Changing up chicken: Tomatillo-braised Thighs

by Terry B on June 28, 2017

A make-ahead tomatillo sauce with cilantro, garlic, jalapeño peppers and lime juice livens up this weeknight-quick chicken dish. Recipe below.

Tomatillo-braised Chicken Thighs

We’re big fans of chicken, especially thighs. They’re flavorful, juicy and relatively inexpensive. But it’s easy to fall into comfortable cooking ruts with them. “Shall I do my chicken and wine again tonight?” “Should we just roast them?” Or now, with summer here, “How about I fire up the grill?” All good choices, to be sure, but sometimes you need a change. And that’s where this tomatillo sauce with black beans and corn comes in.

Tomatillos—distant relatives of tomatoes in papery husks, and a familiar sight in Mexican grocery stores—are increasingly turning up in mainstream supermarkets. And no wonder. They have a lively, tangy/tart flavor and are easy to cook with. They’re also versatile. You can use them in a no-cook salsa verde for eating with chips or a slow-cook sauce for pork or chicken (also a salsa verde, which simply means green sauce).


Or you can do a simple make-ahead sauce to liven up chicken thighs on a busy weeknight.

Tomatillo-braised Chicken Thighs
Serves 4

For the sauce:
1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds tomatillos (about 6 to 8, depending on size)
2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed and roughly chopped (see Kitchen Notes for adjusting heat)
1 large clove garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves and thin stems
2 tablespoons lime juice

For the chicken:
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, about 2 pounds total
salt and freshly ground black pepper
flour for dredging chicken
olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 large clove garlic, minced
tomatillo sauce (from above)
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn kernels (or fresh, if you have it)
1/4 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
water, if needed

cooked white rice

Make the tomatillo sauce. Peel husks from tomatillos, rinse off sticky residue under cold running water and slice in half. Preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and arrange tomatillos cut side down in a single layer. Broil until tomatillo skins are scarred and blistered in spots, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Transfer to blender or food processor, along with any juices in the baking sheet. Add jalapeños, garlic, cilantro and lime juice. Season generously with salt and process until completely smooth. At this point, you can proceed with making the chicken or store the tomatillo sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Make the chicken. Trim excess fat from chicken thighs. Season thighs with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pan) in a large, deep, lidded sauté pan or skillet over medium-high flame. Cook chicken skin side down until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn chicken, reduce heat to medium and cook for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from pan and cook onion until translucent and softening, stirring frequently to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. Add oregano, cumin and garlic to pan and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Pour in tomatillo sauce and stir, scraping up any browned bits. Add black beans and corn to pan, stirring to combine. Nestle chicken thighs into the sauce, adding any accumulated juices from the chicken. Raise heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover pan. Cook until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the rice. When rice is done, transfer thighs to a plate and stir cilantro into sauce. If sauce is too thick, add a little water. Spoon rice into 4 shallow bowls and top with sauce and chicken thighs. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

The perpetual question of heat. Jalapeños are at the milder end of the heat spectrum for peppers, but I find they can vary considerably. As can heat tolerances among diners. To reduce or remove heat, remove some or all of the seeds and ribs inside the peppers. I used all the seeds and ribs and was rewarded with a lively kick, but you do what feels right for you and your fellow diners.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John/Kitchen Riffs June 28, 2017 at 11:04 am

Salsa verde is so good. Was thinking of making a dish using it for a dinner this weekend, although I haven’t decided. This might have tipped me over the edge, however. Nice, easy flavor — thanks.

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