Celebrating with Pozole


Photo Credit: Martha Silva

Pozole is a rich stew made with hominy and pork. It is one of those traditional foods that take a long time to make, and in pre-Columbian times, it was a ritually significant dish. Today, with the availability of pre-softened hominy and pressure cookers (or slow cookers), making this dish does not have to be the time-consuming process it used to be. However, many families consider it a celebratory dish and in Mexico and New Mexico, it will appear on many tables on special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, New Year’s dinners, and “quinceañeras”.

Video from The Bald Chef

Pozole’s Checkered Past

In “Mexico On My Plate: Red Pozole and Its History”, Nancy Lopez-McHugh talks about the history of pozole: “Aztecs, and the other indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, cooked pozole only on special occasions. Now this is where things start getting weird and a bit gross. In a book called “General History of the Things of New Spain” written by Fray Bernandino de Sahagun, he describes pots of stew with corn and pieces of human flesh being eaten on special occasions. The human meat came from the sacrificed people, who’s hearts were ripped out and offered to the gods, their bodies were chopped up and cooked in the pozole. After the Spanish arrived they banned cannibalism and pork became the meat used in pozol…

“Thankfully the only thing that remained from the “special” ancient feast was that modern day Mexicans still celebrate special occasions with pozole. If you have Mexican friends or family you know that pozole is served at many special celebrations. My family was no different and so pozole was often the food we ate on special occasions…”’

What Goes into Today’s Pozole

Today’s dish is a hearty, corn based stew with pork and chiles. Depending on the kind of chile you use, your pozole will be either green or red. Some cooks prefer to use chicken, seafood, or beef in their pozole, and some will add beans to the pot. The pozole always takes center stage on the table, and next to it will be plates of salsa, shredded cabbage, radishes, lime, sour cream, onion, tostadas, and oregano.

At the heart of the food is hominy, and in the olden days, this took a really long time to prepare. You started with dried corn kernels, rinsed them well and boiled them in a large pot with plenty of water for two to three hours. You will know your hominy is done when the kernels are soft and they start to burst out of their skins. When this happens, you are ready to make your dish. Now if you don’t have time to make your own hominy, be can still make pozole by buying a can of precooked, pre-softened hominy.

Cooking Pozole in Your Kitchen

Some households will use pig’s feet and tripe as meat for pozole, but pork shoulder or chicken will do very well. Pati’s Mexican Table offers readers an authentic Mexican recipe that includes a whole head of garlic, three cans of hominy (29 ounces each), onion, cilantro, and two whole chickens. The chile puree that comes with the pozole calls for 2 ancho chiles, 3 guajillo chiles, garlic, cumin, vegetable oil, and sea salt.

Her cooking procedure involves cooking the hominy and the chickens separately until they are satisfactorily tender.  Then the shredded chicken meat, the pozole, and the chile puree are combined in one large pot and simmered until all the flavors blend together. Her garnishes include limes, lettuce, chopped white onion, ground chile, dried oregano, tortilla chips, and refried beans.

As you can see, this is a recipe meant to accommodate more than just the immediate members of a small family. This recipe produces a dish that is meant to be shared. The good thing about this huge batch is the fact that it can be made ahead of time, refrigerated, and heated when you are ready to serve it.

Matching Wine with Pozole

Mary Anne Worobiec of Wine Spectator shares her thoughts about the right wine for pozole in “A Match for a Classic Mexican Dish”. She says, “Pairing wine with Mexican food sometimes gives me pause, and posole is extra tricky because of all the toppings: crisp radishes, diced avocado, plenty of shredded cabbage, tortilla strips, fresh cilantro, diced white onion and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. I took my wine inspiration from the fresh lime juice—that bright acidity really makes all the flavors pop, and I wanted my wine to do the same…”

Worobiec chose J Pinot Gris California 2009 its citrus flavors complemented everything that goes with pozole. If you plan to serve wine this dish, take a hint from Worobiec and be mindful of the flavorful garnishes that come with it. Once you have chosen your wine, just go ahead and have fun because pozole is first and foremost cooked for sharing and celebrating.

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