I’m fully on team green when it comes to choosing salsa alliances. Give me tart green tomatillos any day over their bright red cousins, old regular tomatoes. Salsa verde capitalizes on the astringency of tomatillos and brightens them up even further with hits of (usually mildish) heat as well as the usual suspects, onion and cilantro. Combine all that acidity with the mellow creaminess of this stew and the result is hideously addictive in a way that risks the integrity of this dish because you could feasibly just eat up all of the stew before the dumplings get their chance to shine. Exercise self-control, but do remember that this stew would also be delicious as a pot pie base…or just as a base for spoon dippin’.
Also, while you can use a shredded rotisserie chicken for the stew, I implore you to consider cooking the chicken yourself using the butter and vinegar steps outlined below. I know that cooking chicken in vinegar and butter seems a bit odd – I actually stole that trick from an old pot pie recipe that I love – but it just yields a really juicy, flavourful chicken base for the sauce; much better than your usual boring olive oil, S&P situation.
Salsa Verde Chicken and Dumplings
7 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 ½ lb chicken breasts or tenders (cut into tender-sized pieces if using breasts)
2 small onions, finely diced
½ cup all-purpose flour, measured correctly
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup jarred or homemade salsa verde (½ cup if you’re sensitive to spice)
1 5-oz can evaporated milk
1 cup whole milk
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, measured correctly
½ cup cornmeal
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Heaping ½ cup scallions + more to garnish
Chopped cilantro, to garnish
Melt 3 tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then stir in the white wine vinegar. Once the mixture is bubbling, add in the chicken tenders, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until cooked through, ~10 minutes. Turn occasionally while cooking and top up with a bit of vinegar if things start to dry up. Remove the chicken to a plate (reserving the pan juices) and let cool until able to handle. Shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces then place in a bowl and toss with a few spoonfuls of the buttery pan juice to moisten. Taste and season as needed. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Melt 4 tbsp butter over medium-high in a large, ovenproof skillet (I used this old standby). Whisk the flour into the melted butter to make a paste (aka roux), and cook down for a minute or so, until the flour smells nutty and has turned a pale golden-brown. Gradually whisk in the broth and whisk well to beat out any lumps that form. Whisk in the salsa verde and evaporated milk. Continue whisking and cook down until quite thick and bubbling vigourously, ~5-7 minutes. Stir in the cooked, shredded chicken. Turn the heat to very low and keep warm while you whip up the dumpling batter.
Heat the whole milk and butter in a small saucepan until melted and steamy. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and scallions with a fork. Pour the buttery milk into the flour mixture and stir just until a dough forms (try to stir as little as possible!) Drop spoonfuls of dough over the warm chicken stew to evenly cover the surface as best you can. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cornbread dumplings are cooked through with crisp, golden edges. Let rest for 5-10 minutes prior to serving. Garnish generously with scallions and cilantro. Mic drop.