Karl’s Nayarit Pozole Roja

Adapted from a Family Cookbook Project recipe

Jan and Eilene went to Hopi this summer and came back loving hominy. I made some Hopi beans and hominy, but I used canned corn for the dish. I bought a bag of pozole corn with the intent of making it fresh, but Eilene said she wanted Mexican pozole instead.

Note: In some American recipes it is spelled posole.

Karl’s Nayarit Pozole Roja

Karl’s Nayarit Pozole Roja

There are three kinds of pozole: white (blanko)  green (verde) and red (roja). Pozole blanco is made with pork, corn and a few herbs and onions. For pozole verde a green salsa of fresh greens like tomatilloscilantrojalapeños is added to the pozole blanco toward the end of the cooking time. Finally, for pozole roja a red salsa of dried chilies is added at the end.

Jan has recently discovered that her birth-father came from Nayarit, so I thought I should find a recipe from that area. One difficulty I discovered is that, traditional recipes are designed to feed an entire extended family—if not a village—for celebrations. I simply do not have a pot big enough to hold a whole pig’s head. Even the “family recipes” were for a family much larger than my own, some adaptations would be necessary.

Note: One further wrinkle is that, son-in-law Chris is avoiding starches and asked that I serve the corn on the side. This is almost on oxymoron—corn soup with no corn—but I think I have thought of a way to do it. First make the broth, then cook the corn and the meat separately with the broth. With the corn on the side people will take as much or as little as they please.

Pozole in two parts

Pozole in two parts

The recipe I finally chose was clearly a “family recipe.” Just like my mother Claudia’s recipes, it was a list of ingredients—with some unique measurement (e.g. one bag) that would only be known to family members who had witnessed it being made—and a set of brief cryptic instructions—ditto. This is the kind of recipe that you learn at your mother’s knee, “Oh, that step is too obvious to write down. You’ve seen me do it a hundred times.”

The very few instructions that were included in my chosen recipe had left me searching for clues on how to make this dish. The general cooking pattern of the recipes was fairly clear: Make the pork broth (or assume that it was made); prepare the hominy (or open the can), simmer the pork until tender; add the corn and cook further; and if adding a salsa add it just before cooking was done. The more traditional recipes tended to simply boil everything, without the “flavor enhancing” techniques—like pre-browning the pork and onions to get the Maillard reaction flavors—used by the food magazine recipes.

Note: I suspect the “boil everything” technique has more to do with the quantities involved in the traditional recipes and the number of heat sources available in a traditional Mexican kitchen. When you are cooking for 20, fussy techniques like pre-browning the meat may seem like too much work.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to deconstruct my mother’s mysterious instructions for my daughters. What I come up with may not be exactly the way a Mexican abuela might do things. but it should produce a satisfactory dish. Pozole is similar to Vietnamese phở, a pork soup where you top your bowl of soup with fresh vegetables. I decided to use some tricks I learned from trying to make phở.

Note: In Eilene’s opinion I still haven’t learned,  “Leslie’s Mom’s phở is much better.”

When I went to the Mexican market, I told the butcher that I was making pozole and asked which cut and how much of each I should buy. It is apparently the right time of year to make pozole and he had just the right cuts ready. Pig’s feet—“for the flavor”—neck/spine bones—“for the broth”—and if you want it extra meaty, pork cushion meat—which is a part of the pork shoulder.

One of the common toppings for pozole are tostadas. In America this word usually refers to a crisp tortilla topped with a variety of beans and vegetables. In Mexico, it usually refers just to the deep-fried tortilla at the base—basically what you do with tortillas when they are too stale for tacos. You can buy them pre-fried, but they are much better made fresh just before serving.

Karl’s Nayarit Pozole Roja

Ingredients

Pork Stock

2½ lb. pig’s feet, cut in half
2 lb. pork neck/back bones
2 large white onion, separate uses
15 cloves garlic, separate uses
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs. white vinegar

2 cups white corn posole (12 oz.)

