Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pozole Rojo: A Rich, Meaty and Delicious Mexican Treasure


Pozole (pronounced poh-soh-lay) is a traditional soup or stew made with hominy, pork (or other meat), chili pepper, and other seasonings. It is always served with a set of condiments for people to add themselves, to flavor it how they desire. There are a number of variations on pozole, including blanco (white or clear, a mild version without chile), verde (green, made with tomatillos), rojo (red, made with red chile), de frijol (with beans), and elopozole (sweet corn, squash, and chicken or pork meat).

I like it red. I also like to simplify, so my recipe calls for a Tablespoon (or two) of canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce in place of making my own sauce. Sometimes, for a mild version, I simply use a couple Tablespoons of chili powder instead; chili powder gets mellower and more flavorful the longer it cooks, so this is really a pretty nice option.

Another simplification I make is in my choice of meat. To be truly authentic, pozole rojo should be made by cooking a pig's head for hours and hours. Sorry, huh-unh, not gonna do it. Call me a wimp. Instead, I use pork shoulder and/or a couple of nice ham hocks. Delicious!

There are restaurants all over Mexico that serve only pozole, quite naturally called "pozolerias". They will usually serve the white, red and green varieties, and they do especially good business on weekend mornings when customers come in for a bowl-full to cure their hangovers. Other Mexican restaurants will often advertise it as being served only on Sundays, while at private homes it is often served every Thursday (I don't know why). Of course, you can cook it whenever you want. Here's how:

POZOLE ROJO:

Ingredients:
Cooking time: About 4 hours

   * 3 lbs pork shoulder,(can combine with neck bones and ham hocks)
   * 12 Cups water, or combo water and chicken broth (about 3 quarts)
   * 1 tsp salt
   * Freshly ground pepper
   * 1 tsp ground cumin
   * 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
   * 1 to 2 Tblsp 2 tablespoons of powdered pasilla chile (or any ordinary, unblended chili powder)
   * Two 30-ounce cans white Mexican hominy, undrained (see note below Directions)
   * 1 medium onion, chopped
   * 6 large garlic cloves, crushed/minced (or to taste)

Directions:

Put the pork shoulder in a large, heavy Dutch oven-type pot. Cover with the 12 cups or so of cold water/broth. Bring it slowly to a simmer over medium heat, uncovered. Once it comes to a simmer, skim off the foam as it appears (for about ten minutes or so, after which the foam will stop appearing).

Simmer over low heat, partially covered, for at least two hours, leaving the lid ajar just enough to let some steam escape.

Remove from heat. Take the pork pieces out of the broth and once it is cool enough to handle without burning yourself, cut the meat from the bones. Discard the bones, cut the meat into chunks and return it to the broth.

Add the hominy (with its juice!), the crushed or minced garlic, chopped onion, chili powder, oregano, cumin and salt to the pot. Use more or less chili powder to your taste.

Return to heat and simmer (partially covered) for another two hours. Don't let the broth get too thick; add more water if needed to maintain a soupy consistency. Remove from heat. Note that the meat will be so tender by now that some will still be in chunks and some will be shredded, nearly disappearing into the broth. Skim the grease from the top. Check for salt before serving.

Serve with little side dishes full of garnishments, listed below, so that everyone can add their own to their bowl.

Garnishes
   *Cabbage or iceberg lettuce, shredded
   *Onion, finely diced
   *Radishes, thinly sliced
   *Lime wedges
   *Avocado, diced or sliced
   *Oregano, dried
   *Chile piquín, ground, or red pepper flakes
   *Tortilla strips, or whole tortillas (corn or flour, your choice)
   *Special tip: I like to top my bowl-full off with a sunny-side-up egg. You can add anything you like! Olé!

NOTE: In Mexico, the corn used for this dish is called "cacahuazintle" or "cacahuacintle", a specific variety of white corn with big kernels (in the best kind, the germ of the kernels are removed so the kernels pop open like flowers). You can buy the corn pre-cooked in plastic bags at most supermarkets. If you can't find that, the canned variety is usually available, called "Mexican Style Hominy" (Maize Estilo Mexicana). In a pinch, you can use any style of hominy you can find, and while it does affect the texture it won't really affect the taste.

You can make this dish the day before and reheat it over low heat if you want. The advantages of this are twofold: It makes it easy to skim off the congealed fat when it comes out of the fridge the next day AND it actually tastes even better the second day!

Buen Provecho!

Do you have a recipe you'd like to share? Send an email to lahuerita2@gmail.com and put "Recipes" in the subject box so I'll know what it's about!

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