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Posole and a blazing fire go together like alcohol and New Year’s Eve
Photo credit: Ari LeVaux

Flash in the Pan—You say hominy, we eat posole

—Ari LeVaux

In the kitchen of a snow-covered cabin in northern Montana, a lonely, gallon-sized can of hominy sits on a high shelf. My hunting buddies make merciless fun of that hominy, and me by extension. It was, admittedly, a random, impulse purchase, and at the time I had no idea why I’d made it—or why the local general store even stocked it. But when I found myself marooned in New Mexico, the importance of that hominy became clear.

In New Mexico, those large corn kernels are called posole, and they’re used to make a stew that goes by the same name. And I assure you, the next time I’m at that cabin, my “friends” will eat those laughs, along with the posole I will make out if it. And they will love it.

Posole—pozole, south of the border—is consumed year-round in the Southwest, especially during the holidays, when the dish is considered as festive as it is comforting. But any gathering, large or small, winter or summer, is grounds for posole.

The difference between regular corn and posole comes by way of a process called nixtamalization, in which the corn is soaked in an alkaline bath of calcium hydroxide, aka lime. Lye, or more traditionally, wood ash, can be used as well. Nixtamalization removes the outer shells of the kernels, allowing them to swell to outsized proportions. The process prevents the corn seeds from sprouting, which was important for storage purposes in ancient Mesoamerica, where the process was invented.

If you’ve ever had a corn tortilla or a tamale, you’ve eaten nixtamalized corn. And if you’ve ever eaten posole, you’ll never look at a can of hominy the same way again, or make fun of your buddy for keeping some in the cabin.

After a cold day outside, posole and a blazing fire go together like alcohol and New Year’s Eve. It’s a great dish to have the means to make in a winter outpost.

From a culinary perspective, canned posole is somewhat inferior to the dried or frozen forms, but more convenient. Dried posole must be soaked overnight or cooked all day, but the texture is chewier, and flavor is sweeter, with more depth. Frozen posole corn is the best of both worlds; it cooks quickly and tastes as good as dried posole.

Another variable in posole is what kind of meat is used. I usually use a tough cut of red meat, like shank-preferably on the bone. Deer is my favorite, but lamb and beef versions of posole are good too, as are turkey and chicken. Traditionally, pork is the most commonly used meat. In terms of how it’s prepared, the toughness of the meat is what determines the procedure that’s used, rather than what kind of animal it comes from. In the recipe below I’ll discuss how to make posole stew with any kind of posole corn—canned, frozen, or dried—and with both tender and tough cuts of meat.

Posole Stew

Ingredients to make six servings:

  • 3 cups dried or frozen posole corn, or five cups canned posole, drained (these can be purchased in Latino grocery stores, or perhaps the “ethnic” aisle of your local supermarket, or online)
  • 2 pounds of meat
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 head of garlic, minced
  • A dozen or so dried red chile peppers
  • 2 cups of stock
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • Lime, cilantro and oregano for garnish
  • Optional: 4 carrots and 1 zucchini, sliced.
  • Optional: Soy sauce as a partial substitute for salt

Method:

If using dried posole, soak overnight in plenty of water. If using a tough cut of meat, brown it under the broiler, and then braise it at 350, in a baking pan with a tight lid, until tender. This could take several hours. I like to use a mix of red wine and water in the braising pan, enough to keep the meat more than half-covered at all times. If there is a bone available, braise it with the meat. When tender, allow the meat to cool, and cut into inch-chunks.

When the meat is approaching tender, begin cooking the posole corn (either the soaked, dried posole, or the frozen or canned) in six quarts of water. (If using a tender cut of meat, cut it into inch-cubes and fry them in oil on medium heat until browned, while the posole is cooking.)

As the posole cooks, pull apart the chile peppers, removing the stems and seeds. Heat stock to a simmer (if using tough meat, you can use the braising jus as your stock). Add the pepper shards to the warm stock. When the stock cools to lukewarm, blend it to milkshake consistency in the blender. You can use chile powder instead, if you’re lazy, or skip the chile altogether if you’re heat-sensitive. (It won’t really be posole sans the chile, but it will be a delicate, delicious corn soup.)

After about an hour of cooking the posole, add the meat to the pot, along with the garlic, garlic powder, and three quarters of the onion (reserve the remaining quarter onion for the garnish).

I put carrots and zucchini on the ingredient list as optional because they aren’t part of a traditional posole. But I like the flavor and color they contribute. If using these, add the carrots along with the meat and onions.

Cook for another hour and add the zucchini and chile slurry. Continue cooking for another half hour or so.

Adjust water level to your desired proportion of broth to chunks. I recommend keeping it on the brothy side. Add salt to taste. (I actually like the taste of a little soy sauce in there, too). Simmer for 15 minutes, season again, if necessary, and serve.

Lay out a plate of cilantro, oregano leaves, lime wedges, and the remaining minced onions for garnish. This action of garnishing a soup with aromatic herbs and vegetables makes the dish reminiscent of a Mexican-style pho.

And like pho, posole is both ethnic comfort food and fragrant elixir, one that draws a refreshing sweat in summer, and warms you to the bone in winter.

Ari LeVaux, a former Placitan, writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column that has appeared in more than 50 newspapers in 22 states. Follow him on Twitter at @arilevaux.


Blessings Day thank you

—Rita Nancy Hawks

Members of St. Vincent de Paul Society, San Antonio Mission, Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, Our Lady of Sorrows, Jardineros de Placitas, Criminal Lawyers Association, and Placitas Community Library, as well as others, came together to help 148 families from Placitas, Bernalillo, Algodones, Rio Rancho, Santo Domingo, and San Felipe Pueblos. Children received gifts of clothing and toys, and their families received a holiday turkey dinner on December 20. This was the fourteenth Blessings Day in which those who could shared their blessings with those in need. Due to the economic times, the number of families helped has grown each year.

The committee could not have accomplished this without the help given to us by many individuals, businesses, and organizations. We appreciate the school nurses, counselors, and principals who worked with us on this endeavor.

We would like to publicly acknowledge our sincere and grateful thanks to our generous supporters. We especially would like to thank the generosity of the Jardineros de Placitas who again donated the turkeys and toys. Mr. Joe Torres of T & T Grocery helped us by providing and storing the turkeys that were needed. In the spirit of cooperation Casa Rosa Food Bank in Placitas and St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank helped us with food. Children attending Placitas Community Library holiday celebration donated books for our children. The children and parents of the 4-H group in Bernalillo wrapped many presents for us. We are also grateful to Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, San Antonio Mission, Our Lady of Sorrows, Curves, and Jardineros de Placitas.

Our 148 families from the greater Sandoval County area had a happier Christmas because of your generous giving spirit.

 
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