I have such fond memories of steaming bowls of spicy red or green chile posole while I was living in Santa Fe. There is just nothing like it when fall settles over the Sangre de Christo mountains in northern New Mexico. The air fills with the aroma of freshly harvested roasting chilies that wets the appetite and has you heading for one of many local restaurants that serve piping hot bowls of posole fragrant with local herbs, spices and of course New Mexico’s famous locally grown red or green chilies.
Corn is native to the Americas. Posole, or Pozole, denotes both nixtamalized dried corn kernels (hominy) as well as the hearty pre-Columbian Aztec and Mayan stew made with the nixtamalized corn; nixtamal. The stew traditionally includes pork, chicken, or turkey, and freshly roasted chilies. Posole stews have endured mostly unchanged from their early roots and remain popular across Mexico and the Southwestern United States to this day.
It is the nixtamalization process invented by by the pre-Columbian cultures that imparts its unique flavor to posole stews and makes them as enticing as they are nourishing.
Maize (corn kernels) are heated with slaked lime and ash and then steeped to release the nutrients in the corn. The corn is then dried and stored for the winter months. Cooking posole for several hours releases its distinctive flavor. Although the addition of meat or poultry is the norm, I much prefer posole plain and simple with only chilies and seasonings added.
You can read more about nixtamalized maize in my post on polenta. (See here)
Prepared dried posole is available in Latin American food shops, some health food stores, and online. Canned is also available, but I would not recommend it. Some texture is lost and it is the long cooking that brings posole stew to life. There is no substitute. Thankfully a very dear friend sent me a supply from Santa Fe.
Posole serves 4-6
- 2 cups dried posole
- water or stock
- 3 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil
- 1 pound pork shoulder, cut into bite sized cubes (optional)
- 2 onions, peeled and chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 4 to 6 flames roasted red or green chilies (see here), skin peeled, seeds removed, and chopped
- cilantro or broad leaf parsley leaves for garnish
Rinse the dried posole and place in a large saucepan or soup pot. Fill with water and bring to a boil. Partially cover and simmer the posole, stirring from time to time, until the kernels just begin to flower. This can take 1 to 2 hours depending on the age of posole.
Transfer the posole to a colander to drain off the cooking water. Clean the pot, dry it, and place it back on the stove over medium heat. When hot add the peanut oil. If you are using pork, add it to the pan and brown on all sides.
Otherwise add the onions and cook until soft (stirred into the pork if using). Add the garlic, drained cooked posole and enough water or stock to fill the pot. Add the bay leaf, cumin seeds, oregano, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, partially cover, and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring from time to time. The pork (if using) should be tender and the posole kernels should be fully flowered and quite soft. Stir in the chilies and simmer another 15 minutes.
Taste and add salt if needed.
Ladled the posole into individual bowls. Garnished with fresh cilantro or flat leaf parsley leaves, and
be sure to have a basket of warm fresh flour tortillas on the table!