By Chef Rich Baringer,
An item that I’ve noticed more and more at many farmers’ markets over the last couple years is the tomatillo. You’ve seen them—they look like small green tomatoes wrapped in a papery husk. Unless you’re familiar with Mexican food, though, you may not know much about them.
As you would expect, tomatillos are related to the tomato as well as the cape gooseberry, or ground cherry. (You can read my post about these little fruits here.)
Unlike tomatoes, though, tomatillos hold very well for weeks in the refrigerator without losing any flavor or texture. Their flavor is a bit hard to describe—herbal and a bit citrusy—but distinctive and delicious. They’re very high in pectin, so when cooked, they add a luxurious thickness to a sauce.
Tomatillos may be most familiar to many as the main ingredient in salsa verde. This green salsa usually uses raw tomatillos and other typical salsa ingredients like garlic, chiles, cilantro, and onion.
But the best tomatillo recipe I’ve come across is from Mexico One Plate at a Time by Mexican food guru, Rick Bayless. It uses many of the same ingredients as the raw salsa in a delicious, spicy sauce served with a tender pork loin. It’s a little involved, but definitely worth it. Your guests will be crazy about it.
Tomatillo-Braised Pork Loin (Lomo de Puerco en Salsa Verde)
1 ½ Tbsp pork lard or olive or vegetable oil
1 (2 lb) boneless pork loin roast, untied if in two pieces
1 lb (10-12 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (serranos or jalapenos, for example), stemmed
1 medium white onion, sliced
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or minced
¹/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
10 small (about 1 ¼ lbs total) red-skin potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
- BROWNING THE PORK. In a medium Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat the lard or oil over medium heat. When very hot, lay in the pork loin (if in 2 pieces, don’t crowd them, or they’ll stew rather than brown). Brown well on one side, about 5 minutes, then flip and brown the other side. Remove pot from heat and transfer the pork to a plate; set the pot aside to use for the sauce.
- THE SAUCE. Roast the tomatillos and chiles on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Flip them and roast the other side 4-5 minutes. This will give you splotchy-black and blistered tomatillos and chiles that are soft and cooked through. Cool, then transfer everything to a food processor or blender. Be sure to scrape the flavorful stuff from the baking sheet. Process until smooth.
- Set the pork-browning pot over medium heat. When hot, add onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook a minute longer. Raise the heat to medium-high and when oil is sizzling, add the tomatillo puree. Stir until noticeably darker and very thick, 3-4 minutes. Add 1 ½ cups water and the cilantro. Taste and season with salt, usually 1 tsp. Stir.
- BRAISING THE PORK. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Nestle the browned pork into the warm sauce, cover and cook in oven for 30 minutes.
- While the meat is cooking, simmer the potatoes in heavily salted water to cover until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- When the pork has cooked 30 minutes, nestle the cooked potatoes into the sauce around the meat, cover and cook until the interior of the pork registers about 145 degrees, 5-10 minutes longer. The meat will feel firm (not hard) to the touch and cutting into the center will reveal only the slightest hint of pink.
- SERVING. With a pair of tongs and a spatula, transfer the pork to a cutting board. Let rest for 3-4 minutes while you finish the sauce. Spoon off any fat from the top of the sauce. Taste and season with salt, if necessary. Spoon the sauce and potatoes onto a warm deep serving platter. Cut the pork into ¼” slices and arrange on top of the sauce. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and enjoy!
- NOTE: The pork can be browned and the sauce made a day ahead; refrigerate separately, covered, until a couple of hours before you’re ready to braise the pork. The meat will be best if braised just before serving, but will hold fine in a very low oven (uncovered) for about a half-hour if you slightly under cook the pork—it will finish cooking as it sits.
Rich Baringer is chef/owner of Dinner’s Done Personal Chef Service. Rich grew up in Haycock Township and has lived (and eaten) in Bucks County his whole life. He now lives in Blooming Glen Village with his wife, Mary Beth, his son Jake, and their new pup, Teddy. Rich graduated from the Culinary Business Academy in Atlanta, is a member of the U.S. Personal Chef Association and owns Dinner’s Done Personal Chef Service. For more information about Dinner’s Done PCS, contact Rich at 215.804.6438, firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website.