Recipe By Chef Dave Smoke McCluskey
Pozole rojo (or red pozole) is a beloved Mexican soup that has been enjoyed for centuries. This traditional recipe from Chef Dave Smoke McCluskey serves up a taste of the past with heirloom corn that has been nixtamalized with wood ash, lending the stew deep and complex flavors with a hint of smoke. This is a pozole for real pozole fanatics featuring a rich home made pork broth with scorched onions, and toasted whole chilis that compliments, rather than overwhelms, the taste of the corn which is truly the star.
Pozole rojo is believed to have originated in the ancient city of Tehuacan, located in central Mexico. This traditional food was likely created by the Aztecs who used it to celebrate special occasions and religious festivals. Pozole gets its name from the Nahuatl word for hominy, the delicious kernels of Maize that are central to the dish.
Pozole comes in three main varieties: Rojo, Verde and Blanco. Pozole Rojo is a red version of the dish which is made with a tomato-based sauce and chiles for heat. Pozole Verde is a green version of the dish, which is made with tomatillos and herbs like cilantro, oregano and epazote for flavor. Pozole Blanco is a white version of the dish which is made without a sauce and with milder ingredients like garlic and onions.
There are two types of hominy that you can use in pozole: dry or canned. Canned hominy is already cooked and can be used without soaking, while dry hominy must first be soaked before it can be cooked. While both types of hominy will work for pozole rojo, pozole aficionados prefer to use dry hominy as it has a better flavor and texture. The key is to soak the hominy for at least 6 hours or overnight until it is soft and plump.
The other key ingredients for pozole rojo are chiles and pork. Using whole chilis rather than powdered is essential to developing flavor in the broth. Ancho and guajillo chiles are traditional and work well together, providing a mildly spicy flavor. These are low-heat chilis that provide complex flavors without a ton of fire. The corn balances any heat from the chilis resulting in a delectable stew that will satisfy everyone at the table. Serving with hot sauce and sliced fresh chilis allow everyone to adjust to their spice preference.
When Chef McCluskey and I were working on writing down his recipe he said "no radish or cabbage" because he wanted to stay away from colonialized ingredients (radish came from Asia, the cabbage we both agree is just weird in Mexican food). Then I pointed out that both cilantro and limes came to Mexico from the Spaniards in the 1500s, which he knew because he's one of the most knowledgeable people I've ever met when it comes to food history. In fact what we now know as Pozole has remained largely unchanged since the arrival of the Spanish, but prior to that it was a whole different animal...literally.
Pozole rojo has a dark past that dates back to Aztec ceremonies. During these events, the soup was used in ritualistic human sacrifice offerings as a tribute to their gods. The Spanish outlawed the use of human sacrifice and pork (apparently the other white meat of the 1500s and also not native to the Americas) was substituted.
If you wanted to make a pre-colonial version without picking off the weakest and slowest neighbor on your block, you could use turkey, rabbit, or other wild game and serve it with green onion, jalapeno, and avocado.
Once upon a pandemic a Mohawk chef found a new calling and the results are irresistible. Chef Dave Smoke McCluskey, founder of Corn Mafia closed his restaurant to pursue his passion for the most important of all indigenous ingredients, corn. He has been described as a colorful character and that's a pretty tame interpretation. As a Mohawk he takes his job as a "keeper of the Eastern door" very seriously. As a chef he takes the availability of good clean food very seriously. His culinary career spanned over 40 years and it is the marriage of the mind of a chef and the soul of a Mohawk that creates such transformative ingredients as his Longhouse Hominy Grits. He is a food educator and currently serves as a Slow Food Ark of Taste Board Member.
This is one of the recipes featured in our heirloom bean and grain club, celebrating small, family owned farms, millers and makers like Corn Mafia. Members of the club enjoy rare ingredients shipped to their doorstep each month with recipes and information about the ingredients and the farmers that grew them. Get on the wait list now to be notified the next time we open the doors.
Put the sliced onion and peppercorns in a ball jar, pushing them down tightly. Combine the remaining ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved and pour over the onions. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
1. Rinse and Soak the hominy over night.
2. Scorch half the onion and the tomato by putting them directly over the flame of a gas burner or your grill. If you don't have a gas stove you can put them under the broiler briefly until a bit of char develops.
3. In a large pot, add the ham hocks, scorched onion, scorched tomatos and chiles and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and then simmer until hocks are tender (about an hour). Remove hocks and allow to cool.
4. While the broth is simmering, in a separate pot add the hominy and enough water to cover by 2 inches, bring to a boil and then simmer on a low flame for 30 minutes.
5. In a small pan, add the corn oil, and sauté the garlic until browned. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon. Puree the broth mixture with the browned garlic until smooth, and reserve.
6. Season cubed pork with the cumin, chile powder, Mexican oregano, salt and pepper to your liking.
7. Brown in the strained garlic oil in batches if need be.
8. While the pork browns, remove the skin and meat from the hocks. Thinly slice it all and reserve.
9. Add the diced onion, pork, hock and the reserved red broth, rinsed hominy and water if needed, to the pot.
10. Bring to a boil, and simmer until pork and hominy are tender about 2 hours.
11. When the pork and hominy tender enough to your liking, adjust seasonings, and ladle into bowls.
Have garnishes of tomatoes, onions, limes, avocado, cilantro, tortillas and hot sauces ready.
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