Braised Chicken with Tomatillos

Small, round, and green, tomatillos look like unripe tomatoes–they’re even known as tomates verdes in Mexico. They’re not tomatoes, though they are also members of the nightshade family, just like tomatoes. Tomatillos have a tart herbal taste and can be used in salsa verde, soups, and stews. To prep tomatillos, remove the husks and then hold the fruit under warm running water as you scrub off the sticky residue coating the skins.–Kate McMillan

LC Cook Once, Eat Twice Note

This easy recipe makes an ample amount of sauce, sufficient for you to stash some surplus in the fridge for Sunday supper or Monday lunch. Cook once, eat twice. Whew.

Braised Chicken with Tomatillos Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 1/2 pounds assorted chicken pieces, skin-on and bone-in or boneless and skinless
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups homemade chicken stock or canned chicken broth
  • 3 Anaheim or poblano chiles (fresh or canned), roasted, peeled, and finely chopped (in a pinch, 1 or 2 jalapeños will work)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and quartered
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, plus whole leaves for garnish
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons ground cumin, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • Cooked white rice or flour or corn tortillas, warmed

Directions

  • 1. To make the Braised Chicken With Tomatillos in your slow cooker, see the Slow Cooker Variation below.

    To make the Braised Chicken With Tomatillos on the stovetop, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces on all sides. Working in batches, sear the chicken until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
  • 2. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion to the pan, and cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the stock or broth, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the roasted chiles, garlic, tomatillos, chopped cilantro, and cumin. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Return the chicken and any juices that’ve collected on the plate to the pan, cover, and simmer, turning once, until the chicken is opaque throughout, 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size and type. (Smaller pieces of chicken, boneless pieces, and white meat will cook more quickly than larger pieces, bone-in pieces, and dark meat.) Transfer the chicken to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm.
  • 3. Add the lime juice to the sauce remaining in the pan and simmer over medium-high heat until slightly reduced and thickened, 10 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. If a smoother sauce is desired, pulse all or half the sauce in a food processor or blender until the desired consistency is reached.
  • 4. Meanwhile, shred the chicken, if desired, discarding any skin and bone.
  • 5. Pour the sauce over the chicken pieces or shredded chicken on the platter and garnish with the whole cilantro leaves. Serve with rice or tortillas on the side.

Slow Cooker Variation

  • Sooooo simple. Soooo satiating. We find that chicken thighs work terrifically well in the slow cooker. You can skip Step 1 above, then modify Step 2 so that you cook the onion and the cumin in the oil for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the chiles, garlic, and tomatillos and cook just until softened. At this point, add the stock, using only half the amount listed above. Pour half the mixture into the slow cooker, add the chicken, and then add the remaining mixture. Cook on low for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Remove the chicken. If desired, shred the chicken and/or puree the sauce. Return the chicken to the sauce. Add the cilantro just before serving.

    [Editor's Note: Bear in mind, no two slow-cookers are exactly alike, just as no two cooks are exactly alike. This slow-cooker approach worked really, really well for us, although if you have a different slow-cooker cooking technique you want to try by all means, do so. And, natch, we'd love if you'd share it with us in a comment below.]
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Jenna Helwig

Jan 03, 2013

This dish was a big hit at my house. The chicken was flavorful and juicy and the sauce was tangy with a smoky depth of flavor thanks to the roasted chiles. I used all 3 teaspoons of cumin and I’m glad I did, but I’m a big fan of cumin. There was enough leftover sauce for me to freeze and use for tacos down the road.

Testers Choice
Natalie Reebel

Jan 03, 2013

There’s nothing quite like a tomatillo and green pepper sauce, and this recipe really fit the bill. I used 3 chicken breast halves and 3 thighs. They emerged from the sauce fork-tender, juicy, and easy to shred. The sauce itself took about 20 minutes to thicken up after I removed the chicken. I used the entire amount of cumin specified in the recipe and the flavor was smoky but not overpowering. This recipe made for excellent comfort food on a chilly afternoon.

