Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What in the World is Pozole

Nixtamalized Corn, Pozole, or Hominy, oh My!

Pozole (or sometimes spelled "Posole") is a word I had heard, but couldn't really say for certain where I had heard it. And, nor did I know exactly what it was, except for that I thought it had to do with corn. Not just any corn, but the kind used to make corn tortillas, where it has been "nixtamalized," or soaked/cooked in "cal" (calcium hydroxide or pickling lime). This corn is sometimes called hominy and sometimes pozole. 

Nixtamalized corn (hominy or pozole) is made with larger "field corn" types rather than little "sweet corn" kernels. It can be made with white corn or yellow corn (most commonly), but also with others like blue corn, red and other varieties. The process of cooking and/or soaking the corn with calcium hydroxide is: 
  1. to increase the bio-availability of proteins, calcium and niacin, and . . .
  2. Corn Tortillas pressed above and patted below
    Corn Tortillas pressed above and patted below
  3. it loosens and softens the outer skins (the bran) of the kernels, making them easy to rub off and discard.

The corn, once cooked this way with the skins discarded but still retaining the germ, is the type used to make corn tortillas or corn chips. When fresh, it has a smell unlike any other. If unaccustomed to this smell, it may not appeal, but once you've gotten used to absolutely fresh corn tortillas, made from this freshly ground nixtamalized corn,  and hand-patted, seen in the lower photo right, by a woman (or even some children - and I'm not discriminating, but truly I have NEVER seen a man do this!) skilled in this process, well, all I can say is that those super-pressed-flat and too-easy-to-crumble corn tortillas you buy in a store, seen in the upper photo above, just have no appeal left - at all!

So what is Pozole, Then?

Okay then, back to the original statement. Pozole is nothing more than hominy, and hominy is nothing more than nixtamalized corn. Aha! 
Nixtamalized Dried Corn next to a nickel and a dime
Nixtamalized Dried Corn next to a nickel and a dime

When I looked online to buy nixtamalized dried corn, much of the terminology was confusing, and I was unsure if any given item was truly what I was looking for. One person, in a review, stated that to be sure, to look for the term "Mote Pelado" on the label. I had no idea what the term "mote" meant, but I did understand "pelado," which means peeled, and nixtamalized corn is peeled. Once I found what I was looking for, I just ordered it, as I was tired from looking all over the place. Then it arrived, and holy cow! Those kernels were huge! Of course once I looked at the bag, it said "Giant White Kernels." They were not kidding!

Then, I found out that there is also a stew called pozole. It is Mexican, as far as I can ascertain, though to me, flavor-wise, it could very easily be Guatemalan as well. It is made with these nixtamalized kernels, whether hominy from a can, hominy made fresh or dried and soaked hominy/pozole. The pozole stew is made either green or red. It is made with pork or with chicken - or both. 
Pork Pozole Verde
I started looking at recipes online as usual, then as I got an idea of what I was looking to create, I made a recipe for myself. I used my own recipe for Salsa Verde, or Green Sauce, since all the ingredients that are in the green sauce are also in a green pozole stew. I went with the green version, for this reason. Plus, I love the flavor of my own Salsa Verde! 

Pozole Stew, Red or Green, and Why? 

Mirasol Chili left & Guajillo dried version right
Mirasol Chili left & Guajillo dried version right

A pozole/stew can be made "red" or "green." The difference is in the chili peppers used to make the sauce. For a red sauce, you would use dried red chilies, mainly guajillo and ancho, as far as I can see from various online recipes I perused. Guajillo chilies are somewhat hotter/medium spicy dried red chilies that are smooth and long. They are the dried version of Mirasol Chilies, so called because "mira sol" means look to the sun, and these chilies grow pointing upwards, rather than hanging down. A large quantity of both Guajillo and Ancho Chilies are used to make the sauce for red pozole. First they are soaked, then seeds and membranes are removed, then they are blended into a fine puree, along with fried onion and garlic.

