I’ve been on a pozole bender. Or is it posole? Either way, say: poh-SOH-lay. There are as many versions of this soup-that’s-almost-a-stew as there are places that make it their own and the people who love it.
Some recipes are convoluted, some grossly inauthentic, others blah. A good red pozole, as opposed to a green version popular along Mexico’s Chihuahuan border, has pork cooked to a shreddable state, a background soup that’s medium-spicy and not too thick, and hominy.
Pozole is so ancient it uses the Aztec chemistry that figured out slaked lime freed up B vitamins in corn while puffing it into nixtamal — hominy. The soup probably originated in and around the Mexican states of Jalisco and/or Guerrero. But pozole might as well be the state soup of New Mexico, too, where it’s typically super-spicy.
Jalisco and Guerrero aren’t known for dishes with blow-your-brains-out spiciness. Mexican pozole should be pleasant eating even with a base of dangerous-looking guajillo and New Mexico chiles — not exactly shy in the dynamite department. But additions of pork, onions, garlic, cumin, oregano, sometimes a whole jalapeño thrown in just to see what happens, smooth out the elements over low cooking.
At serving, the opposite happens: a buffet’s worth of raw, unmarried tastes are must-have garnishes, from raw cabbage and radishes to cilantro and more oregano. Wedges of fresh lime must be squeezed over your final version. The acid will turn up the volume of the entire dish.
Here’s my pozole. You have to start ahead by making your own dried red-chile base. For the meat, I went to a Mexican butcher and bought a cut of pork shoulder sometimes called “cushion meat,” known for its great shreddability. Any shoulder cut, such as Boston butt, is a good choice.
Serves 6 with leftovers
For the red chile base:
- De-stem chile pods and shake out as many seeds as you can. Place pods in a pot. Add water just to cover. Simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving cooking water.
- Place chiles, chile powder, onion, garlic and salt in a blender. Add about 1 cup cooking water. Puree to a paste the consistency of bean dip, adding more cooking water as needed to loosen mixture.
For the soup base:
- Cut the pork into 3-inch cubes, trimming some, but not all, of the fat.
- Heat oil in a heavy large pot. Add neck bones and pork pieces, salting lightly, and continuing to brown on all sides, keeping heat medium-high, about 10 to 15 minutes. With tongs, remove bones and pork to a bowl.
- In the pot’s drippings, saute onion and garlic over medium-high heat until lightly browned and the pot goes nearly dry. Return meat, bones and collected juices back to the pot. Add water just to cover meat by 1 inch. With heat medium-high, bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, about 40 minutes, skimming well of all scum that comes to the surface.
- Add red chile paste, cumin, oregano (rubbing it through the palms of your hands), whole jalapeño, chicken stock and a few twists of black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 1½ to 2 hours, stirring now and then.
- Remove meat; cool, shred coarsely and return to the pot. Add additional salt.
- About an hour before serving, pour contents of hominy cans into a strainer. Rinse several times with running water. Add hominy to pozole, stirring well. If soup seems too thick, thin with a cup, or so, of water. Reheat to a simmer.
- Ladle pozole into big bowls for each guest. At the table, pass the garnishes.
- A wide low bowl piled with thinly shredded raw cabbage
- About 5 finely diced red radishes
- Bowl of extra Mexican oregano
- Platter of trimmed, washed, fresh cilantro
- Bowl of finely minced raw white onion
- 4 or 5 limes cut in lengthwise wedges
Zester Daily contributor Elaine Corn is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and food editor. A former editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Sacramento Bee, Corn has written six cookbooks and contributed food stories to National Public Radio.
Photo: Pozole. Credit: Elaine Corn.