Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

I love skirt steak. I make it quite often (almost once a month) and it's a great main dish because it's easy and fun to make side dishes to go with it. Sometimes we'll make corn tortillas and eat fajitas. Other times, I'll make rice and beans as a side dish. And of course, it's delicious to eat grilled corn and avocado and pico de gallo alongside a skirt steak as well.

A few weeks ago, I was at the market and saw a really awesome looking skirt steak so I knew I'd be making that for dinner. And then I started brainstorming about what side dishes I was in the mood for. While I was in the produce section, I saw fresh and pretty tomatillos so I thought I'd make a Mexican-style salsa verde to go along with my skirt steak. Salsa verde translated literally means "green sauce" and in Mexico, it's made with a tomatillo base. I specify Mexican because the French, Italian, Argentinians, and even the Germans have their own version of "green sauce."
I looked up a few different recipes for salsa verde and I saw that everyone has his or her own method and list of ingredients. Some recipes called for boiled tomatillos, some used raw tomatillos, and some roasted them. There were recipes that cooked all of the veggies (including the peppers and onions) and some that left everything raw. A few recipes had a long list of spices (cumin, coriander, hot pepper flake) while others asked for just salt. I came up with my own version based on what I read and what I thought I would like and it turned out really yummy, if I do say so myself.

Ingredients [makes about 1 cup of salsa]:
½ lb tomatillos (about 5 normal sized tomatillos, the size of a plum tomato)
5 cloves garlic
1 poblano pepper
1 jalapeno pepper
½ lime
1 tablespoon onion (small chunk)
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro
½ tablespoon fresh parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Whenever you are roasting vegetables, I recommend using a really flavorful olive oil because it definitely enhances the taste of the veggies. I used this fruity extra virgin olive oil from F. Oliver's.

When you are shopping for tomatillos, you want to pick ones that feel firm and still have the husks in tact. The light brown/green husk should be papery and dry and have a few cracks and tears where you can see the green skin of the fruit peeking through. If the skin is yellow or purple, they are too ripe. And though they will still be edible and tasty when ripe, they won't have the yummy, tangy, almost citrus-y flavor of a green tomatillo. Leave the husks in tact until you are ready to use. Tomatillos should be stored freely on the counter top or in the refrigerator and never in an airtight container.

When you're ready to use, peel off the husks. The tomatillos will be really sticky so rinse thoroughly and pat dry. Quick tip: wet your hands before you start to peel the tomatillos and it will help prevent the sap from getting on your skin and making your fingers unbearably sticky.
Place the tomatillos on a sheet pan along with the poblano pepper and the garlic. I lined my baking sheet with foil for easy clean up and so that I would have a vessel for all of the lovely tomatillo juices.
Coat the vegetables in olive oil and then sprinkle with salt.
Place the pan in the broiler (or in the oven at the highest temperature setting) for 8 to 10 minutes. Check the pan every few minutes to make sure nothing is burning and flip the vegetables over about halfway through, once the skin gets a nice char. You may have to remove the garlic after 4 to 5 minutes to prevent the cloves from burning. Burnt garlic is quite bitter so watch out.
Once the skin is blistered and charred all over, remove the pan from the oven. You'll know the tomatillos are ready when you try and pick them up (with tongs, of course) and they burst. Save any juices that have either leaked out on their own or that you end up squeezing out as you try and pick up the tomatillos.
Peel the skin off of the poblano and remove the seeds. The skin should be really easy to remove. If not, place the pepper in a brown bag and let it steam in its own heat. This will help the skin come off more easily.
The salsa can be assembled in a food processor or blender. I chose the former. Chuck in a roughly chopped jalapeno, seeds and all. If you are not a fan of spicy foods, you can remove the seeds and veins from the jalapeno. If you fear spicy foods, you can omit the jalapeno altogether but I'd still recommend throwing in a bit of raw bell pepper so you don't miss that fresh green taste. Also add in the roasted garlic.
Add the poblano and tomatillos (and all of the juices that are left on your roasting pan) to the food processor. It's okay if everything is still a bit warm from being in the oven. Just make sure none of the ingredients are piping hot. Pulse until everything is pureed. Then, add in the cilantro, parsley and lime juice and puree again. The last step is to throw in a piece of raw onion and puree. The raw onion, raw jalapeno, fresh lime juice, and fresh herbs add a level of brightness that contrasts the charred flavors of the roasted vegetables.
Spoon out the salsa verde into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until it's cooled. FYI, this is essentially a jam so if the salsa is refrigerated until completely chilled, it will thicken up to a jam-like consistency. Don't worry, it'll still be delicious, but you'll want to give it a good stir.
The salsa should have a sweet and tangy taste from the tomatillos, a rich and roasted spiciness from the poblano, a good kick of zesty heat from the jalapeno, a mellow and sweet garlic flavor, a nice bite from the onion, freshness from the lime juice, and plenty of delicious herb-y goodness from the cilantro and parsley. Wow, run-on sentence much? If you've never had tomatillos, salsa verde is a great way to try them.
Serve with tortilla chips or as a sauce for enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, burritos, etc. I actually debated what I should call this stuff so you'll see on the recipe page below that I called it "Roasted Tomatillo Salsa" but put "salsa verde" in parentheses because this is a salsa verde but I needed to describe the 'roasted' factor.
I served my salsa verde with a heaping pile of grilled peppers, onions, and skirt steak too. So good.
By the way, because it's summer, you could also grill the tomatillos and the poblano peppers. Just place the tomatillos in a piece of aluminum foil. Oil and salt them the same way and then wrap them up.
Place the packet of tomatillos and the pepper on a hot grill.
Once the poblano is charred, it's a good indication that the tomatillos are also done cooking.
And just to show you the difference, here's a before and after shot of the tomatillos:
And if you want to make this, here's the recipe page:

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