Poblano Chili left and Ancho dried version right
Poblano Chili left and Ancho dried version right
Ancho chilies are also a dried red chili, larger, broader and the skin is very crinkly. Anchos start their lives as Poblano peppers. Most groceries seem to carry Poblanos these days. Once a green pepper (of most varieties) matures, it turns red. Once mature, the chili, when dried, will look very dark, as you see with an Ancho pepper. As far as heat levels go, Poblanos and Anchos can be fairly hot (rarely as hot as a Jalapeno), but sometimes they are very mild indeed. 

Tomatillos of the Nightshade Family
Tomatillos of the Nightshade Family
To make my Salsa Verde, in this instance, I used Anaheim chilies, since my grocery was totally out of Poblano chilies! I used a about 8 of them in the recipe, as they are smaller and narrower than Poblano chilies. The other things that make the sauce green are tomatillos, which are a fruit in the nightshade family, just as are tomatoes and peppers of all varieties. They look like ground cherries as they have a husk that covers the fruit inside. They are similar in flavor to a small green tomato and have a high acidity.

Since I was making my Pork Pozole Verde in my slow cooker, I browned the meat, cut into cubes of about 3-inches square. Once browned, I moved the pieces to the slow cooker and added the green sauce with the remaining ingredients and slow cooked all day long. 

In most of the Green Pozole recipes I read online epazote was added to the pot.
Epazote or Apazote
Epazote or Apazote
Epazote is a weed that is used at least in Mexico and Guatemala - maybe other countries. Generally in Guatemala it is added to black beans while cooking, hopefully to mitigate the after-effects of eating beans! It grows wild all over the place down there, and I also found it growing by the wayside while living in Florida. The herb has a very peculiar and pungent smell and flavor. Up north, obviously it is not found growing wild, so I ordered dried epazote. I had grown to love the flavor it gave to my black beans, and so still use it. I used it in this stew also, but it is obviously not completely necessary.

Traditionally, the stew is served in bowls with lots of side bits to add as desired: sliced radishes, cubed avocado, lime wedges, chopped onion, hot chili powder among other things. I served mine with lime wedges, though my husband would never add more lime to a food. He's not keen on sour notes. Nor is he keen on avocados, and dislikes radishes and chopped onion anyway. SO! We just went with the stew as is, and it was still truly delicious.

Two last things: If you cannot bring yourself to hunt out the dried nixtamalized corn/pozole/mote pelado, it is possible to add in drained, canned hominy, though it should be added towards the end of cooking time so it does not totally disintegrate. Second, this can be made in a large pot on the stove or in the oven, cooking through slowly over 3 to 4 hours.

Pork Pozole Verde

Serves 8 or more
Pork Pozole Verde
Pork Pozole Verde

2 cups dried, nixtamalized corn/pozole
4 pounds pork shoulder, cut in 3-inch chunks
oil, for frying
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2½ to 3 cups Salsa Verde, made with 
     6 Poblanos or 8 Anaheim chilies
more hot chilies as desired, chopped
1 onion, coarsely chopped
6 to 8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon freshly minced oregano
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly ground
1 teaspoon dried epazote or 2 sprigs fresh, optional
1 bay leaf
1 - two additional teaspoons salt, as needed
a few grinds of black pepper
1 - 2 potatoes, peeled, cubed

The night prior to making the pozole, place the dried pozole corn in a large bowl and cover with large quantities of water. Cover and soak overnight. In the morning, drain, reserving the liquid.

In the morning, combine the flour and first teaspoon salt and dredge the chunks of meat in the flour. Brown the meat thoroughly on all sides, then place them into the slow cooker. (You will need a large slow cooker for this recipe.) Add in the Salsa Verde, extra hot chilies per your spice level, the onion, garlic, oregano, cumin, epazote, bay leaf, one more teaspoon salt and pepper. Add in the potatoes and the soaked/drained pozole corn along with 2 cups of the drained liquid. During cooking, add more of the liquid if needed to maintain a soup/stew consistency.

My slow cooker has only Hi or Low settings, and I cooked it on high for 6 hours. Once the meat is tender, remove the meat chunks and shred. Return the meat to the pot and check for salt. If needed, add more. Garnish the bowls of stew with chopped cilantro and wedges of lime and serve.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.