With the days growing shorter and summer coming to a close, I’ve been spending my weekends in a sort of melancholy bliss. Therpists might call it SAD, but I really do love fall. The weather here is perfect, and knowing that the bleak winter is just a turn of the calendar away makes you appreciate each day just a bit more.
The cooler weather also means I can take my stove out of mothballs and fire it up, without turning my apartment into a sauna. It seemed like the perfect excuse to braise something. Chile Verde, or “Green Chili”, is probably one of my favorite dishes. I can’t imagine anything more comforting than big hunks of collagen rich meat made meltingly tender in a green sauce made from smoky sweet char-roasted vegetables. My version is bolstered with spices like cumin, fennel and coriander, and laced with the sweet smell of cinnamon.
While I usually make it with pork, today I had a whole lamb breast defrosting in the fridge, and with a pile of tomatillos eyeing me from the kitchen table, the lamb suddenly made perfect sense. The spices keep the gamy smell of lamb at bay, and pork aside, there is no meat that smells better when browning. Seriously, the smell of the roasting tomatillos, onions and garlic, and the browning lamb is absolutely intoxicating! Even L, who hates lamb, commented on how good the house smelled when she walked in the door.
Lamb Green Chili
1.5 pounds tomatillos
1 large onion, cut into 8 wedges
6 large cloves of garlic
1 lamb breast (about 2.5 pounds) cut along each rib
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon coriander seed
1 cup chicken stock
handful of cilantro, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
Remove the husks from the tomatillos and thoroughly wash the sticky soapy substance off the surface of the fruit. Cut a plus sign on the bottom of each tomatillo to keep them from exploding in the oven and place them on a baking sheet along with the onion and garlic. Move the oven rack to the top position and broil on high until the tops of the tomatillos are black and bubbling caramelized liquid from their cores. Remove the pan from the oven and allow them to cool a bit. Add them to a blender of a food processor and pulse a few times until there are no large chunks of onion remaining (it should still be chunky).
Heat a heavy bottomed pot large enough to accomodate the lamb in one layer over medium high heat. Generously salt and pepper the lamb breast. When the pot is hot, place the ribs in the pan with the fattest side down. You want the fat to render out and help get the lamb golden brown. Let it fry undisturbed until the lamb is golden brown on one side (about 5 minutes). Turn and repeat on the other 3 sides. Remove the lamb from the pot and drain most of the oil from the pan.
Add the cumin, fennel and coriander to the pot and fry in the remaining oil until the spices start popping. Add the pureed tomatillos and onions to the pot along with the chicken stock, cilantro, jalapeno, cinnamon and bay leaf. Return the lamb breast to the pot and turn the heat down to medium low. Simmer partially covered until the meat is falling off the bones (2-3 hours). Skim any excess fat off the surface and adjust salt as needed, add some honey if you want it sweeter, and serve with hot corn tortillas.