In the pan, melt the butter (if using) or add enough olive oil to very thinly coat the bottom of the pan. I prefer to use butter for this because chicken cooked in butter is delicious, and it won’t smoke as much as you brown your chicken. Place the chicken skin side down in a single layer in the pan. Cook for 3 minutes, flip, and cook for another 3 minutes. Both sides of the chicken should have a wonderful golden brown crust.
Carefully pour the sauce from the blender over the chicken. This recipe makes probably way more sauce than you will use for the tacos, but it is important to have enough to fully coat the chicken in the pan so you can essentially braise the chicken in it. (Use the extra sauce afterwards with rice or as a condiment!) Turn the heat down to low and place a lid slightly ajar over the pan. Allow the chicken to braise until fully cooked and tender, about 20–25 minutes.
Remove the chicken and allow it to rest and cool a bit. Continue to simmer the sauce uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the excess liquid evaporates and you are left with a thick, even sauce. At this point, you have something great going on in your kitchen already. You could add the chicken back into the sauce and serve the pieces whole if you’d like.
If you are going the taco route, when the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred or cut up the chicken into your desired taco meat texture. Add it back to the sauce to warm back up and it’s ready to be folded into tortillas, garnished, and consumed. I recommend heating up the tortillas for pliability and then serving everything taco bar style in the middle of the table.
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