Tomatillo and Chili Braised Chicken

Sometimes 185° is better than 160°.

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February 15, 2021

Prep: 30min

Cook: 1h 0min

Serves: 4

The gist.

By braising chicken thighs to the right temperature in a roasted puree of garlic, tomatillos, onion, jalapeño, and chilies, you’ll end up with extremely tender meat that gets served on a bed of seasoned rice with pumpkin seeds and fresh cilantro.

When I was a kid I loved rearranging the furniture in my bedroom (after I graduated from a sibling-shared living space, of course). My feng shui practice was top notch. Sometimes I would just sit and brainstorm the next layout. The ideas would click in my brain. Rotate the bed ninety-degrees. Swap the dresser to the opposite wall. Place the small desk in the corner. Move the monkey that sucks his thumb front-and-center of all the stuffed animals. It worked in my brain, and as long as I was strong enough to push things around, it worked in practice.

That mental gift returned when creating this recipe. I spent a good week envisioning in my brain the components for the meal you are about to make and enjoy. It feels good when that sort of inspiration comes along, and even better when I can refine the mental imagery into an actual recipe.

Now let’s talk about collagen. Collagen seems to be a buzzword these days. I haven’t really looked into why, but I do know I have walked down grocery store aisles and have seen plastic tubs advertising collagen you can put in a milkshake maybe? Anyway. The collagen we’re talking about today is found in chicken thighs. It’s that collagen that ultimately makes chicken thighs and legs silky and tender when cooked right.

What I’m about to tell you may not sound appetizing, but it is what it is, and is just a hard-fact about the food we eat as voluntary meat eaters. Collagen is a protein and is found in abundance in chicken thighs and legs. Well, collagen starts to melt at around 150° F or so (the temperature is debatable, according to what I’ve read. Correct me if you actually know.). This melting is more scientifically called denaturation. So the collagen denatures and ends up turning into gelatin. What is gelatin like? Tender and silky. At 185° F, your chicken reaches maximum gelatin levels.

The result of all this is an extremely tender piece of meat. If you had stopped cooking the chicken at the normal 160° F, like you would a chicken breast, the thigh meat would still be quite chewy as the collagen-to-gelatin conversion would just be starting. There is a bit of give and take with the whole process. The longer chicken cooks, the more moisture it will lose. In the case of thighs or legs, the gelatin makes up for it.

Today you will be cooking chicken thighs until they reach 185° F. To do this, you will braise them in a sauce for nearly half an hour. The sauce consists of several roasted ingredients. The garlic cloves and chilies will be roasted on the stovetop, while the tomatillos and jalapeño will go under the broiler for a nice char-treatment. It all gets combined with onion and tomato in the food processor and results in a smoky puree.

The braised chicken and tomatillo chili sauce are served with some seasoned rice. Combining turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper, you’ll end up with a pot of colorful, flavorful rice. When it comes time to serve, the dish gets topped with a sprinkling of cilantro and a handful of pumpkin seeds. Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • Tomatillo Chili Sauce
  • Seasoned Rice
  • Chicken and Serving

Steps

(click each step as you go to keep track of your progress)

  • Tomatillo Chili Sauce
  • Seasoned Rice
  • Chicken and Serving

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Tomatillo and Chili Braised Chicken

  • Prep time: 30min
  • Cook time: 1h 0min
  • Serving size: 4
By braising chicken thighs to the right temperature in a roasted puree of garlic, tomatillos, onion, jalapeño, and chilies, you’ll end up with extremely tender meat that gets served on a bed of seasoned rice with pumpkin seeds and fresh cilantro.

INGREDIENTS

  • *Tomatillo Chili Sauce
  • 8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 3 small to medium dried ancho chilies
  • 500 g (1 lb) tomatillos, husks removed, then rinsed
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 1 large Roma tomato, cored and coarsely chopped
  • *Seasoned Rice
  • 400 g (2 cups) white rice
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
  • 800 mL (3.5 cups) warm water
  • *Chicken and Serving
  • 4 bone-in chicken thighs, about 800 g (1.7 lbs) total
  • 80 mL (1/3 cup) chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro

STEPS

  1. *Tomatillo Chili Sauce

  2. Heat a skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat. When hot, toast the unpeeled garlic cloves for 7 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid burning. Dark spots are okay and expected. Peel when cool enough to handle.

  3. Carefully slice the chilies lengthwise (stem to tip) and remove the seeds and ribs. Toast the chilies on the hot skillet for about 20-30 seconds per side. Place the toasted chilies in a bowl and cover with hot water. Let the chilies sit in the bowl for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain after 30 minutes.

  4. Preheat the oven broiler to its highest setting. Place the oven rack about six inches beneath the broiler. Arrange tomatillos and jalapeño on a baking sheet. Broil until the top surface of everything begins to char, then flip the tomatillos and jalapeño and repeat. I find the time required varies greatly based on your oven broiler and how close the pan is to the element. My oven takes about 10 minutes per side, but keep a close eye while broiling as your situation may differ.

  5. When cool enough to handle, remove the seeds and ribs from the jalapeño.

  6. Place a dutch oven or large stockpot over medium-high heat. When hot, add 1 Tbsp oil. Add the onion and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook for five minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

  7. Combine the garlic cloves, chilies, tomatillos, jalapeño, tomato, and remaining 1/2 tsp salt in a food processor. Process until nearly pureed. Small chunks are fine.

  8. *Seasoned Rice

  9. Place the rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under water for about two minutes. Place the rice in a medium bowl and cover with water. Let sit for 30 minutes. Strain the rice in a fine-mesh sieve and let sit over an empty bowl for 15 minutes.

  10. While the rice is soaking and straining, combine the turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and oil in a small bowl. Stir until combined and allow to sit for at least five minutes.

  11. Combine rice and 800 mL (3.5 cups) water in a medium saucepan. Place over high heat. Stir in the spice-infused oil mixture. This may look strange as the oil and water will appear separated. Don't worry.

  12. When the water has reached a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer for 12 minutes. Remove from heat, keeping the saucepan covered, and let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff.

  13. *Chicken and Serving

  14. Using your fingers and a paring knife, remove the skin and any excess fat from the chicken thighs.

  15. Place a dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add 1 Tbsp oil. Add the chicken and sear undisturbed for about 2 minutes each side until browned. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

  16. Carefully add the chicken broth to deglaze the pan - use a spatula to free all the brown bits from the pan bottom. Add the tomatillo chili sauce and bring to a simmer. Place the chicken thighs in the pan; they do not need to be submerged. Lower to a simmer, cover the pot, and let everything cook for about 20-25 minutes. You want the chicken temperature to hit 85° C (185° F).

  17. To serve, make a bed of rice on each plate. Place a chicken thigh on top of the rice. Spoon a generous amount of the sauce over the chicken. Top the chicken and sauce with pumpkin seeds and cilantro.

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