We’ve been fascinated with tomatillos ever since we first grew them in our herb garden a few years back. We bought two seedlings from a farm sale and watched the papery husks develop like hanging lanterns, which we hoped would eventually get filled by the fruit growing within. Unfortunately, one plant was unceremoniously trampled by a backyard chicken, so we didn’t get quite the yield we would have liked. On the bright side, pollination had already taken place so the remaining plant bore fruit (tomatillos, unlike tomato plants, cannot self-pollinate, so you’ll need more than one plant to grow fruit). We had enough to make ourselves a really tasty salsa verde, the green cousin of a tomato salsa. Tomatillos share the same growing season as tomatoes, so at the beginning of summer it’s still too early for local varieties, let alone in our backyard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find them at the grocery store.
Salsa verde is packed with tomatillos, chilies, and cilantro, and you can add as little or as much heat as you like by altering the variety and amount of hot chili peppers. We usually opt for jalapeños, but if you want a little more fire you can look for Serrano peppers. The thing with salsa verde, though, is that its usefulness goes beyond just being a dip or condiment—it can be used as a full-fledged sauce for all sorts of dishes, like chilaquiles, the Mexican dish that combines freshly-made tortilla chips with salsa and toppings. While Kenji has covered this ground in the past, his recipe is a mostly vegetarian affair. But craving something a bit meatier, we’ve gone ahead and added spicy Mexican chorizo, along with tangy pickled onions and a little twist at the end to double down on some of our favorite parts.
While you can certainly buy jarred salsa verde for this (and even spruce it up a little to make it taste more fresh), it’s incredibly quick and easy to whip it up at home. That means you can make it exactly how you like it. The ingredients can be simmered or roasted,* either way takes just a few minutes, and then after a quick whir in a blender, your salsa is good to go. You can even make it up to two weeks ahead, if you like.
*Simmering the salsa ingredients produces a salsa that’s brighter and cleaner in flavor, while roasting (or broiling!) adds some depth of flavor from charring. Both methods are good.
The key to chilaquiles is homemade tortilla chips. The packaged variety are great for nachos, but they dissolve too easily in the much wetter chilaquiles environment. To us, one of the best parts of the dish is the crunchy bits that poke up out of the sauce, and that won’t happen if your chips are completely soggy. In fact, we’re so obsessed with those crunchy bits that we hold off on adding some of the chips until the very end of the cooking process, which gives these chilaquiles a fantastic variety of textures, from soft and yielding to super crunchy.
Luckily, you can find fresh corn tortillas at most grocery stores these days, and frying them is quick work. You can use a deep fryer of course, but some vegetable oil heated in a Dutch oven is just no trouble at all. Don’t forget to sprinkle a little kosher salt over the chips as soon as they’re out of the oil or else the salt won’t stick. Once the chips are fried, you can set them aside while you prepare the other ingredients.
For the chorizo, you’ll want to find the fresh (uncooked) Mexican variety. Unlike Spanish chorizo, which is cured and can be eaten like salami, Mexican chorizo is raw. It’s often sold in links, but for this recipe you’ll need remove it from the casing first. Brown the crumbled pieces in a large oven-proof pan (we like to use cast iron for this), then remove the chorizo to drain on a paper towel, and remove most of the oil (save for one tablespoon) from the pan. Add the salsa and some chicken stock, bring it to a simmer, and then add about three quarters of the chips. Toss them carefully to coat without breaking them into tiny shards, then remove from the heat and set aside.
Make your eggs however you like them (we prefer sunny side up), then add the remaining chips and scatter the chorizo and some shredded cheese on top. At this point, because we used Jack cheese, we like to toss the pan under the broiler for just a minute or two to melt the cheese and brown the bits of tortillas poking up from the sauce. If you’re using queso fresco (a more traditional choice, but one that doesn’t melt), you can skip this broiling step. Then top the chilaquiles with the eggs, some crisp sliced radishes, a few pickled red onions, a drizzle of crema (or sour cream), and some slices of lime for squeezing. We like to bring the whole bubbling hot chilaquiles pan to the table so everyone can serve themselves.
This is the kind of casual food we love best. It’s humble cooking, but nonetheless delicious when done well. Home-grown tomatillos not required.