We spent this warm, sunny day at a family barbeque celebrating Cinco de Mayo – the 5th of May. It is celebrated in Mexico to commemorate the Mexican army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. North of the Mexican border it has become a popular day to party, eat Mexican food, and drink Mexican beer, accompanied by an occasional burst of mariachi music.
I brought a big pot of pozole.
Pozole is a rich Mexican soup – sometimes thick enough to be called a stew. It’s usually based on a mildly spicy pork or chicken broth flavoured with onion, garlic and, of course, its signature ingredient, hominy (pozole in Spanish – also the name of the soup). At serving time it’s typically garnished with all kinds of toppings: lime, avocado, shredded cabbage, diced onions, sliced radishes.
So I set out to find my own pozole recipe. Like most traditional recipes, there are uncountable ‘authentic’ variations. Every region of Mexico, every city, neighbourhood, and family has its own unique recipe. (“This is the right way to make pozole.”)
Unless you’re making the a meatless version, you start with a pork or chicken stock. This could involve days of simmering carefully chosen ingredients, or, when time is tight (or no one is looking), opening a can of broth.
There are three basic varieties: white (blanco – just the basic ingredients), green (verde – with tomatillos and green chiles), and red (rojo – with a rich red sauce of chiles and, sometimes, tomatoes). It gets more complicated from there and I have not even tried to explore any further variations yet.
Still, I ended up with pages of recipes and notes on how to make it. It was time to pick one and go for it.
My first pozole was certainly delicious but I put in too much hominy. Too thick and heavy, even for me. The next one would be lighter.
When we left Mexico this spring, Margaret told me to pick up some hominy to take along. “You might not find any in Canada,” she said.
In Mexico, hominy is a food staple. You can find everywhere – in cans, precooked in vacuum-sealed packages, and dried, which you soak and cook like dried beans. In the south and west US, canned hominy is readily available. When I visited our local Canadian supermarket, the “Mexican Food” section had great choices of build-it-yourself taco kits, salsas and dips, and cans of refried beans. But no hominy. Maybe I could have found some at a local specialty store, but we had already decided to make a trip to Bellingham in nearby Washington state. There, I discovered the supermarket had a whole section devoted to hominy. I had struck the mother lode.
Today I tried a simpler version and I used a slow-cooker because I made the stock from scratch. If you already have stock on hand, you don’t need a slow cooker.
The pork bone went in yesterday to make a long-simmering broth. Toward the end of the simmer I also poured in a big can of chicken broth to add a little more depth to the flavour. (I guess that’s also why my 5-quart slow cooker ended up full to the brim.)
All the other ingredients – I added them this morning.
By noon the pozole was ready to eat.
By evening, I was a recognized pozole master.
6 – 8 cups pork or chicken stock
If you are making your own stock, add 2 onion quarters, 2 cloves of garlic, and 2 bay leaves to it. Take out the bay leaves when you remove the bones and before you put in the other ingredients. The onion and garlic can stay.
1 lb. of pork or chicken cut into small cubes
2 tomatoes chopped
16 – 24 oz. can of hominy drained
1 medium onion chopped
2 green onions chopped
1/4 jalapeño * seeded, deveined, and chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
1 cup cilantro chopped – stems and leaves
1 Tbsp. chili powder mild
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Brown the meat. Transfer it to the pot. Add the other ingredients.
Simmer 2 to 3 hours until the pork is tender. In a slow cooker, cook on Low for 6 to 8 hours.
* Spiciness is so much a matter of personal taste. I only used about 1/8 of a jalapeño in mine because of the mixed crowd I was serving it to. It still had a bit of spiciness to it. You could use hot chili powder or 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne to liven up the broth.
Garnishes: Any of these: lime wedges, cilantro, avocado, shredded cabbage or lettuce, diced onions, sliced radishes, and more.