Pozole is perhaps the one dish I miss the most from home. A spoonful of it is enough to bring me right back to my mother's kitchen table. I particularly crave it this time of year, as many Mexicans enjoy it as a celebratory meal to see the old year out and ring in the new one. It's substancial, nutricious and as ancient as Aztec times. Amazing cure for hangovers too!
Pozole is a full flavoured soup with tons of bite and texture; it's rich and fragrant, deeply enbeded in traditions all throughout the country. Its preparation was sacred and ceremonial in Aztec times; it is documented that Moctezuma himself regularly enjoyed a bowl of this soup made with the tigh from a prisoner who had been sacrified. Quite gross I know, but thankfully, we've switched to more standard meats such as pork or chicken, and in some coastal parts of Mexico, they make it from dried and fresh shrimp.
The main component of Pozole is the Pozole Kernels, also known as hominy. They are Cacahuacintle Corn, a type of corn known amongs Aztec people as 'cacao corn' due to the similar look these kernels had to the raw coco beans. The Cacahuacitle Corn produces a large, round and soft, almost floury like, kernel that is soaked and then boiled until its head falls off. Then it is ready to be used in Pozole or to make tamales or a drink called pinole.
There are are generally speaking three types of Pozole: White, Red and Green. Red Pozole is traditional from my part of Mexico, so it is of course, the one I share here with you. The soup starts life as a clear one and its making is quite simple. Chili, garlic and oregano is used to colour it and good meat is paramount. We use pork, preferably on the bone, to give the soup deeper flavours; however, I found using a piece of pork loin for roasting works well too. If you end up using a piece with bone, don't forget to fish out the bone after cooking to avoid 'nasty' surprises!
Even though the secret to a good Pozole rests deep on the earthly flavours of the soup, the flavour of the dish as a whole depends on the garnishes just as much. A Pozole withouth the correct table toppings will be too strong, a tad bitter and quite boring. So don't skimp or skip any of the garnishes, this is one of those dishes that must be eaten with EVERY garinish dictated by traditions. And don't forget to make some plain tostadas to accompany the dish with, they do make a huge and flavoursome difference! For tips on tostada making, check this recipe here!
So without further ado, here is my recipe for Pork Pozole Rojo, I hope you enjoy it!
Cut the meat in three or four big chunks. Then put it with the water, the whole head of garlic (unpeeled) and the salt in the pressure cooker and cook for 50 minutes (start timing when the pressure cooker starts whistling) . The meat should be so tender it falls apart.
If you don't have a pressure cooker, bring all the ingredients in a large heavy bottom pot to boiling point and then simmer at medium heat for about 2 hours, the result should be very tender meat with plenty of stock left. Discard the garlic head and fish the meat out into a board. Roughly chop the meat (including a bit of the fat) and set aside. Reserve all the stock as this will be the basis for the soup.
While the meat cooks, clean and deseed the dried chilies. Put them into a pot with about 1/2 a little of water and turn the heat onto high. Boil them for 20 minutes before switching the heat off and allowing the chilies to cool in the water.
Drain the chilies and transfer them to a blender or food processor. Add the garlic clove, the oregano and at least 2 ladel-fulls of the reserved stock. Liquidize the ingredients until you have a smooth sauce.
Pour the sauce into the reserved stock, add the drained pozole kernels and mix well. Turn the heat on to medium and let the soup simmer for 20 minutes before adding the chopped meat. Mix well and check for seasoning. The soup should taste a little bit bitter, so don't worry at this point, just check for saltiness.
While the soup cooks, get all the table toppings/garnishes ready. Lettuce or white cabbage, onion, radishes, limes and very importantly the tostadas. Pozole without tostadas is not the same at all!
Set all the garnishes and the tostadas in the middle of the table and call the troops for dinner. Serve the soup very hot in deep bowls making sure you include plenty of meat and kernels in every bowl. Leave space in the bowl for the garnishes. Each person adds the garnishes to their taste: a handful of lettuce or white cabbage, plenty or radishes, two teaspoons of chopped onion and lashings of lime juice.
Eat the soup hot with plain tostadas rubbed with a bit of lime juice and a sprinkle of salt. If you are daring enough, add a bit of a very hot salsa to your pozole as another garnish or a thin layer of salsa to your tostada before eating it. Traditionally, Mexicans use Arbol Chili based salsas for this. My favourite one is this Dried Arbol Chili Salsa. The soup keeps well in the fridge for up to a week, but it also freezes well.