I fell in love with green sauce in the mid-90s during a visit to Denver, Colorado, but I didn’t consider making my own until 2018. This green sauce features tomatillos and Serrano peppers. In addition to the heat and flavor, I love its flexibility. It can be used in a variety of Mexican dishes, Thai-inspired curries, chili, or as a condiment. My husband, Paul, says, “You can put it on everything.”
In the fall of 2017, Paul and I welcomed two foster children into our home: a young girl and boy. In early 2018, their two brothers joined us. This was a big change, especially considering I had never raised children that young . Now we had three boys and a girl, all under 10, along with three young adult children (my husband’s from a prior marriage) at college and heading out on their own. Instant large family.
Fostering these children was a wonderful experience. Did my heart break when they reunited with a parent? Yes, but in a good way. It was totally worth it. I encourage anyone who has ever thought about fostering to explore it.
What does this have to do with making green sauce? Culture. Food that feels like home makes a strange place feel more familiar and comfortable. And for these kids, Mexican cuisine felt like home. They often spoke of chicken and green sauce, among other things, so I dug into green sauce: how to make it, what makes it authentic, etc. I even bought a molcajete. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes longer to use the molcajete in this recipe instead of the blender, but it feels more natural to use it, and now it brings back memories for me of times with them.
The sauce and the tools made our house feel more like “home” to these kids. When they saw the molcajete they said, “We have one of those (at our parent’s house)!” Some of them didn’t eat chicken with green sauce, but my making it made them happy, because it felt like where they used to live—someone making it, and the aroma. Isn’t it amazing how food can carry us “home” wherever we are?
I played around with ingredients to create a flavor and heat that made sense for our family, and this recipe is my go-to. It balances the heat dial for my husband—who likes everything “death grip” hot— and me, who prefers a little less heat. I make this at least once a month. If I take too long to make a new batch after we run out, my husband will bring home tomatillos and peppers as a reminder.
“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.” ― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
4 to 5 cups chicken stock
8 to 10 tomatillos
about 18 Serrano peppers
small bunch of cilantro (can substitute with 1 tsp dried cilantro)
two to four garlic cloves (can substitute with 1 tsp garlic powder)
one small yellow (or white) onion
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp Complete Seasoning *
Total prep time: about an hour Yields between 4 and 5 cups
CAUTION: Handle peppers carefully. Use of gloves is recommended. Full disclosure: I don’t use gloves. I tried it once and hated the feel. I wash my hands diligently with soap after each contact. So far, I’ve either been terribly lucky or I’m naturally vigilant about keeping my hands from my eyes. That said, it would be terribly painful to get that stuff in your eyes or on other tender parts. Whatever you do, please be careful!
TIP: You can use more tomatillos and fewer peppers or use a milder pepper if you cannot tolerate spicy foods. I’ve substituted jalapeños and it makes a nice sauce. If you want it hotter, change the ratio of tomatillos and peppers or use a hotter pepper: you may need to reduce the amount of chicken stock or cook down longer. If you try this recipe with a milder—or hotter—pepper, please let me know how it turns out! If you are vegetarian, try a plant based stock with a little oil added in.
Remove husks from tomatillos. Rinse tomatillos and Serrano peppers. Place them in a pot and cover with water. Bring to boil, then reduce to a low boil, stirring occasionally. Peppers will soften slightly and tomatillos will become dull and possibly split open. When this point is reached, remove from heat, drain in colander, and set aside to cool.
TIP: Be sure to run your range vent while boiling the peppers, as the pepper will permeate your kitchen. (I boil habanero’s exclusively outside for this reason. Even a range vent on high can’t stop that heat from invading your space.)
While tomatillos and peppers are cooking and/or cooling, chop cilantro, onion, and garlic cloves. Once the peppers and tomatillos are warm to the touch, trim pepper stems and cut peppers lengthwise to aid in grinding/blending.
If using a blender, gradually place all ingredients except chicken stock together in blender and gradually blend. Add up to one cup of stock if needed to aid in blending.
If using a molcajete, work from dry to wet. Grind dry spices and herbs. Next mash and grind cilantro, garlic and onion. Scrape this mixture into a medium mixing bowl. Mash and grind peppers then tomatillos a few at a time and as it fills scrape into the mixing bowl with the onion and garlic mixture.
TIP: Apply pressure carefully when you start mashing tomatillos to avoid an explosive burst.
Add the mixture to a stock pot along with 4 to 5 cups chicken stock (adjust down if you used some in the blender). This should cover the mixture completely and leave extra liquid to boil down. I recommend starting with 4 cups stock and adding more as needed.
TIP: If the mixture is too chunky for your taste, you can use a handheld blender before or after cooking the sauce.
Bring sauce to a boil, then maintain a low boil, stirring occasionally. Do not cover the pot. The sauce will cook down and thicken slightly. The cook time is about 30 minutes, but the sauce can stay on simmer for about 3 hours so long as it is occasionally stirred and covered to avoid too much liquid evaporation.
Store in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 10 days. I have not tested if this freezes well—it doesn’t last long enough around our house, even if I double the recipe.
Serve over shredded chicken with Mexican rice and beans or make enchiladas. Use sauce on eggs, beans, tacos, tostadas, burritos, and taco salads. Use in chili, Thai curries, or as an all-around condiment. (The thought of putting it on a hot dog came to mind as I wrote this. Chili dog with green sauce? It might just work! Test my husband’s theory of everything and let me know what you think.)
* Badia brand Complete Seasoning has MSG. If you cannot tolerate it or locate the seasoning for purchase, substitute with 1/4 tsp sweet basil, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp onion, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 pepper, 1/2 tsp lemon juice.