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The tomatillo could be mistaken for a small green tomato if it wasn't for the tell-tale husk.

Fresh tomatillos come in their own wrapper, a papery sheath cooks tear off before cooking. It's not shocking to learn that tomatoes and tomatillos are botanical cousins, both members of the nightshade family, laced with small seeds.

A staple Mexican vegetable, they're available fresh or canned in the United States. They're used in sauces, salsas and other condiments. They're usually blanched or roasted before use, but are sometimes found raw in salsas.

Favored flavor: If you have time, instead of blanching tomatillos, broil them on a foiled sheet pan with chiles, garlic or other sauce ingredients, until slightly charred and softened. It'll deepen the flavor and add smoky sweetness.

Here, tomatillos are the tangy base of a green sauce used to simmer chicken, which Mario Batali credited to his children's baby sitter, from Acapulco. It could be used for pork, beef or other proteins as well. In fact, it's so flavorful that if you eat all the chicken, you can re-use the remaining sauce to simmer a second batch.

>Chicken with Tomatillo Sauce

2 to 3 pounds chicken thighs or drumsticks

6 cloves garlic

3 pounds husked tomatillos (or 2 28-ounce cans tomatillos, drained)

2 serrano chiles or 1 Hungarian chile, or for mild, 1/2 green bell pepper

1 bunch of cilantro

4 limes

Salt

1 cup scallions, sliced (optional)

Heat large pot of water to boiling.

Meanwhile, pull skin from chicken. Cut open and remove seeds from peppers, unless you want a spicier dish.

Boil husked tomatillos, chiles and garlic cloves for 3 minutes. (If using canned tomatillos, just boil chiles and garlic.) Drain.

Put tomatillos, chiles and garlic in blender or food processor, with bunch of cilantro, stems and all. (You may need to do it in two or more batches, depending on vessel size.) Add juice and zest of 3 limes. Blend until just smooth.

Pour green sauce into large pot. Add chicken. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Put lid on pot. Stir every few minutes.

Cook until tender, about 25 minutes for boneless thighs. Shower with sliced scallions. Serve over white rice, pasta or mashed potatoes to soak up sauce.

ON THE WEB: Watch how easily this Mexican stew comes together at video.buffalonews.com

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com