From and about Huatulco, Mexico, the heart of Riviera Oaxaca.
Monday, August 22, 2011
September 16th marks the 201st year of Mexico’s Independence, and throughout the country there will be parades and fireworks and feasts. Surely Mexico got it right when they picked their flag colors - red, green and white! Who couldn’t make a great meal based on foods of those colors? Chiles en nogada (see recipe in August Huatulco Eye), red, white and green rice, moles in a rainbow of colors and flavours, tamales with a variety of fillings….all of these are celebratory foods, the ones that are family favorites and cultural classics. When I asked Alfredo Patino (Eye publisher) what he would be eating on September 16th, there was no hesitation, “pozole!”
Pozole, a fragrant, thick soup/stew, has many variations, mostly regional…but whether you are eating green (Guerrero) or red (Jalisco or Michoacan) or white (Guadalajara) pozole, or pozole made with chicken or seafood (Veracruz), or most often, pork, it is almost always advertised as RICO POZOLE. Eating pozole is so celebratory, and so popular, that in many places throughout Mexico, certain days are designated pozole days. In Zihuatenejo, Guerrero, Thursdays are celebrated pozole day, with a whole street of restaurants called Pozole Alley featuring steaming cauldrons of the stuff. Here in Huatulco Saturday seems to be pozole day, with lots of local holes-in-the wall hanging out their Rico Pozole sign; a few restaurants have it on the menu all the time (Casa de Naranja, Los Gallos).
So what is the deal with pozole anyhow? Well, in the beginning there was corn. “Since corn was a sacred plant for the Aztecs and other inhabitants of Mesoamerica, pozole was made to be consumed on special occasions.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pozole Pozole, a Nahuatl word that means “foamy” is the name for dried kernels of corn which have been treated with cal, an alkaline solution, which denatures the germ and so makes for long storage periods without fear of sprouting. The cal also slightly changes the taste of the corn, which is the distinctive taste of pozole.
Pozole is available to the cook in a few different ways. Dried is the very conventional way, and in many villages is found at the local tortilleria. Pozole cooked with the dry corn, often nixtamalized (the cal process) by the home cook, will definitely be an all day affair. But pozole is also available processed, peeled and pre-cooked as a convenience ingredient. It is found in the refrigerated dairy case of Mexican supermarkets in a plastic pillow pack. I had a package of just this convenience pozole in my hand the other day in the grocery store when a friend passed by and said, “If you are going to make pozole, you have to go the whole way. You have to get the head of a pig.” I know, I know. But although I have eaten pozole with the head of a pig in the pot, and although I love the cheeks, and it is definitely the authentic way to do it, it is quite a different thing to start from scratch myself. The trotters are quite another thing, however, and I don’t find them so difficult, having grown up in a half Ukrainian household. We used them, pig’s feet and hocks, to make headcheese (minus the head). In my gringa opinion, for a rich tasting pozole, pork shoulder, augmented with a few trotters, is sufficient.
Besides its tradition as a celebratory meal, pozole really just makes sense for a big fiesta. A huge vat of the stew can be cooked on an outdoor fire, stoked and stirred lovingly, often through the night, to feed a big family or a village. It is relatively inexpensive, and can be held indefinitely, served hot or room temperature, and is just plain delicious.
One of the marvellous things about pozole is that it is the ultimate “custom” foods. There is a joke that goes,”!Ah, que Mexicanos estos, le ponen la ensalada a la sopa!” “Ah, those Mexicans! They put salad in the soup.” This is quite literally how you eat pozole. A tray of toppings accompanies the steaming bowl of pozole, and you dress your stew according to your individual taste. Shredded cabbage or crispy iceberg lettuce add a little sweetness, crisp red radishes sliced thinly add a peppery bite, chopped onions give an aromatic edge, wedges of lime squeezed into the broth brighten the taste and balance the sweetness of the pork and the corn, toasted dried Mexican oregano imparts a great earthy depth, and of course toasted chiles stirred into the caldo heat it up.
One of my favourite Jalisco pozole joints also offers platters of pickled pig’s feet and onions (patitas escabeche) with crisp tostadas and jalapeno rajas alongside its pozole. Rico, muy rico. By the way, pozole and all the accoutrements are known as fantastic hangover cures. Pozole is also delicious when accompanied with sipping tequila or mescal. (Tequila before, during, after…)
Another Mexican saying about pozole is that there are as many recipes for pozole as there are people who love it! “Hay tantas recetas de pozole como personas que lo confeccion.” Rick Bayless, Patricia Quintana, and I am sure, Alfredo’s mom, have delicious and authentic recipes for pozole, but I am sharing with you a really basic recipe from one of my favourite books, Culinary Mexico by Daniel Hoyer. I have a big crockpot that I use, but I have made it on the stove as well. Also note that you can use chicken stock instead of water or pork stock. And if you have never eaten patitas, come on over to my house on September 16th, we will be having RICO POZOLE and patitas escabeche.
Pozole Estilo de Michoacan
Hominy and Pork Stew
16 to 24 ounces fresh or frozen pozole (or 1 ½ cups dry pozole that has been soaked in cool water for 8 to 12 hours, then drained)
2 ½ pounds pork-stew meat or pork-shoulder meat cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons pork lard or vegetable oil
1 medium white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Generous pinch of cumin
1 to 2 tablespoon toasted Mexican oregano
2 bay leaves, toasted
Pinch of ground cloves or allspice
1 ancho chile and 1 guajillo chile, toasted, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 chipotle chile en adobe, pureed (optional)
Water or pork broth as needed
Salt to taste
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1. Gently boil the pozole in enough water to cover for 25 to 40 minutes. The kernels will just begin to open up or “blossom”.
2. In a separate skillet, salt and brown the pork in the lard or vegetable oil. Remove from the pan and lightly brown the onion and garlic.
3. Return the pork to the pan and add the spices, the chopped chiles, and chile puree if using.
4. Stir well and fry for about 3 minutes, then add water or broth to 1 inch above the meat.
5. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer 25 to 35 minutes until the meat begins to get tender.
6. Combine with the pozole and simmer for 25 to 40 minutes more until meat is very tender.
7. Serve this stew topped with shredded cabbage, chopped inions, radishes, fresh limes, cilantro, toasted oregano, toasted chile powder, and cotija or other sharp, crumbly cheese for garnish.