Eric Akis: Branch out on a Mexican staple with Pork Chili Verde

Eric Akis

In Canada, when one envisions a bowl of chili, a red-hued, bean-rich, ground-beef mixture is what first comes to mind for many.

That’s understandable because that style of chili is often dished up. But if you want to switch things up, go green and make my pork chili verde.

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This stew-like dish, flavoured and tinted with green chilies and other green-coloured ingredients, originated in northern Mexico and has became popular in places such as the southwestern United States.

In what I have seen called more-traditional recipes, you are asked to make your own salsa verde (green salsa) and slowly cook cubes of pork in it until very tender.

In my variation of pork chili verde, I simplified things and used a jar of store-bought salsa verde instead. It’s sold in the Mexican foods aisle of most supermarkets and there are good-quality brands available.

Tomatillos are this salsa’s main ingredient and they are cooked and blended with a few other ingredients, such as serrano peppers.

As with the tomato, the tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, but its taste is quite different, offering mild hints of such things as apple, lemon and herbs.

I used cubes of pork shoulder in my chili verde. It’s a tougher, budget-friendly cut that becomes succulent and tender when seared and then slowly stewed in the oven.

Along with the salsa verde I also stewed the pork with a chopped and roasted mix of poblano peppers, jalapeño peppers, onions and garlic, all flavoured with oregano and cumin. Chopped cilantro is also swirled into the chili verde at the end of the cooking process.

When ready, the pork chili verde has an incredible depth of flavour. Make a hearty meal by serving it on steamed rice with some warm corn tortillas alongside. For added richness, you can also top bowls of the chili with sour cream and diced avocado.

Another option is to use the pork chili verde as the main ingredient in a taco you can also fill with a few other simple ingredients, such as thinly shredded cabbage and crumbled queso fresco.

Sunday is Cinco de Mayo, which has become a day to celebrate Mexican culture, often with good food and drink. The pork chili verde is a dish you could serve to mark the occasion.

Pork Chili Verde

This satisfying, green-hued Mexican-style dish sees seared cubes of pork cooked with flavour-enhancing ingredients, such as green salsa, poblano peppers and cilantro.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: About two hours and 15 minutes

Makes: Makes about five and half cups, four to six servings

2 medium poblano peppers, diced (see Note 1)

1 medium onion, diced

1 medium to large jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

4 Tbsp olive oil (divided)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 1/2 to 2 3/4 lb. boneless pork shoulder roast, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes (see Eric's options)

1 (453 gram/16 oz.) jar green salsa (also called salsa verde; see Note 2)

1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth, plus more if needed

• juice of 1 large lime (about 2 Tbsp)

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1/2 cup loosely packed, coarsely chopped, fresh cilantro, or to taste

• warm fresh corn tortillas and steamed rice, to taste

• sour cream, to taste

• diced avocado, to taste (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set the poblano peppers, onion, jalapeño, garlic, oregano, cumin and oil on the baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Spread vegetables out so they are sitting in a single layer. Roast the vegetables 30 minutes, or until lightly charred-looking and tender.

While vegetable roasts, season the cubes of pork with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp oil in a Dutch oven or other large ovenproof pot set over medium-high heat. When oil is very hot, start searing the pork, in batches, until richly browned. Remove seared pork from the pot and set on a plate as you go along.

When the meat has been browned, remove the pot from the heat. When the vegetables have done roasting, remove from the oven. Now lower the oven temperature to 325 F.

Mix the salsa, stock (or broth), lime juice and brown sugar into the pot you cooked the pork in and set back over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, and then mix in the pork and roasted vegetables. Cover pork and cook in the oven 90 minutes, or until very tender.

When pork chili verde is cooked and a bit more stock to it if you find that it has overly reduced. Stir in the cilantro. Taste and season the pork chili verde with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Make a hearty meal of the chili by serving it with warm corn tortillas and steamed rice. Serve bowls of the chili topped with a dollop of sour cream and some diced avocado, if using.

Note 1: Poblano peppers are a fresh, dark green pepper sold at most supermarkets. Diced in the recipe means to cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes.

Note 2: I used mild-tasting Herdez brand of green salsa, which is also known as salsa verde. It’s sold in the Mexican foods aisle of most supermarkets. I bought it at Fairway Market.

Eric’s options: If desired, instead of searing the meat in 2 Tbsp olive oil, you could melt and render some of the pork fat you trimmed off the roast in the pot and use it to sear the pork.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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