3 lb. pork leg meat
1½ tsp. Kosher salt, separate uses
2 Tbs. corn oil/reserved pork fat

Salsa Roja

5 chile guajillo, seeded and toasted
3 chile negro, seeded and toasted

1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 lb. beefsteak tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 Tbs. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 Tbs. Mexican oregano, ground

Toppings

4-8 tortillas
¼ cup corn oil

2 cups, green cabbage, shredded
1 large avocado, diced
½ white onion, diced
½ cup red radishes, sliced
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Directions

Note: Start the day before the planned meal.

1. Place the pig’s feet and neck bones in a large pot.

2. Add water to cover, about 3-4 quarts, bring the pot to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Tip: This is a Vietnamese technique. The first boil causes most of the lipoproteins—the loose blood and other proteins on the surface of the meat—to clot into what is usually referred to as “scum.” While this “scum” is edible, it makes your broth cloudy and gritty. I also found that when I drained the pot after the pre-boil, the bottom of the pot was covered with a thick layer of this scum.

3. Remove the meat and bones to a bowl and pour out the contents of the pot.

4. Clean out the pot well and rinse off any “scum” on the meat pieces before returning them to the pot.

5. Cover the meat and bones with 6 quarts of fresh water and add the white onion—cut into quartered at the root—10 cracked cloves of garlic, the bay leaves, and white vinegar.

Tip: While not in the original recipe a little bit of vinegar helps dissolve the bones’ calcium and the connective tissue producing a richer broth.

Note: All of the recipes—that discussed making the pork broth—did not do any precooking of the onions and garlic.

6. Simmer the bones and trotters for 6-8 hours.

Note: While the butcher and several of the recipes said that the pig’s feet added flavor, I think, what they meant was that it added gelatin—the compound that adds that oily mouth feet that we associate with rich meats without actually adding fat. Pig’s feet are mostly skin, bones and cartilage which contains collagen which—when it is exposure to heat—breaks down into gelatin.

7. Strain out the solids.

Tip: By this time the onions and garlic will be completely broken down.

Note: Some cooks discard the solids as “used up.” I usually take the time to separate out any bits of meat and either add it back to the pot, or—in this case—save it for pork tamales another day.

8. Cover the pork stock and refrigerate it overnight.

Tip: In the morning, all of the fat will have floated to the top and solidified into a sheet. You can easily remove as much of the fat as your diet demands. Fat equals flavor, but some of us must watch our intake. Instead of using corn oil to brown your meat and vegetables, you may reserve some of this fat for that use.

Note: There will be enough gelatin in the broth by now that you will be left with a pork jello that you can literally cut with a knife.

9. Put the dry corn in a pot and add cold water to cover by 2-3 inches.

10. Cover the corn pot and set it aside to soak overnight.

11. Six hours before your dinner, cut your pork into 1-2 inch cubes and sprinkle one teaspoon of salt over them.

12. Toss the meat to distribute the salt and let the meat rest on the counter for one hour.

Tip: Room temperature meat cooks more evenly than cold meat directly from the refrigerator.

13. Heat the oil/fat in a large Dutch oven and brown the pork on all sides.

Note: The traditional recipes usually had you put the raw meat directly into the stock. For myself I could not pass up the flavor boost that browning the pork and onions would provide.

14. Add half of the pork stock to the pot and bring it to a boil.

Tip: Some of the meat should be above the liquid level.

15. Transfer the pot to a 325º F oven, uncovered, for one hour.

Tip: In the dry heat of the oven this exposed meat will continue to brown. Stir the pot every 20 minutes to exposed new surfaces of the meat to the heat.

Note: This dish is traditionally cooked on the stove, but I prefer the more accurate heat control of an oven.

16. Cover the pot and continue cooking for 3-4 more hours until the pork is tender.

Tip: Check the liquid level from time to time. Add more stock, chicken broth, beer, or water as needed.

Note: Do not stir the meat after it has been cooking for two hours. By that time the meat will have become tender enough that you might break up the chunks into shreds as you stirred.

17. Drain off the corns soaking water and replace it with the remaining pork stock.

Note: Because my son-in-law is avoiding starches, I cooked the meat and corn separately. If you are not laboring under this restriction, put the corn and stock directly into the Dutch oven with the meat.