Testers Choice
Chiyo Ueyama

Jan 03, 2013

A delicious and easy one-pot dinner. Twenty minutes is rather quick for braising, but the chicken was tender (I used thighs) and easily came off the bone. We gently tucked the chicken into warm corn tortillas, which we thought perfectly suited the smoky poblano and hint of citrus in the sauce. There are two variables here: cumin and poblano. If 2 teaspoons of cumin might be too strong for you (I loved it), you could start with 1 teaspoon, taste the sauce after taking out the chicken, and add more cumin if you’d like while reducing the sauce at the end. Poblano peppers are “unpredictable” in that the intensity of the heat varies greatly from pepper to pepper. I usually taste a paper-thin sliver before adding the pepper to what I’m cooking.

Testers Choice
Nancy A. Mosher

Jan 03, 2013

This is a great chicken dish and will be in regular rotation in my kitchen. Tomatillos have a unique, delicious, herbal flavor and the smoky cumin adds a welcome earthiness. The only change I might make would be to decrease the broth by about half. The tomatillos give off a lot of juice on their own and it’d cut down the time to reduce the sauce. I used chicken thighs, served them with rice, and added fresh cilantro and sour cream as garnishes. It’s also great with warm tortillas.

Testers Choice
Kim Venglar

Jan 03, 2013

This recipe ends up as chicken with a homemade salsa verde sauce. It’s nice and flavorful and wonderful served over rice but I can also see it served over mashed potatoes. I used 3 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (cut in half) and roasted Hatch green chiles because I always have those in my freezer. From start to finish, this takes about an hour. Use all of the cumin because it’s what makes this recipe. Using the fresh tomatillos made the sauce very chunky. I removed the chicken and used my immersion blender to make it smoother. I then deboned and shredded the chicken and added it back to the sauce. I didn’t need to add any salt but I did add a little black pepper. This would be very easy to convert to a Crock-Pot recipe. I’d brown some boneless chicken breasts and use canned tomatillos. Then dump everything in the Crock-Pot and cook.

Testers Choice
Sita Krishnaswamy

Jan 03, 2013

This isn’t only an easy recipe but a very flavorful one. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, as I had them on hand. I used jalapeño peppers and roasted them. Yes, I did use all the cumin specified and it seemed to be just fine for my palate. Once the chicken was cooked, I took the pieces out and reduced the liquid to a thick gravy and served it with the chicken and homemade chapattis. The next day I shredded some more chicken, reduced the gravy to a thick paste, and used it as a base for chicken pita pizzas with the shredded chicken and some fresh veggies, and it was just divine.

Testers Choice
Sofia Reino

Jan 03, 2013

I was a tad worried about testing this recipe, as my older daughter has never been a big fan of Mexican-style food, but it seemed to be an easy recipe for a crazy weeknight, so I went for it. I used chicken drumsticks and thighs, so the actual cooking took about 30 minutes. Also, because of my toddler, I went a tad lighter on the chiles; then, just before serving, I removed a bit of the broth into a smaller pan for her and added the rest of the chiles to the remainder to create a spicier sauce for us grown-ups. I didn’t serve it with tortillas but instead made a simple white rice and served the chicken over it, which was fabulous, as the rice absorbed all of the juices from this very simple yet flavorful dish. The chicken was tender and juicy and the sauce was fantastic.

Testers Choice
Pat Francis

Jan 03, 2013

The flavors in this were delicious, but it was awkward to eat. I prefer chicken cooked this way—with skin on and bone in—but eating the chicken when it’s covered in sauce isn’t so easy when you use chicken legs, as I did. The sauce is quite flavorful and enhances the chicken, but it’d be much easier to cut the cooked chicken off the bone (and I think I’d go with thighs and breasts the next time) before saucing and serving it. My husband wasn’t interested in the tortillas served with this. He didn’t seem to think they fit with the rest of the dish. I went with the Southwestern theme and improvised tacos. I cut my chicken apart as best I could and put chunks into the tortillas, along with sauce, and some rice pilaf I had prepared as a side dish. Three teaspoons of cumin seemed like a lot to me, so I used a generous teaspoon and that worked fine.

Testers Choice
Lori Widmeyer

Jan 03, 2013

This tasted like it could’ve been from our favorite Mexican restaurant. I used chicken breasts with the skin on, half the amount of cumin, and left out the cilantro because we’re just not cilantro lovers. The chicken was full of flavor and everyone liked it, but we all agreed that next time I should use boneless pieces of skinless chicken, as we tend to pull the skin off and my family wanted to eat it on tortillas with a little sour cream and cheese. But it had wonderful flavor and is a great recipe that I’ll use again with those minor adjustments.

