Tuesday, 15 October 2013

fat water or fat thing - and not your mom this time (tomatillo salsa)

Market is a funny thing.  One year dozens of people can ask for one item.  The farmers at market will believe that it could be a profitable idea, or in the very least not a loss, to grow the damn thing.  One year after being asked a hundred times for fennel, my friend grew a bunch of it the next year, only to compost all of it.  I'm not even sure he sold one.

A similar fiasco happened this year with another friend and a crop of tomatilloes.  I called up my friend, the sous-chef at a Mexican inspired restaurant and tried to relieve him of them, but the restaurant didn't have a use for them at the moment.  After dropping the price to dirt cheap and still struggling to sell them, I picked up his last half bushel from him for almost free, just to spare him the frustration of looking at them anymore.


The tomatillo is a funny fruit of Central American origin. It's a member of the delicious and poisonous nightshade family, same genus as the potato, eggplant, and pepper plants. The original name in Nahuatl was tomātl, or tomate in the Spanish.  The word means "fat water" or "fat thing" and the fruit itself the immediate precursor to the more internationally known Aztec cultivation jitomate (fat thing with navel): the tomato.  The Spanish internationally confused the two, as was the style at the time, and the tradition continues to this day. 

Tomatillos look like a green tomato with a husk around the outside.  The husk needs to be removed to work with the fruit itself, which is a dirty and sticky process. A sticky residue coats your hands, which then collects all the dirt on the husks.  Its moderately unpleasant.  Myself, being the chef, didn't do any of that shit and instead my girlfriend spent a good 20 minutes getting her hands dirty.  I will, however, take 100% of the credit for the whole affair.

I've only ever had tomatillo in the form of a salsa.  I'm not quite sure what else there is to do with them.  They have an acidic, not quite sweet but tangy taste.  After consulting a fistful of recipes I threw together one of my own for a salsa.  This is with a half bushel of tomatillos, and will generate about 2 gallons or 8 litres of salsa.  It'll take a bunch of hours in the afternoon to get all of it done.  We split the work into two days, one just making the salsa, refrigerating it over night and then canning it the next afternoon.

 Royal-Joe's rockin' tomatillo salsa, with extra rock n' roll

half a bushel of tomatillo, peeled and sliced in half.
3 medium Superstar Spanish onions (or other Spanish onions), small dice
3 medium bulbs of garlic, peeled
30 or so mild green Thai chilies or Jalapeno peppers*
1 large bunch of cilantro, washed
the juice of 2 limes
3 tbsp Kosher salt
2 tsp ground pepper
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp all-spice
canola oil

*Jalapeno or Serrano peppers are probably more legit.  This whole thing wasn't terribly planned and the only chilies I could get on Thanksgiving Sunday were from the Indian grocery store, lest I used my own dried chilies and absolutely ruined everyone's mouth with heat. 

5 baking sheets
food processor or blender
couple of wooden spoons
cast iron pan or heavy bottom pan 
3 large stainless steel bowls
Large stock pot or 4 gallon bucket
sharp knives
canning pot
enough jars to jar 8 litres of shit, preferably in 250ml or 500ml sizes

I assume you're already with me and have the tomatillos peeled, washed, and sliced in half right down the axis mundi. Crank your oven to broil.  Lay out the tomatillos on your baking sheets, flat side down and drizzle with some oil.  Throw them into the oven for 3 to 5 minutes, or until liquid starts to accumulate in the bottom and the skins are beginning to char.  Remove from the oven and put on a cooling rack or oven top or somewhere that won't burn.

Once they started to cool enough to handle I moved them from the baking sheets into the stainless steel bowls.  Then I rinsed the baking sheets and used them again.

This'll take about 25 minutes to a half hour to do all of them, depending on how many girlfriends you have, how good they are at co-operating with each other, and how good your broiler is.  After that's done you're going to want to start charring your chilies in the cast-iron skillet on medium-high with a bit of oil.  We threw whole cloves of peeled garlic in with them.

Remove your chilies once they're getting some pleasing char spots.  Remove the stems.  Add in your small dice Superstars for only a minute.  Stir frequently, remove from heat with the garlic. 

Next or meanwhile is the food processor part.  What we did was while my girlfriend manned the skillet, I used the liquefy setting on our food processor and processed all of the tomatillos in batches.  Empty them into the large stock pot.  You'll be done around the same time as all of the skillet jazz, so take the chilies, the onions, and garlic, and the cilantro and pulse it a couple of times with a bit of the goopy liquid from the tomatillos.  Then stir all of the other stuff into the tomatillo mixture, and add the salt and pepper, nutmeg and allspice and stir until everything is thoroughly combined.  

Throw it into the refrigerator, drink beer, and then can it all the next day.

Do you even know how long it takes for that to come to a boil on an electric stove?

Sell your friends 250mL jars of salsa for $3, plus a 50 cent deposit on the jar.  Place a big bowl of tortilla chips on the table with a bowl of the tomatillo salsa.  After the first night of moderate drinking, you will have made more on your investment then the farmer that grew them probably did in total.

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