Pressure Cooker Chile Verde: 15 Minutes of Work, Flavor for Days

[Photographs and video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Most of the time, when the phrase "Believe me" is used, it's shorthand for "I don't really have any evidence to back this up, but I want it to happen anyway, so I'm gonna pretend to be an authority."

But there are those rare occasions when the thing you're trying to describe is so unbelievable that it requires at least a bit of faith if the person you're talking to is even gonna give it a shot in the first place. What if I told you that you can make a rich, hearty, complex bowl of chile verde with only about 15 minutes of actual hands-on work? Believe me, you can.

There's a reason that this Easy Pressure Cooker Green Chili With Chicken is one of my most popular pressure cooker recipes. The flavor-to-work ratio is simply off the charts. Here's the gist of it: Dump some ingredients into a pressure cooker. Turn it on and cook. Blend, season, and enjoy. No pre-searing meat, no charring vegetables, and barely any advance prep at all.

The reason it works so well is twofold. First, most pressure cooker recipes call for adding some liquid to the cooker before turning it on. Ostensibly, that's because without liquid in there, there's nothing to convert to steam, so pressure can't build. Without liquid, your food ends up scorching instead of cooking. But there's a way around this—so long as you have enough vegetables in there, believe me, the liquid that evaporates off them as they heat up will be more than enough to bring the pot to pressure.

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The second reason it works is flavor. A stew simmered on the stovetop will be bland unless you start it off with some browning or charring. A bit of the old Maillard reaction, if you know what I mean. The boiling temperature of water at standard pressure is simply not hot enough for any browning to take place. A pressure cooker, on the other hand, reaches temperatures that are actually high enough to trigger some of that reaction. Yes, you'll only reach around 250°F (121°C) at full pressure, but with a little time, even that temperature is able to produce browning. Comparing identical stews side by side, one made on the stovetop and one made in a pressure cooker, will easily confirm this for you.*

* You can see a video of this in action in my admittedly overpriced video series from a couple years ago. I'm working on being able to release those for free, so I don't blame you if you don't want to spring for 'em.

It's a trick I first borrowed from my mother-in-law's Colombian Chicken Stew recipe, and since then, I've adapted it for numerous other dishes. Today, I'm bringing the technique to a classic pork-based chile verde, and it couldn't be simpler. The only real work involved in developing this recipe was nailing down the exact ratio of ingredients.

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To begin, I combine a few pounds of nicely marbled pork shoulder, cut into large chunks, with some quartered tomatillos, a roughly chopped onion, some garlic, and some green chilies in a large bowl. Later on, after everything is cooked, you have to pick out the meat with tongs to purée the sauce, and I found out the annoying way that picking out dozens of small chunks of meat is not particularly fun. So I leave my meat in big, two-inch chunks to make it easy to grab. Don't worry, the pieces get tender enough that you can shred them with a fork as you eat. Believe me.

What chilies you use really depends on your taste and local availability. For my money, there's nothing better than green Hatch chilies for a stew like this, but if you can't get them, a combination of Poblano, Anaheim, and jalapeño or serrano peppers will be just fine.

I typically use fresh chilies for this, but if you have frozen or jarred roasted Hatch chilies, they'll also work. The tomatillos provide the bulk of the liquid in this recipe, so don't worry about it.

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Next, I season everything with a big pinch of salt, as well as some cumin that I've toasted on a plate in the microwave until it's fragrant (you can also toast it in a skillet or in the oven), then ground up with a mortar and pestle.**

** If there's one thing you can do to improve the flavor of any dish that includes dry spices, it's to use whole spices and grind them with a mortar and pestle. The difference it makes in side-by-side tests is astonishing, and cleaning a mortar and pestle is easier than cleaning an electric spice grinder anyway. I can't recommend it enough.

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I dump all of the ingredients into a pressure cooker, heat it just until things start sizzling and steaming, then close the lid. At this stage, you may be thinking, Wait a minute, aren't I breaking two of the basic rules of pressure cooking by overfilling the container and not adding any liquid? Believe me, everything is gonna be all right. Inside that sealed cooker, those tomatillos will start breaking down rapidly, releasing their juice to the bottom of the pot and lowering the level of the food at the same time. Once the thing has come to high pressure, it'll take just half an hour for the pork shoulder to break down to a spoonably tender, juicy texture.

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Release the pressure and you'll find that the contents have dropped down to about half their original volume, and that there's plenty of liquid to keep everything swimming.

To finish the chile, I fish out the pork with tongs, add a handful of cilantro and a dash of fish sauce (to enhance the meatiness of the dish—don't worry, it won't make anything taste fishy), then blend it all together with a hand blender before stirring the meat back in.

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Next...there is no next. It's done. That's it. Wasn't that easy?

It really is one of the most mind-blowing weeknight dinner tricks I know. Every time I make this kind of dish, I can't believe how much flavor I get with so little work.

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Don't believe me? Try it for yourself. The worst that can happen is you'll waste a little money and 15 minutes of your evening. The stakes really ain't that high.