Testers Choice
Kristen Kennedy

Jan 03, 2013

The flavors of this dish are amazing in terms of depth and heat. I added only 2 teaspoons of cumin and I puréed the sauce a bit after the chicken was cooked. This was delicious with baked brown rice (made with chicken or beef broth, olive oil and a little cilantro). I also discovered a very easy way to roast peppers if you aren’t blessed with a gas stove. Throw them in a foil-lined roasting pan at 350° for 10 to 20 minutes, turning them periodically and keeping a close eye on them, until the skin is puffed and charred. Pull the foil together to form a packet and let them steam until ready to peel.

Testers Choice
Brooke Barbera

Jan 03, 2013

With all of the ingredients (especially the roasted peppers) prepped beforehand, this made a deliciously different weeknight meal. I used chicken thighs, which made for a fattier sauce. I used the full amount of cumin and it was perfectly fine, not overpowering. I’d caution against using any more than the stated amount of lime juice at the end of the recipe, even if you love the tanginess, because the tomatillos have simmered down for so long they already create a tart and tangy sauce. My sauce took about 20 minutes at the end to simmer down to a consistency that was thicker, but could’ve easily gone longer. I used roasted Anaheim peppers, which left a great taste with very little heat, so if you prefer something with more kick, maybe sub 1 of them out for a jalapeño or poblano.

Testers Choice
Jo Ann Brown

Jan 03, 2013

There’s a little bit of prep if you fire-roast the chiles on the stove, though it’s totally worth it and it’s really not a stretch for a weekend meal that’ll yield a great office lunch on Monday. The beauty of this recipe is the tomatillo and cilantro sauce. I had some sauce left over and served it over simple steamed rice. It was still so good and it was nice to know I could whip up this stew of vegetables for a meatless meal, too. (Note that I prepared this dish with bone-in breasts and I only added 2 out of the 3 teaspoons of cumin called for in the recipe.)

Testers Choice
Debbie Elder

Jan 03, 2013

The ease of preparation and the flavor were exceptional. I found the sauce was more soupy than I thought it’d be. However, I used less chicken than the recipe called for so that’s likely the reason. Adding some potatoes would easily turn this into a hearty tomatillo & chicken stew. Loved the flavor. To get rid of the sticky film from the tomatillos, I submerged them in boiling water for 1 minute and then tossed them in an ice water bath. That took care of the sticky residue. I roasted 2 Anaheims and 1 jalapeño pepper and the spiciness was perfect. The 3 teaspoons of ground cumin was just right as well. I’d definitely make this tasty recipe again!

Testers Choice
Colleen Bloxham

Jan 03, 2013

This made a gem of a slow cooker recipe with just a few tweaks. The recipe calls for bone-in or boneless chicken pieces, and I used boneless, skinless thighs as I think dark meat works best in the slow cooker—always tender and never stringy. I know from experience that the slow cooker needs lots of onion, so I doubled the onion from 1 to 2 and then reduced the stock to 1 cup since the tomatillos would make a lot of liquid. I started by sautéing the onion and garlic in the olive oil. When those had softened, I added the spices. I increased the cumin to 4 teaspoons and also added 1 teaspoon of coriander as the fresh cilantro couldn’t be added until the end. I also added 2 tablespoons of canned fire-roasted green chiles, as fresh ones weren’t to be found. By adding the spices to the onion and cooking them off for a minute or so, you create bloom, which really increases the flavor, which is crucial for long cooking. Then I added the stock and brought it all to a boil. I quartered the tomatillos and added those for just a few minutes to soften them ever so slightly. Then I put half of this mixture on the bottom of the slow cooker and nestled those lovely chicken thighs, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, in the mixture and added the rest of the mixture on top. I set it to low and cooked it for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. When it was meltingly tender, I removed the chicken, shredded it, and put the sauce on the stovetop to reduce. I took a hand blender to the sauce but left it a little chunky, and then I added the shredded chicken back to the lovely sauce along with some fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime. I served the whole lot over white rice, but I could easily see using it as a filling for burritos or even folded into an omelette. Flexible and delicious!

Testers Choice
Dawn E.

Jan 03, 2013

Another winner of a recipe that my family loved! I made this today on the stovetop and it's a great recipe—I didn't even need any salt, the flavors were perfect! I roasted one poblano and two Anaheim chiles and slightly roasted the tomatillos and blended the sauce prior to the half hour braise…and it came out perfect! Another winner of a recipe! Thanks to Leite’s Culinaria for posting and Renee Rossi for suggesting this recipe. OK, I’m ready, what’s next?

