From the Kitchen

Summertime Tomatillo Sauce

With summer upon us, I wanted to share my very favorite recipe for Tomatillo-Serrano Chile Sauce. It’s a staple at our house.

I have very tender memories of tasting this sauce for the first time. It left such an impression on me that I have been making it regularly ever since I tracked down the recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, a gift for my first Valentine’s Day as a married woman.

Tomatillo-Serrano Chile Sauce

The key players we have for the sauce are:

*Serrano Chiles: long, slender, not too spicy

Tomatillos: (aka tomate verde) tangy, very seedy, look like green tomatoes, need to be husked and rinsed well before using, can be used raw or cooked, come canned as well.

This is what you will probably see when you look for them at the store. I buy mine at a local Latin American market–they are cheaper and I know they are bought frequently by patrons and therefore maybe more fresh than at the regular supermarket.

You just have to peel back the husk and rinse off the sticky residue. When you are buying tomatillos, look for golf ball-sized ones that are firm to the touch. Peel back the husk a little to check for rotten areas or spiders. Spiders happen….sometimes.

You can also see all the seeds in there, too.


10-12 tomatillos
3-4 serrano chiles
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lime
1/2-1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped (measure before chopping)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
salt, to taste (you may not need any)
a few tablespoons of canola oil


I don’t have a broiler that really works, so sometimes I use my tiny toaster oven and sometimes I just turn my oven up really hot, or sometimes I just use my cast-iron skillet.

This time making the sauce, I started with them in the skillet:

Then I transferred them to the tiny toaster oven to finish broiling. You have to figure out what works best for you–you can even boil these to soften them. Or use 2 large cans of tomatillos.

They got a little brown on the stove–it was way too hot to turn on my regular oven.

I left them in my tiny toaster oven for about 5 minutes per side. I got them out and turn them over half way through. Basically you just want them to look like the picture below. The roasting brings out a great flavor and tones down the harshness of the acid a bit, in my opinion.

You can see how the skin blistered and blackened a little, too. That’s good. You want that black stuff on those babies.

Now we move on to the Serrano chiles.

They get roasted/toasted, too. Use a dry skillet and brown them on both sides–cook them until the skin gets black and blisters. They will also get a bit softer. The smell will be good, too.

After the Serranos are finished, you will want to cut off the stems and seed them, or your sauce will be very spicy. If you like spicy, then by all means leave them in.

Heat a skillet over high heat and add a couple of tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add the roughly chopped onion.

Cook the onion until it becomes golden brown and softens. This usually takes about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes until the garlic is soft.

Place the tomatillos and Serranos in the bowl of a food processor or blender.

Process until it forms a rough looking puree. Then add the caramelized onions.

Begin pulsing. You don’t want this to be a totally smooth puree ala baby food. You want a little texture. The picture below is at the half way point.

This is what you want it to look like:

The best part is yet to come. The sauce is not finished!!!

Wipe out that skillet you used to brown the onions. Add a few more tablespoons of oil. When it’s hot–test it with a drop of the puree, when it sizzles, it’s ready.

Fry the puree until it thickens and darkens. It will start smelling pretty good.

It’s starting to get a little thicker at this point, but it needs more time.

You eventually want it to be a thick paste. The color will have changed a little, too.

At this point, you will add the 2 cups of chicken broth. Stir well and bring to a simmer.

The sauce is finished when it coats the back of a spoon.

Add the cilantro right before serving.

This sauce is very freezable. If you freeze it, Rick Bayless recommends you let it thaw and put it back in the food processor/blender to help it come back to the right consistency.

I enjoy this sauce plain from the spoon, or in several other recipes.

Tilapia Fillets with Blackened Corn and Tomatillo-Serrano Chile Sauce
Corn Chip Soup

Easy view recipe:

Simmered Tomatillo-Serrano Chile Sauce
(From Rick Bayless)

10-12 tomatillos
3-4 serrano chiles
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
juice of one lime
1/2-1 cup cilantro, finely chopped (measure before chopping)
2 cups broth (chicken, beef, or fish–depending on what you are using the sauce for)
salt to taste (if broth doesn’t provide enough)

Remove the husk from the tomatillos and rinse them to remove the sticky residue. Place the tomatillos and the serrano chilies on a baking sheet and place under a hot broiler. Broil each side of the tomatillos and the chilies until they are slighly blackened. The tomatillos will turn sort of an olive green in color. (Alternatively, you can place them in a heavy-duty pan on the stovetop, or you can boil the tomatillos.)

Place the tomatillos and the chiles in a food processor and pulse until they are broken up, but not pureed.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, cook the onion and garlic in a small amount of canola oil until soft. Add to the food processor. Pulse until everything is uniform and almost smooth. Wipe out the pan and add a little more canola oil. Heat the pan again and add the puree. Fry the puree over medium heat until it starts to thicken, darken, and smell very fragrant. Slowly add the chicken broth. Stir occasionally and cook sauce until it thickens–about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the chopped cilantro and stir well. Set aside until ready to use.


  1. I tried several tomatillo salsas but this was is by far my favorite! Thank you so much for the recipe. It was so easy to follow and my honey loved it!

  2. This is very very good and my family loved it!!! Full of flavor and made the house smell delicious. My husband even pulled in the garage and said, “oh my god, what are you cooking?!” Tasted even better than it smelled. I sauteed shrimp in it and served it with tortilla chips and Quinoa prepared with fresh cilantro.

  3. I really enjoyed this version of the recipe, with roasting the tomatillos and peppers. The flavors are much more vivid. Thanks for all the great advice.

  4. Very well documented, and esay to follow, with the pics…. I will try the recipe for tomatillo- serrano sauce inmediately. And will get back to you how it went. Thanks for sharing.

  5. This weekend is my second time making this sauce, the Summer Tomatillo, my family loves it, the only thing diffrent was that as I am blending the mixture I added about 3/4 a bushel of cilantro. I just wanted to say thatnk you this was a huge hit with my hubby green sauce is his favorite! Do you have a good mole?

  6. Sarah and Karrie–

    I wasn’t able to go in and change it in the recipe in this post. Add the lime juice before you serve it. Sorry for the omission!

  7. I have read through both versions of the recipe, but neither says when to put in the lime juice…..maybe before it’s served to brighten the flavor?

  8. Oh WOW! Looks AWESOME! I might just have to try this recipes at home!

    Found you from the RSVP list of the People’s Party in Chicago! Label Daddy (and the blog team) will be there. Hopefully, we can network and meet ya!

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