Mexican food at Putney Farm today, which we absolutely love. But we have a special treat- a recipe from an expert. In this case the expert is our good friend Maricela. Maricela hails from Michoacan in Mexico but is now a citizen of the US and matriarch of a third-generation family of wonderful kids and grandkids. To say we are all close would be an understatement. We are blessed to have them as part of our family.
Maricela is a fantastic cook and does some catering, but mostly cooks for family and friends. We are lucky enough to get the occasional treat from Maricela like tamales, enchiladas and “all-day mole” (because it takes all day to make), and the food is incredible. Deep, complex, flavors and textures that few other cuisines can match. And “real” Mexican food is often lighter and more complex than many people might think. Such is the case with today’s dish, Posole Rojo (also spelled pozole).
Posole is a light stew of chiles, hominy (corn treated in lye, don’t worry it’s fine- we use the same stuff for grits) and pork that’s served with a vast array of garnishes. It is the perfect “weekend” soup and will please almost any crowd. The dish is also much lighter and “brothier” than you might think- it is actually a pretty healthy dish. But don’t let that stop you, it tastes great. We are big posole fans and Maricela was kind enough to cook with us, share her recipe and help us make this batch. As a home cook, it does not get any better and cooking with a real expert, and Maricela gave us a great lesson and some key tips to making a super-tasty posole.
As is the case with many of the better Mexican dishes, the techniques are simple, but there are a few steps that you must follow to get the best results. The process starts with a mix of 4 ounces of dried pasilla and gaujillo chiles and about 8 cloves of garlic. You remove the stems and seeds from the chiles, skin the garlic cloves and then simmer all of them in 3 cups of water for 25 -30 minutes, or until the chiles are rehydrated and soft.
Meanwhile, you will need about 3 pounds of pork shoulder, shank, ham ends or pigs feet, rinse the meat and place it in a large pot. The main goal with the pork is to flavor the broth from the slow cooking of the bones and marrow, so pick cuts (and ask you butcher for help) that can be cooked low and slow and have some bones. Pigs feet and shank have a lot of marrow and gelatin that will flavor the broth and add texture, and can be removed before service if you find them unappealing. Give these cuts a try in your soups and you will see how restaurants get that luscious texture in their dishes.
Once the chiles are ready, place the chiles, garlic and a cup and a half of the cooking water in a blender (you may need to do this in batches) and puree for 10-15 seconds, or until very smooth. Then using a fine mesh strainer, strain the chile mixture over the pork. You can start the dish right away, but it will be better if you let the pork marinate in the chile mixture, in the fridge, for anywhere from 3-12 hours.
The next step is to start cooking. Simply add 10 cups of water to the pork/chile mixture and bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Add bay leaf and cumin, stir and then leave the pot alone for an hour. Meanwhile, rinse one large can of hominy and add it to the pot after the soup has been simmering for an hour. Let the soup simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 2 more hours, or until the pork is very tender (add water if needed during cooking). When the pork is tender, taste for seasoning and be ready to add a good amount of salt, a tablespoon or more, to finish.
Finally, while the soup has been cooking, you can prepare the garnishes, which are what elevate the posole to a truly great dish. The variations are endless, but most posole is served with shredded cabbage, minced onion, sliced radish, lime, avocado, cilantro, hot chile sauce and tortilla chips. The final “special” trick we got from Maricela is to crumble dried oregano into the soup right before serving- and she was right on. The oregano adds a great aroma and deepens the flavor of the broth. This posole just rocks.
We enjoyed the posole over a few days (it is just as good, maybe better, after a day in the fridge). We even took out some of the slow-cooked pork to add into quesadillas for the kids, and they loved those, too. Even better, Maricela has shown us how to make good tortillas at home, so more on that soon. For now, go make some posole and remember to add the oregano at the end!
Notes Before You Start:
- You can find dried pasilla and gaujillo chiles in most supermarket’s Latin food section, or check a local Latin market.
- Cuts of pork like shank, pigs feet or shoulder have the bones and connective tissue that create the best broth. If these cuts are unavailable, talk with your butcher and explain what you are making, they can help you get the beat meat for the soup.
What You Get: Genuine goodness. A super-tasty soup that you can customize to your taste with the various garnishes.
What You Need: A blender. No other special equipment required.
How Long: 4-24 hours, depending on if you let the meat marinate in the chile mixture. About 20-30 minutes of active time and 3-4 hours of cooking time. Posole, not surprisingly, is considered a weekend dish.
- 2 Oz. dried pasilla peppers
- 2 Oz. dried guajillo chiles
- 1 Head of garlic, 8-12 cloves
- 1 & 1/2 Pounds of pigs feet or shank, split or cut in pieces by your butcher
- 1 & 1/2 Pounds of bone-in pork shoulder, in 1-2 inch chunks cut by your butcher
- 2 Large cans (29 oz.) of white hominy, drained and rinsed
- 4 Bay leaves
- 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
- Salt, to taste
- Dried oregano, for crumbling on the soup
- 1/2 Head of red or white cabbage, finely sliced
- 1 Bunch (8-12) radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 Small white onion, minced
- 2 Avocados, diced in 1/2 inch chunks
- 1 Bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
- 3 Limes, quartered
- Tortilla chips
- Hot sauce
- Remove the seeds and stems from the dried pepper and skin the garlic cloves. Place the peppers, garlic and 3 cups of water in a medium pot. Place pot over high heat and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until chiles are soft, about 25-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, rinse the pork pieces and place them in a lage pot with lid.
- Once the chiles are ready, place the chiles, garlic and approximately 1 and 1/2 cups of the cooking water in a blender (you may need to do this in batches- and make sure to keep the lid on the blender!) and puree for 10-15 seconds, or until very smooth. Then using a fine mesh strainer, strain the chile mixture over the pork. You can start the dish right away or let the pork marinate in the chile mixture, in the fridge, for anywhere from 3-12 hours.
- When ready to cook add 10 cups of water, cumin and bay leaves to the pot and place over medium heat. Bring the soup to a boil, stirring occasionally and then lower the heat. Simmer the soup for one hour.
- After one hour, add the hominy to the soup, stir and simmer for at least 2 more hours or until the pork is tender. Add water as needed to keep all ingredients covered. After 2 hours, taste and add salt to the broth. You may need to add a tablespoon or more. Remove pigs feet (if using) before service. (If using pork shanks you can remove from the soup, allow to cool and then remove the meat from the bones and return to the soup).
- While the soup is cooking prepare the garnishes.
- When the soup is done, ladle into bowls and serve with plates of the garnishes. Crumble a teaspoon of oregano over each bowl of soup just before service. Allow your guests to garnish the soup how they like.