Testers Choice
Joel Jenkins

Jan 03, 2013

Oh, where to start! This is delicious and simple with fantastic results. I've made this twice now, to rave reviews both times. I used a spicier pepper the second time because my family likes spicier food and I preferred that version better. There's really very little to discuss when it comes to technique and steps. The recipe is easy to follow and straight-forward. The only thing that I would suggest to anyone trying this recipe is to stay away from boneless skinless chicken breasts. They seemed to dry out and not absorb the flavors of the sauce as well.

Comments
Comments
  1. Judith Peres says:

    This sounds insanely delicious, like a chicken chile verde. I adore roasted poblanos, and tomatillos. And with the addition of fresh lime juice, well, now I can’t think of anything else for the rest of the day. Thank you very much.

    Another heavenly braising version for chicken (especially the legs!) is sliced up kalamata olives and artichoke hearts and some fresh thyme. Sublime.

    Many thanks, and a Happy New Year to you all!

  2. Renee Schettler Rossi says:

    Swell, Mrs E! You are quite welcome! As for what’s next, shall we stick with Mex and Tex-Mex or have you something else in mind?

  3. Mrs E says:

    Thanks, Renee, I am up for cooking any style cuisine, how about a recipe that is a hit at the Rossi household?

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Happily, Mrs. E. We do a lot of simple, seasonal cooking here, often not following recipes. I’ll usually just toss something in the oven, similar to this lovely roast chicken recipe, which I like to serve on a bed of raw watercress, as the heat from the chicken and citrus wilts the greens juuuuust enough. For something a little more kid friendly (and cheese-loving husband friendly), there’s this little Parmigiano-crusted chicken cutlet trick from Donna Hay that is superb, especially late in summer with a few slices of perfect tomatoes and nothing more than a dribble of olive oil and a pinch of salt. When I do turn to a recipe, it’s typically for something Vietnamese or Thai, such as this pad Thai recipe, which I turn to time and again. (Before I found this recipe, I’d tried countless other ones, and none is as true to tradition as this one, in my esteem.) Will send more ideas later….

  4. Mrs E says:

    Thanks Renee, I will give these a whirl, they all look wonderful!

  5. The One says:

    This is one of my first ventures into cooking Tex Mex cuisine, and I must say I was a little nervous that it might be too spicy for my palate. (And honestly I didn’t really know what the flavor of a tomatillo was.) I used Anaheim peppers, which added just the right amount of heat. The sauce was absolutely silken, and I’ve now fallen in love with tomatillos and can’t wait to make something else with them. This is now one of my go-to chicken dishes.

  6. Susana Norris/Razon says:

    Hi, Renee, your recipe sounds delicious! I make this quite often–I’m Mexican so I make the original LOL, which is quite spicy. I love that it’s all natural and fresh, and the chiles can be any kind or amount you want. And there are no spices that are harsh to some stomachs. i think your recipe is fabulous, although here is my recipe, just for fun: I boil tomatillos and Serrano chiles (I use about 10 to 15 tomatillos and 15 chiles). you don’t need to boil them, though, since they get braised later. Then I place all the drained tomatillos and chiles in the blender, add cilantro and a cube of chicken boullion and a quarter of an onion, and blend for 10 to 15 seconds, just until it’s a chunky salsa. I add it to browned chicken or pork butt chunks or tiny cut baby back ribs and then let it all simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. I serve it with rice and or beans. Well, I hope you try my take on this recipe. There should definitely be more people who try Mexican food—I mean real Mexican food with fresh ingredients like this tomatillo sauce.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Susana, many thanks for this! I look forward to trying your recipe, and I couldn’t agree more regarding more people trying real Mexican food. We’re doing what we can to get the word out about the real recipes of Mexico.

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Send it along. Covet one of those spiffy pictures of yourself to go along with your comment? Get a free Gravatar. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

*

Daily Subscription

Enter your email address and get all of our updates sent to your inbox the moment they're posted. Be the first on your block to be in the know.

Preview daily e-mail

Weekly Subscription

Hate tons of emails? Do you prefer info delivered in a neat, easy-to-digest (pun intended) form? Then enter your email address for our weekly newsletter.

Preview weekly e-mail