Enrique Olvera is best known for his refined take on indigenous Mexican ingredients, but lately his attention has turned to the more rustic cooking he grew up with—dishes like his mother’s entomatado de res, or beef cooked in tomatillos. It doesn’t sound like much, but that’s the point.
“For most of us chefs, your memories play a huge part of your flavor profile,” says Olvera, who runs the acclaimed Mexico City restaurant Pujol. “As we mature as cooks, we recognize the importance of these dishes.”
In central Mexico, that flavor profile often includes tomatillos. They have shown up in stews and salsa verde—slathered on tacos filled with rich meat—since long before the Spanish conquest. Archaeological records attest to their importance in the cuisine, more so even than the tomato.
Now more commonly available in U.S. supermarkets, tomatillos are generally smaller than tomatoes, with a green or purplish skin covered by a dry, papery husk. Their flesh is firm and has a tangy, almost citrusy flavor. And that flavor makes them an asset when working with other, heavier ingredients, bringing easy brightness that lightens those other flavors.
Entomatado de res is a classic example. Though typically a laborious recipe that calls for a bony cut of meat from near the tail, Olvera’s version—inspired by his mother’s and included in his cookbook “Tu Casa Mi Casa”—uses easier-to-find and quicker-to-cook beef chuck.
Olvera browns the meat with onion, garlic, bay and whole peppercorns, then simmers the mixture in water for an hour. In another skillet, he cooks onions and garlic until translucent, removes them from the pan, then fries sliced potatoes before adding the alliums back, along with tomatillos and serrano chilies. With the cooked beef and its broth, it becomes a hearty stew that Olvera likens to a chunky salsa verde.
We loved the flavors of Olvera’s version, so at Milk Street we changed little about the ingredients and focused on further streamlining the technique to make it a one-pot affair that cooks slowly in the oven. We also added the tomatillos toward the end of cooking, which kept them fresh to better lighten the dish.
“It’s one of my favorite things,” says Olvera. “It’s very simple, but delicious. You can make it into tacos, or use up the leftovers with a bowl of white rice.”