Tip: If you cook the meat and corn together stir them together very gently and then leave the pot undisturbed.

18. Bring the pot to a boil, cover, and simmer the corn for 2-3 hours, until the corn becomes tender has expanded to 2-3 times its size—it has become hominy.

Note: Posole corn has been through a process of nixtamalization—soaking the corn in lye water to remove the hull. Without a hull to act as a barrier, the starches in the kernel can absorb much more water than it normally would.

19. As the meat and corn are cooking, make your salsa roja.

20. Dice the remaining onion and mince the remaining five cloves of garlic.

21. Cut the tomatoes at the equator and scrape the seeds into a sieve placed over a bowl.

22. Press the jelly through the sieve with a spatula and discard the seeds.

23. Dice the tomatoes, put them in the jelly bowl, and set them aside.

24. Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chilies.

25. Tear the chilies into pieces and toast them in a dry pan over medium high heat, for 2-3 minutes.

Tip: Be careful not to burn the chilies by tossing them frequently as you toast them.

Note: It is a good idea to put your vent on high and to open the windows while you toast the chilies. Also, avoid holding your face directly over the chilies. “My eyes! They burn!!!”

26. Heat one tablespoon of oil to a medium pot and sauté the second onion with the remaining half teaspoon of salt.

27. Cook the onions until they are well browned, 10-15 minutes and then pull them to the sides if the pot.

28. Sauté the remaining garlic with the tomato paste, until the garlic is fragrant and the tomato paste is browned, about 2-3 minutes.

29. Add the contents of the tomato bowl, the soaked chilies, and sprinkle the cumin and oregano into the pot.

Tip: Drain the chili liquid into a separate bowl and reserve for later. There should be about ¾ of a cup left.

Note: You will be using some or all of this liquid to thin the contents of the pot as you blend it into a smooth sauce.

30. Continue cooking until the tomatoes had softened, about five more minutes.

31. Remove the pot form the heat and let it cool slightly.

32. Transfer the mixture to a standing blender, add some of the chili liquid, and process to a smooth paste and return it to the pot.

Tip: Save some of the liquid to rinse out the blender.

Note: For an extra smooth sauce, press the sauce through a sieve with a spatula and discard any big bits of tomato skins or chilies.

Salsa Roja

Salsa Roja

33. When the meat is done, drain the liquid in the hominy pot into the meat stew pot.

Tip: Leave just a bit of liquid in the pot and turn down the heat under the hominy to keep it warm.

Note: If you have cooked the corn and meat together this step does not apply.

34. Pour all of the salsa roja pot’s contents into the meat pot and gently fold it into the meat pot.

Note: The meat will be very tender at this point and will break apart easily. Do not stir the roja sauce into the meat.

35. Continue heating the meat stew for another 10 minute.

Tip: You may do this on the stove or in the oven.

36. Put the ¼ cup of oil in a frying pan and heat it until it is shimmering.

37. Gently slide a tortilla into the oil and fry it until it is golden brown on both sides.

Tip: Be careful about splashing the hot oil.

38. Transfer the tostada to a sheet of paper towel to drain.

39. Continue until all the tortillas are fried.

Note: When I said that I was going to fry tortillas my family went, “Yuck, that sounds greasy.” As a result, I only made two tostadas. When those were gone, they changed their minds, “Please daddy, can you make some more.”

40. Set the meat stew, hominy, and tostadas on the table.

41. Diners take as much hominy as they wish, add the meat stew to make it pozole.

Mix the Hominy and Meat Stew to make it Pozole

Mix the Hominy and Meat Stew to make it Pozole

42. Provide shredded cabbage, diced onions and avocado, sliced radishes, lemon wedges, hot sauces, and any other toppings you like for your diners to put on top their pozole.

Pozole with toppings

Pozole with toppings

Note: Salsa Huichol is the hot sauce of choice for Nayarit and the Cora people. As hot sauces go, it is not overly fiery, but it is very flavorful, with a complex fruity and smoky taste.

Salsa Huichol

Salsa Huichol

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Filed under California Fusion, Holidays, Main Dishes, Pork

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