Sunday, March 14, 2010
One of the everyday table sauces in Mexico is salsa verde (green sauce), highly adaptable and a staple throughout the region, right up into the Southwest of America where it is known as chile verde, confusingly which, according to cookbook author Huntley Dent, can mean one of several different things: Apart from the sauce for instance, chile verde means green chillies picked before they turn red and he points out that even a sauce made from ripe red tomatoes is still considered chile verde so long as it contains green chillies.
However, in Mexico, salsa verde almost invariably means a green sauce made from tomatillos, a fruit, that when stripped of its papery husk, looks uncannily like a green tomato and is indeed sometimes called exactly that. It has a pleasant sourness, which in partnership with hot green chillies is the cornerstone of salsa verde, whether or not it's cooked or raw.
Here in Melbourne, fresh tomatillos have been incredibly difficult to find and anyone wanting to make this sauce virtually chained to using tins. But with the growth in farmer's markets, it has become possible for those willing to grow niche vegetables to sell directly to enthusiastic home cooks, who don't mind paying a premium to secure otherwise unavailable and unimagined produce.
At $30kg, fresh tomatillos work out to be roughly double what you would pay for tinned. If you were making an uncooked sauce, you'd put your money down. However for a cooked sauce, the difference isn't quite so large, but if you prefer the vibrancy fresh produce brings and the slight gumminess that is largely absent from the tinned version, well, pay up.
Believe me, you'll thank me.
The main advantage of a cooked over uncooked sauce, is that a fresh sauce really must be consumed the day it's made, whereas the cooked version will happily last a few days in the fridge and responds well to freezing - so make a big batch while tomatillos last.
Salsa verde is very accommodating, you can serve it with chicken as here, or pork. Enchiladas by their very nature love the contrast it brings, or a large bowl served with corn chips and too much tequila will make your friends very happy and you a legend!
(adapted from Diana Kennedy, The Art Of Mexican Cooking)
makes about 1 1/2 cups
300g tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
4 green chillies serranos or other hot chile
8 stalks coriander (cilantro), well rinsed and dried
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon peanut oil or similar
In a pot of boiling water place the tomatillos and chillies serranos and simmer for about 5 minutes or until just soft, Strain and reserve 50ml of the cooking liquid.
Pour the cooking liquid into a blender with the coriander and garlic, blend until smooth. Add the tomatillos and pulse until the tomatillos are chopped, still with some texture.
Heat the oil gently in a frying pan and add the mixture, salt to taste, give a stir or two, then simmer until the sauce reduces to a slightly thickened consistency. Check the seasoning. Serve hot or cold.