I attended the first food writer’s conference at Napa Valley’s Beringer Vineyards in the late 1980s (it has since relocated to the Greenbrier Resort). Each day we were served a buffet lunch. The first day was this dish of shredded chicken breast lightly coated with this delightfully piquant Mexican-style green chile sauce, piled into a giant mound on an oval platter and served under the trees. It was accompanied by same size platter of Mexican rice. Both were served at room temperature. The meal was simple and satisfying. I asked for the recipe and the then chef of the winery’s extensive kitchen (which was also serving at the time as Madeleine Kamman’s classroom for training budding chefs), Joseph Costanzo, was kind enough to oblige. He added that the same sauce is used for large prawns or hunks of lobster meat, as well as the chicken and turkey.
This recipe is written for 12 servings; our group was about 50 people, so you can multiply it by as many times as you need to without any proportion changes. The sauce and poached chicken can both be made the day ahead. Even though I give the sauce direction with both canned and fresh tomatillos for you to choose from, do make this sauce from the fresh if you can find them; it is a delightful vegetable to work with.
Preparation Timeline: The chicken and the sauce can be made the day ahead and refrigerated
Serving Equipment: Serving platter and serving fork or tongs
Temperature at Serving: Warm, room temperature, or chilled
4 pounds bone-in chicken breasts (about 8 large breasts)
Water or chicken broth or stock (can be part white wine), to cover
Bouquet Garni of 1 bay leaf, 1/4 bunch parsley, a few black peppercorns, 1 carrot (cut in a few chunks), and 1 stalk celery with leaves (cut in half) wrapped in a double thickness of cheesecloth and tied with kitchen twine to make a small bag
Mole Verde Sauce
15 fresh tomatillos, papery husk removed, or 1 21-ounce can whole tomatillos, drained
1 cup (4 ounces) pumpkin seeds, or slivered almonds
1/2 medium onion, peeled and cut into a few hunks
2 cloves garlic
2 to 3 serrano chiles, seeded and deveined (I use plastic gloves to do this)
6 Romaine lettuce leaves
1/2 bunch cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
2 cups chicken stock, or reserve 2 cups of the strained poaching liquid
To poach the chicken, place the chicken in a deep stock pot and add water or chicken broth to cover; add the bouquet garni bag and press down into the liquid. Poach the chicken breasts for about 20 minutes, until the pink color is just gone. Remove from heat, discard the bouquet garni bag, and cool in the liquid. Drain and coarsely shred the chicken; discarding the bones. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator overnight.
For the Mole Verde Sauce: In a medium saucepan, cover the fresh tomatillos with water that has had a few pinches of salt added. Bring to a boil, then simmer 15 minutes; drain. Or use the can of whole tomatillos. Place the pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet and heat until they start to pop, about 5 minutes, shaking the pan to prevent burning. Remove to a plate to cool.
In a food processor, chop the onion and garlic until fine. Add the pumpkin seeds and chile; pulse to chop. Then add the the tomatillos, Romaine, cilantro, spices and salt. Process, then add the liquid, processing until smooth. Pour into a covered container and refrigerate, or pour into a saucepan and heat to a simmer.
Add the chicken and toss with tongs to coat the chicken pieces with the sauce; pile onto the platter. Cover and let stand an hour or refrigerate until transporting.
Transportation Notes: No special precautions as long as the platter is tightly covered. If transporting the chicken and sauce separately, carry the separate containers in a bag and bring the platter.
Onsite/Preparation: If you have prepared the dish at home, just uncover at serving time; if chilled, can stand 1 to 2 hours in a cool place before serving. If you want it chilled, keep in the refrigerator. If you are combining the chicken and sauce on site, warm the sauce until just simmering in a large skillet or saucepan, add the chicken and toss. Warm the chicken meat on medium-low heat and stir occasionally to coat the chicken pieces with the sauce; pile onto the platter and serve warmed or let stand an hour to room temperature.
text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016
Recipe copyright Joseph Costanzo
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.