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Pozole, a Stew of Celebration, Jo Elizabeth Pinto
Updated: Oct 6, 2021
Pozole, pronounced po-zo-lay, is a Spanish word that means "hominy." Pozole is a Mexican stew made of hominy, pork, and chili, seasoned with onion and garlic and garnished with different condiments. In Spanish culture, the soupy stew is often served to celebrate baptisms, birthdays, and other milestone events in people's lives. It is also a traditional meal enjoyed during the holiday season, especially on New Year's Eve. The stew is said to bring those who eat it good fortune for the year ahead. Whether it brings luck or not, Christmas and New Year's wouldn't be complete for my extended family without pozole.
Pozole dates back to the time of the Aztecs, well before Hernan Cortes descended on Mexico City in 1519. Maize, or corn, was sacred to the Aztecs because they believed their gods had formed the first humans from masa, or cornmeal dough. Legend has it that in those early days, whole hominy kernels were simmered with the flesh of human beings, usually prisoners of war, sacrificed to the Aztec gods. The entire community ate the stew as an act of religious communion. When cannibalism was banned after the Spanish conquest, pork became the meat of choice in pozole because it most closely resembled human flesh in taste and texture. Today, chicken sometimes replaces pork in the stew, and vegetarian recipes incorporate beans instead of meat.
All pozole starts out with white or yellow hominy. Hominy is made from whole corn kernels soaked in a lime or lye bath. The bath's corrosive nature removes the hull and germ, or outer layers of the corn, and causes the kernels to expand to twice their normal size. This imparts a unique flavor and chewy texture to the hominy kernels. In my opinion, frozen hominy is bland and canned hominy is worse. I like to begin with dried hominy, which is difficult to find in some mainstream supermarkets. It might be tucked away on the top or bottom shelves of the ethnic food aisle. If not, you may need to venture into your nearest Mexican grocery store, or carneceria. Dried hominy must be rinsed of sand and dirt, then soaked overnight and cooked in water till tender. Trust me, the effort will be worthwhile. Fresh hominy has a nutty, robust flavor and a firm texture that is lost in the freezing or canning process.
There are three types of pozole--blanco or white, verde or green, and rojo or red. Pozole blanco is made of hominy, pork, pablano peppers, garlic, and onion without adding any sauce. Pozole verde adds a rich green sauce including ingredients such as cilantro, jalapenos, pepitas, or tomatillos. Pozole rojo includes a red sauce made from chilies such as guajillo, ancho, or piquin. No matter which kind of pozole you make, it is traditionally served with a wide variety of condiments. These might include chopped onion, shredded lettuce or cabbage, lime or avocado wedges, salsa, or thinly sliced radishes or chili peppers.
The holiday season is hectic, so this slow cooker red pozole recipe is quick and simple. It calls for dried hominy because I won't skimp on that, but it shortcuts the making of the red sauce. If you wish, you may brown the pork with the onion and garlic before tossing it in your crockpot. It might add a bit of color to the meat, but I don't think it changes the flavor much.
Easy Crockpot Pozole Rojo
1 cup dried hominy
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 cup ground ancho chili powder (not common chili powder, find this in the ethnic aisle)
2-1/2 pounds pork shoulder, also called country-style ribs, cut into small chunks
1 large onion, diced
5 cups chicken broth
salt, to taste
1. Rinse a cup of dried hominy free of dirt and sand. Place the rinsed hominy in a large slow cooker. Cook on high for one hour, then reduce heat to low and continue cooking till the kernels are tender and begin to burst open, about ten hours. Do not overcook or the hominy will become mushy. Drain immediately and rinse the hominy again with cool water. (Soaking the hominy overnight after rinsing will shorten the cooking time significantly.)
2. Combine the cooked hominy with all of the remaining ingredients in the slow cooker. Cook on high for five to six hours or till meat is tender. Add more salt or ancho chili powder if needed. (Ancho chili powder can be found in the ethnic aisle at most supermarkets or in Mexican grocery stores, called carnecerias. It is made from pure ancho chilies, whereas common chili powder is made from a combination of ingredients including cumin, garlic, oregano, and paprika, and usually only a small amount of cayenne pepper.)
3. Serve pozole with a shared dish of condiments so people can customize their bowls. Suggestions include avocado or lime wedges, shredded lettuce or cabbage, salsa, cilantro, and cheese. Enjoy!
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