This week we’ve another EAT post for you… We’re taking a deep dive into Pozole Rojo. Of all the dishes we’ve cooked in Mexico so far, this has been the most complex, tastiest, and most satisfying. It’s a rich, hearty soup that’s made mainly with hominy, pork, and red chiles. Let’s take a closer look at why this dish is so delicious and at its important place in Mexican food culture.
In the time of the Aztecs, pozole had a ritual significance. It’s reported that human flesh was used in the original version of dish because pozole was made to celebrate human sacrifices made to the gods. It’s later reported that pork became the new standard meat due to its similarity to human flesh. Though now stripped of its grisly significance, pozole remains popular throughout many areas of Mexico and is still made to commemorate celebrations, using chicken, pork, or even beans (when making it vegetarian-style). It’s common to find this dish served for events like weddings, baptisms, birthdays, and even holidays like New Year’s Day.
Pozole literally translates to “hominy,” and that’s because hominy is one of the key ingredients whether you’re cooking Pozle Rojo (as we’ve done here), Pozole Verde (with green chiles, tomatillos, pepitas, and/or epazote), or Pozole Blanco (with no chiles added). No matter the color, pozole is always accompanied by a variety of traditional garnishes including things like fried tortilla strips, sliced avocado, fresh lime, chopped white onion, chile flakes, dried oregano, sliced radishes, shredded cabbage (or lettuce), and/or chicharrónes.
Since we were in Mexico City when we made this dish, we decided to go with Pozole Rojo, since it’s the most commonly made pozole in that region. We based our recipe on one we found on Epicurious.com, though we made quite a few changes, most of which we’ll note here. Most of the changes we made were made out of necessity, due to lack of equipment, availability of ingredients, or cookware limitations. Since we’re not cooking in our own kitchen, we’ve had to make some concessions and modifications to most things we cook here. It’s actually a fun way to cook, providing an additional challenge for us.
Right off the bat, we decided to halve the recipe. The original recipe can feed a small army, and we really only needed eight lunch servings. Plus, we didn’t even have a pot big enough to cook the full recipe, anyway. This recipe also takes quite a bit of time to cook and prepare so we’re happy that we went with the half recipe, which cut off at least some of the prep and cook time for us. Now let’s move on to the modifications we made.
We used dried hominy because we weren’t able to find any canned hominy in a reasonably-sized can (the recipe calls for canned hominy, and believe it or not, all we could find were 2 liter cans). Cooking the dried hominy was an experience in itself. It had to be soaked for 12 hours prior to cooking, then we had to simmer it for two hours to tenderize it. We cooked it for another two hours in the soup’s stock, and it was still rather tough, especially when compared to canned hominy. Overall, though, it was an interesting experience to cook with it. And while the hominy was a little tough, it added a toothsome bite and more fiber to the final dish so we’re happy with that!
As far as the pork is concerned, we were able to find what we think are the equivalent of country-style pork ribs. They were cut like country-style pork ribs, and the name on the package translated to “pork chops,” which is what finally led us to believe they were in fact country-style ribs or close to it (country-style ribs are actually pork chops cut like ribs). Anyway, we had to boil those bad boys for two hours to get them tender enough to eat. Then, we weren’t able to shred them like the recipe suggested: we just deboned them. It’s all good though because the meat was tender and tasty and worked perfectly in the pozole.
To achieve our bright red color, we used both ancho and pasilla chiles. They’re both popular Mexican chiles so that’s why we chose them for our pozole. The recipe we used recommended chiles from New Mexico, but since we had access to native chiles, we used those. This was only our second experience cooking with dried chiles, and it went quite well overall. Since then we’ve had more practice, and each time we cook with them, we enjoy them more and more.
Note that we did not puree the chiles, garlic, and onion with the chile-soaking water, as the recipe suggested. We didn’t have a working blender so we made do with what we had. We simply sautéed a whole onion in a skillet with some of the pork fat we skimmed off of the stock, garlic, and dried oregano. We manually processed the chiles through a mesh sieve, while using gloves (always use gloves!!). To utilize the chile-soaking water, we simply added that to the pork stock to enrich it. Simple and easy. Also, after adding the chile puree to the soup, we didn’t continue cooking it. We wanted to keep the flavor of the chile robust and fresh so we just shut off the heat at that point.
Finally, our favorite part: the accompaniments. For our pozole, we used chopped avocado, chopped onion, fresh lime, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano. We left out lettuce and radishes because we couldn’t find small enough portions at the grocery store, and we weren’t buying a kilo of either! Also, we didn’t use fried tortillas because the dried hominy was robust enough for this dish; tortilla strips would have been overkill.
Pozole is quite a bit of work and effort but the rewards make it all worth it. The flavor in this soup was amazing. When the avocado and lime juice mingled with the red chile, pork, and hominy, it became a sublime experience. We happily ate this soup and when all our portions were gone, we were a little sad. It was really THAT good. We look forward to making pozole again one day – once we get our hands on a blender we’re going to try Pozole Verde.
If you’re looking for an authentic Mexican experience that’s packed with flavor and super satisfying, look no further. Pozole Rojo is your answer and the recipe we used from Epicurious is a great place to start. Let us know if you make it and how you like it! We love talking food and recipes.