In search of the perfect tomatillo salsa with Chef Tom

Famed Chef Tom Douglas, at left, poses with Carolyn Ossorio and her daughters Amelia and Sophie.— Image Credit: Carolyn Ossorio
Famed Chef Tom Douglas, at left, poses with Carolyn Ossorio and her daughters Amelia and Sophie.— Image Credit: Carolyn Ossorio


“Good job,” I say, helping to chop the last bits of cilantro.

I stand beside my daughter Sophie in our Mad Men-era kitchen. The double oven is yellow, the countertops are a rusty orange Formica.

This afternoon I’m Sophie and Amelia’s sous chef.  I lean into the mini island and watch as Sophie slips my cilantro into the beginnings of our Roasted Tomatillo Salsa with Chicken Skewers.

The kitchen island overlooks our open living room where my mom is watching over Baby Ty cruising the furniture.

“The smell is amazing,” Mom says referring to the potent, freshly chopped onion and garlic we picked up at the Renton Farmer’s Market last Tuesday.

There is definitely a difference between mass produced and local produce –like wild from tame.  The cilantro was jalapeno green, wet and damply alive like flora in a rainforest.

The fresh garlic looks prehistoric and nothing like its plastic jugged cousins of pre-peeled bulbs available at Costco. The husk surrounding the garlic cloves has a purple hue with little bits of dirt still clinging to the tendrils.

“Thanks, Mom. This is fun,” Sophie says pulling the seeds from her poblano chiles. She’s 10 years old and a budding culinary master.

Her passion for cooking inspired me a couple years ago. I never realized how much I would come to enjoy cooking with my kids on what we now call our “food experiments” — in homage to Albert Einstein’s famed “thought experiments” of which E=MC2 was the result.

The E=MC2 of our “food experiments” is the pursuit of kid-friendly recipes that our family can cook together for fun while at the same time creating a healthy connection with food.

“What can I do now? Amelia asks, pointing to the now faded recipe. (We used the printed-out recipe as our guide.)  A little like geocaching, but instead of a hand-held device, the now-crumpled and literally “rubbed with love” recipe had been given to us by Chef Tom Douglas for our latest adventure.

On the other side of the island, Amelia and my nephew Lucas begin chopping the tomatillos, one of the main ingredients.

Out of the three generations preparing th recipe: grandma, mom and kids, none of us had ever cooked with tomatillo’s.

Tomatillos are referred to as the green tomato that are a staple of Mexican cuisine.  And for us newbies, acquiring them proved a challenge.

At the second local shop, Mexican Tienda, I heard Amelia cry, “Mommmy!  The Tomatillos!”  Her look of delight as she held aloft a husked green fruit was pure Indiana Jones.

Chef Tom Douglas was in Renton recently, cookin’ up some Rubs with Love salmon and steak at McLendon’s where his line of Rubs with Love spices and sauces are available.

Douglas is a big supporter of shopping locally. In 2006, Tom and his wife bought a farm in Prosser, Wash.  Using three acres for a vegetable garden they are hard at work realizing their dream of a truly farm to table experience.  The fruits and vegetable bounty are shared and celebrated with friends, employees and patrons of their popular restaurants.

And did I mention this Iron Chef’s coconut cream pie is a rhapsody in flavor layering.  Crisp pie dough flecked coconut meets chilled creamy filling topped with whip cream so dreamy you could lay your noggin’ on its sweet goodness and float on the coconut and white chocolate topping like a concert jumper riding a wave of fans.

I chatted with Chef Douglas the other day about our family’s latest “food experiment” following his Roasted Tomatillo Salsa with Chicken Skewer.

Tom is one of eight siblings and I asked him if cooking with his family and working in their garden was a primer for his cooking career.

He chuckled.  “I wish it was that romantic.  We were forced into servitude or we didn’t get our allowance.  I don’t know too many kids who ask to weed the garden.”  Chef Tom did go on to say that he had gotten interested in cooking around his family experience.

Shopping with four kids between the ages of 10 and 14 months, I could definitely relate. Criss-crossing Renton searching for the ingredients –Johnny Cash was our muse and his song — I’ve been everywhere, man.

We went to the Renton Farmer’s Market, man.

To Mexican Tienda’s, man.

To Ay! Jalisco, man.

To Saar’s, man.

To Shawn and Ted’s Quality Meat Market, man.

We’d been everywhere, man.

But it was worth it.

I asked Tom if he had any kid-friendly tips for parents.

“Cooking with your kids is a remarkable exercise to let them in on the purchasing part of the process — kids love to shop and its great to take them to these ethnic places where people don’t always speak the language.  You need to treasure hunt a little bit.  Don’t be too parental, let them discover little things … like the palm sugar at the front counter and the little Mexican candies that will get them interested in food in other places and food from other places.  I think it’s a great way to translate that into a kitchen and a recipe. They’re more invested in the process instead of just being dragged away from the TV and a video game.”

You don’t have to be a master chef to enjoy “food experiments” with your kids.  Cooking is accessible, fun and having all the gadgets and gizmo’s isn’t necessary.  What I do recommend is having a great recipe.  Something you’ve never cooked before as you begin the hunt for fresh local ingredients like the ones we used in Chef Tom Douglas’s recipe.




Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

with grilled chicken skewers

Yields ¾ cup salsa and 4-6 servings of chicken

8         till ounces tomatillos (2 ½ cups), husked, rinsed and dried

2          teaspoons olive oil plus 1 tablespoon

1          poblano or Anaheim chile, roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced

2          tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1          tablespoon finely chopped red onion

1          tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1          teaspoon chopped garlic

1          teaspoon pureed canned chipotle en adobo, or more to taste

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 400º F.  Combine the fresh tomatillos with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in a pan and place in the oven for about 10 minutes, tossing them around a couple times, until softened and lightly browned here and there.  Allow the tomatillos to cool slightly, then put them on a cutting board and chop coarsely. Put the tomatillos in a sieve and drain off and discard all the liquid.  Combine the drained tomatillos, the poblano, cilantro, onion,  lime juice, garlic, chipotle, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until your skewers are ready.

For the chicken skewers:

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

16 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 mins and drained

Peanut or vegetable oil for brushing

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fire up the grill or pre-heat the broiler.  Cut each chicken breast into 4 pieces, about 2 inches by 1 inch each.  Thread 1 piece of chicken on each skewer, brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Grill or broil the chicken on skewers over medium coals, turning often.  When the chicken is cooked through, or after about 7 mins, remove the skewers from the grill and spoon the salsa over the top just before serving.

Tom’s kid-friendly tip: serve the salsa in small bowls so that little ones can dip their own skewers.  Remove the meat from the skewers before serving to very little ones—they can have sharp tips!

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