tomatillo jack chili

Throughout my life, I've been blessed with what I would affectionately refer to as 'right-place-right-time syndrome'. Be the 156th caller? Usually. Happen to buy the winning scratch off? Yep. Sit down in the cheap neighborhood nail salon when no one else is there on a random Tuesday night and meet a huge celebrity who asks questions like 'so what do you do for fun? and do you ever go out downtown?'.

One of the best examples of this I can give is the way I stumbled onto doing live cooking segments for a local Fox news station in Michigan. I had been teaching cooking classes at a small cooking store, and there was a town-wide chili cook-off that was coming up. I called the store owners and offered to make chili for their store (almost all the businesses compete in the chili cook off every year). They were more than happy to agree. A few minutes later, they called me back and said, do you have any interest in promoting the store on live tv, and making your chili on the air? The representative from the local PR agency had called them right after they hung up with me, asking if they had anyone lined up to cook their chili.

A normal person, who didn't happen to have a chili recipe to use, for the event that would be taking place the next day, and tasted by thousands of people, would say...you know what, this probably isn't the best time.

Of course, I wouldn't call myself 'normal'. "Sure!" I said. "6 am? I'll be there!"

So I had to make up an appropriate chili recipe to represent myself as well as our restaurant. I thought back on a crock pot chili recipe I made all the time in college- it has five ingredients. It's absolutely delicious. As an ambassador for a restaurant that was known for only from-scratch cooking, I couldn't make a chili whose main ingredient was two jars of bottled salsa. So I deconstructed that recipe, and created the one you'll read below. It's exceedingly simple to make, but as with most good stews, does require two things: time, and lots and lots and lots of chopping.

I made the chili, live on air, without a hitch. It went so well that the reporter called me about once or twice a month to do additional segments. He would usually give me at most 24 hours notice and say something like: tomorrow is national waffle day. Can you do a segment on waffles? Anyway, the chili took second place in the cook-off- but I firmly believe this is a result of the fact that I had been so anxious about the TV experience that I completely forgot to season it. There wasn't a speck of salt or pepper in the whole pot. So, under the circumstances, second is pretty great!

Trust me when I tell you that all the chopping is totally worth it. The one key is to stir it frequently, so the secret ingredient doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. 

Here's how it's done:

First, let's meet the cast of characters. A few of these ingredients may never have graced your kitchen. Today can be the day!

So, the key ingredients: poblano peppers, tomatillos, jalapenos and one serrano pepper, and cilantro. Yum. I found all of these at my local grocery store with no trouble. 

If you've never cooked with tomatillos before, they're remarkable little jewels. You peel off the papery skin, and the flesh underneath is a little sticky, and looks like a green tomato. When you're choosing them at the store, you want medium-smallish ones, because the bigger ones have often split inside the skins.


Chop everything. Chop chop chop chop. Have your mise en place all set up: prep bowls Chop up your tomatillos, your onion, and your small peppers. I slice the spicy peppers in half, then use a paring knife to cut out the seeds and white pith- that's the really spicy stuff. To have way more excitement, feel free to rub those seeds in your nose or on your eyeballs. That's a joke, please don't do that.

Okay. Good job. Now, dice them up. Next, cut the innards out of the poblanos and set them on a roasting pan. Set them under the broiler and roast them for about five minutes a side, until they are blackened all over. After they roast, let them cool down for a minute, then just slip off the blackened skin over the sink. If it doesn't all come off, that's okay.

Then slice the poblanos up and give em a rough chop chop. 

Okay. Woof! No we're ready to cook some stuff! Let's make some chili! YEAH!

Saute the cumin, onion, jalapenos, and serrano over low heat until the onion is translucent. Word to the wise- if you lean over this while it's first cooking, the oils from the peppers will sear the inside of your nose. 

Now here's the great thing about chili. After chopping everything up, you just pretty much dump it in there. First, the tomatillos, canned chilis, and poblanos. We want the tomatillos to release their liquid and make friends with the onions and peppers.

After about ten minutes, when everything's starting to look a bit green and mushy, it's time to add the tomatoes, cut up chicken, chicken stock, and the SECRET INGREDIENT. Can I tell you another secret? For recipes like this I always buy a rotisserie chicken, unless I already have chicken left over. No need to cook it yourself. Save some steps, am I right?

Here it is: the secret ingredient. So Secret I put it in the title. 16 ounces- that's right, one whole pound- of good pepper jack cheese. Check the label. If it says cheese food, you need to upgrade- I accidentally used that once, and things got ugly in my pot. I recommend a good jack cheddar with chipotle peppers. Cube it up.

You're done! No all you have to do is stir it every twenty minutes or so, to keep the cheese from burning on the bottom. The finished product doesn't taste like cheese, and you probably wouldn't even know it was in there. But that's why it's so good!

I usually cook it for at least two hours on a steady simmer. Just before serving, stir in the fresh cilantro. Serve with shredded cheddar, sour cream, and some tortilla or corn chips. Yum. It freezes beautifully, too.

Here's the recipe!