(Hominy and Pork Stew)
For roughly fourteen years (1996-2009), I wrote a column for ChiMe called “Cheap Eats.” The column combined food history and/or travel tales with a recipe from somewhere interesting. A few of you may remember it.
A lot of the recipes in “Cheap Eats” were favorites that I’d been cooking for years, as our family (especially my dad) was adventurous about food, both eating it and preparing it. Thanks to dad getting an airline job, our adventures in time went beyond home, Chicagoland, and dad’s native Tampa-St. Pete, though these all offered outstanding introductions to the world of food. Thus, there was a lot of food mileage even before I started my own serious traveling as an adult. Combine that with my growing passion for food history, which began well before the column did, and there was plenty to share.
I loved writing the “Cheap Eats” column and sharing my adventures and discoveries, culinary and otherwise, with my Mensa friends, but eventually, I needed to retire it, as other things impinged on my life. However, I thought it couldn’t hurt to pop back in with a little something new.
Pozole Rojo is a dish I encountered during my travels in Mexico. It is warming and flavorful and is definitely worth sharing with friends. However, the reason I developed the recipe below is that it seemed like an appropriate culinary bridge between my book on corn (Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland) and the complement that is due to come out on October 8, 2018 (Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs: From Wild Boar to Baconfest). Corn and pork define agriculture in the Midwest, but they also come close to defining the cuisine of Mexico. In fact, it has been said (though it is clearly an oversimplification) that Mexican food is Aztec food plus pigs.
The word pozole comes from the Nahuatl (language of the Aztecs) pozolli, which means “hominy.” The rojo in the name (Spanish for “red”) both underscores the combined Indian/European influences in the dish and hints at other variations—because not all pozole uses the red chiles found in this dish. (As is true of every dish of any antiquity, there are as many versions as there are people making it.)
Hominy is corn that has undergone nixtamalization—that is, it has been processed with lye or lime in a traditional way discovered long ago by Native Americans. It is a process that makes the corn both more nutritious (makes niacin and lysine more bio-available) and able to be stored longer than untreated corn.
Pozole is a delicious, filling soup that, while other ingredients can and will vary, always includes hominy and pork. Traditionally made for large groups, an entire pig’s head is often included in the recipe. I wanted a version that would feed a more modest number of people, and this version makes roughly 6 servings. However, I also wanted the flavor and texture added by the bones and collagen found in the head, so I added a pound of meaty neck bones. It turned out splendidly. Hope you like it as well as I do.
2 lb. stewing pork
1 lb. pork neck bones
10 cups water
2 tsp. salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 15-oz. cans white hominy, drained and rinsed
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
3 dried ancho chiles
3 dried guajillo chiles
1 clove of garlic, whole
Salt and pepper to taste
tostadas or tortilla chips
2 limes, quartered
1 onion finely sliced
cabbage or iceberg lettuce, shredded
Place the pork, bones, 2 tsp salt, minced garlic, chopped onion, and hominy in a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim scum as it forms. Once scum is skimmed, add black pepper. (You lose a lot of the pepper if you add it before skimming.) When water is at a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until the meat is close to falling off the bone, about 1-½ hours.
Remove seeds and stems from the dried chiles and discard. Place the chiles in a bowl. After the first hour of simmering the pork, remove enough liquid to just cover the chiles (about one ladleful). Let chiles soak for 30 minutes. Then place chiles, soaking broth, and the final clove of garlic in a blender and purée until smooth.
Remove the soup from the heat and remove the pork to a platter to cool. When cool enough to handle, shred the stewing pork and remove all meat from the neck bones. Return meat to pot, stir in chile paste, and return pot to the heat, and simmer for another hour, until the meat is meltingly tender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with a selection of the suggested garnishes/accompaniments. (Not all need to be included to still be authentic.) Enjoy.