Alibi V.24 No.1 • Jan 1-7, 2015 

Flash in the Pan

You Say Hominy, We Eat Posole

Dig into a traditional New Mexican dish

Ari LeVaux

In the kitchen of a snow-covered cabin in northern Montana, a lonely, gallon-sized can of hominy sits on a high shelf. My hunting buddies make merciless fun of that hominy, and me by extension.

In New Mexico those large corn kernels are called posole, and they're used to make a stew that goes by the same name. And I assure you the next time I'm at that cabin, my "friends" will eat those laughs along with the posole I will make. And they will love it.

The difference between regular corn hominy and posole comes by way of a process called nixtamalization, in which the corn is soaked in an alkaline bath of calcium hydroxide, aka lime. Lye, or more traditionally wood ash, can be used as well. Nixtamalization removes the outer shells of the kernels, allowing them to swell to outsized proportions. The process prevents the corn seeds from sprouting, which was important for storage purposes in ancient Mesoamerica, where the process was invented.

Nixtamalization removes the outer shells of the kernels, allowing them to swell to outsized proportions. The process prevents the corn seeds from sprouting, which was important for storage purposes in ancient Mesoamerica, where the process was invented.

After a cold day outside, posole and a blazing fire go together like alcohol and New Year’s Eve. It's a great dish to have the means to make in a winter outpost.

From a culinary perspective, canned posole is inferior to the dried or frozen forms, but more convenient. Dried posole must be soaked overnight or cooked all day, but the texture is chewier, and the flavor is sweeter, with more depth. If you can find frozen posole corn, it's the best of both worlds: It cooks quickly and tastes as good as dried posole.

Another variable in posole is what kind of meat is used. I usually use a tough cut of red meat, like shank—preferably on the bone. Traditionally, pork is the most commonly used meat. In terms of how it's prepared, the toughness of the meat is what determines the procedure that's used, rather than what kind of animal it comes from. In the recipe below I'll discuss how to make posole stew with any kind of posole corn—canned, frozen or dried—and with both tender and tough cuts of meat.

Posole Stew

Ingredients to make six servings

3 cups dried or frozen posole corn, or 5 cups canned posole, drained

2 pounds of meat

1 large onion, minced

1 head of garlic, minced

A dozen or so dried red chile pods

2 cups of stock

2 tablespoons garlic powder

Lime, cilantro and oregano for garnish

If using dried posole, soak overnight in plenty of water.

If using a tough cut of meat, brown it under the broiler, and then braise it at 350 in a baking pan with a tight lid until tender. This could take several hours. I like to use a mix of red wine and water in the braising pan, enough to keep the meat more than half-covered at all times. If there is a bone available, braise it with the meat. When tender, allow the meat to cool, and cut into inch-chunks.

When the meat is approaching tender, begin cooking the posole corn (either the soaked, dried posole or the frozen or canned) in 6 quarts of water.

(If using a tender cut of meat, cut it into inch-cubes and fry them in oil on medium heat until browned, while the posole is cooking.)

As the posole cooks, pull apart the chile pods, removing the stems and seeds. Heat stock to a simmer (if using tough meat, you can use the braising jus as your stock). Add the pepper shards to the warm stock. When the stock cools to lukewarm, blend it to milkshake consistency in the blender. You can use chile powder instead, if you're lazy.

After about an hour of cooking the posole, add the meat to the pot, along with the garlic, garlic powder and ¾ of the onion (reserve the remaining ¼ onion for the garnish).

Cook for another hour, and add the chile slurry. Continue cooking for another half hour or so.

Adjust water level to your desired proportion of broth to chunks. I recommend keeping it on the brothy side. Add salt to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes, season again if necessary and serve.

Lay out a plate of cilantro, oregano leaves, lime wedges and the remaining minced onions for garnish. This action of garnishing a soup with aromatic herbs and vegetables makes the dish reminiscent of a Mexican-style pho.

And like pho, posole is both ethnic comfort food and fragrant elixir, one that draws a refreshing sweat in summer and warms you to the bone in winter.