Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Brisket In Pasilla Chili And Tomatillo Sauce (Carne Enchilada)

Pasilla or black chilies are dried chilaca chilies, by far the most common chilies grown and used in Michoacan. They can be found in many stores and online in the U.S.
Patricia Jinich for NPR
Pasilla or black chilies are dried chilaca chilies, by far the most common chilies grown and used in Michoacan. They can be found in many stores and online in the U.S.

Berenice Flores from Santa Fe de la Laguna showed me how to make this dish. When she shared it with us, we kept asking for more corn tortillas to wipe the sauce clean off the plates. It has become our staple brisket recipe at home and can be made with pork, which is what Flores used, or beef.

The sauce uses pasilla or black chilies, which are the dried chilaca chilies, by far the most common chili grown and used in Michoacan. The pasilla is dark brown or black, long and slender, with a soft and wrinkled skin and a rich, earthy, almost sweet and mildly hot flavor. New Mexico chilies can be used as a substitute. The combination of pasillas with the tart tomatillos makes an incredibly tasty sauce. It goes well with a side of white rice.

Pasilla chilies can be found in many stores these days or can be ordered at,, and, among other sites.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3 pounds trimmed brisket of beef, rinsed and cut into about 2-inch chunks (leave some fat on!)

5 whole garlic cloves, peeled

5 peppercorns

2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided (plus more to taste)

1 pound tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed

4 ounces black pasilla chilies, stems and seeds removed

3 tablespoons corn or safflower oil

1/2 cup white onion, chopped

1 cup boiling water

2 cups meat cooking liquid

Chopped white onion and cilantro leaves (optional garnish)

Place meat chunks in a large cooking pot along with 5 garlic cloves, peppercorns and salt. Cover with water, bring to a boil, cover partially and simmer over medium heat for 3 hours, or until meat is very soft. Drain and reserve 2 cups of its cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, char or roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet under the broiler, or directly on the comal (cast iron plate) or dry skillet or grill over medium heat, for about 10 minutes, turning 2 or 3 times. Tomatillos are ready when their skin is blistered and lightly charred, and their flesh soft, mushy and juicy.

Toast chilies on a hot comal or dry skillet over low-medium heat, for 5 to 10 seconds per side. Chilies will release their aroma and become more pliable, and their inner skin will become a bit opaque. Don't let them burn.

Place toasted chilies and roasted or charred tomatillos in a bowl and cover with 1 cup boiling water and 2 cups of reserved meat cooking liquid (if you don't have 2 cups, add more water). Let this mixture soak for at least a half-hour and up to 4 hours. Pour the mixture into the blender or food processor, puree until smooth and reserve.

Add 3 tablespoons of corn or safflower oil to the same pot in which meat was cooked, and heat over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add cooked meat chunks and brown them, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add the chopped onion, and stir as you continue to brown the meat for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Incorporate pureed chili mixture and a teaspoon of salt. Stir and simmer over medium heat for about 10 more minutes. The meat should be completely tender, yet still in chunks. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, but not pasty. Taste for salt and add more if need be. To serve, you can garnish with some raw chopped onion and cilantro leaves.

If there is any meat left over, you can cool, store and refrigerate in a closed container and then reheat, covered over a low simmer.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit