One must feed the body as well as the brain, and so I bring to you a pictoral guide to a very writerly food: pozole. In fact this method was given to me by Sean Dwyer, a friend of mine who is also an extremely talented writer. I was making pozole before that time, but it was a shadow of what I produce now.
Why is pozole a good food for writers, you ask? Well, it’s a creative meal. This recipe, served “white,” is dressed up with however much of whichever condiments or garnishes that the eater desires. It is a comfort food, being yet another variation on the theme of chicken-and-starch soup. It is relatively cheap to make, and when made in quantity, the maker (especially if one lives by oneself) can eat off of it for days at a time and never get bored, taking yet another of life’s menial tasks off of the daily counter.
Pozole is, in essence, a combination of three things; a simple meat and hominy stew, the addition of chile for heat, and topping with a variety of garnishes or last minute ingredients.
The meat is controversial; I make it with chicken, chicken being cheaper to acquire than pork, but am told that it is not authentic unless it is made with pork. The stew was originally made with the flesh of victims of human sacrifice back in the days of the aztecs, and while that lends credence to the use of pork (pork being famously similar in taste to human flesh, resulting in the natives of the Marquesas islands calling human flesh, in their pidgin, “long pig”), we’re already a bit off-course from the original, so I say use whatever you want.
The meat is stewed with hominy corn, corn that has been treated with lime and freed from its skin. Use dried hominy; you should be able to find a couple of options at your local latin market. You may find something called “maiz mote,” which will look like large, dried kernels of corn. If you see that, get it. The second option to use is called “maiz trillado” and it is essentially hominy that has been cracked into small pieces. It will cook faster and taste wonderful, but you will not have the romance and texture of the large corn kernels. In the batch pictured, I used one bag of mote, and one of trillado. If you can’t find dried hominy and your other option is canned, give up. No, seriously. I made it with canned hominy for years and it’s just not the same. Put your pozole plans on hold and order some from Amazon.
You will want to cook the meat (I usually use a whole chicken, but if you’re using pork, I say use pork shoulder for this, it will lend tremendous flavor to the broth and holds up well to long cooking times. If you can get a pig’s head, Mr. Dwyer recommends it and I agree) in water with salt and a tremendous amount of roughly chopped garlic. Start with a whole head and move forward from there, is what I was told. If you’re using mote, my experience was that it took about three hours to cook from the package. If you want it done sooner, they say soaking it in cool water overnight will help. If you’re using the maiz trillado, it takes around an hour to cook.
Take your meat out of the pot and break it down into chunks. In the case of chickens, this means stripping the meat off the carcass. Be thorough. The back meat on a chicken is some of the tastiest. Return the meat to the pot and cook until the corn is done.
What you will end up with is a slightly sweet, meaty, comforting stew; the water will be white and slightly gelled with starch. But the fun is just beginning.
You need chile! You need lots of chile. You’re an artist; tasting the terminating edge of human intensity is your job. Chile is a diabolical paste made from rehydrated dried chiles. I use a bag of chiles de arbol and a half bag of New Mexico chiles. Remove the stems and seeds (as much as you are able), break the pods into one inch or so chunks, and toast in a pan with a spoonful of lard (or vegetable oil). Once they start to darken and you can smell them everywhere, add some water and allow to come to a boil. Then, kill the heat and let them sit for a half an hour.
Drain, reserving the liquid, and put the chiles into a blender or food processor. Show no mercy. You may need to add a spoonful or two of the soaking liquid to get it really ground up. It should have the consistency of loose putty or clay slip.
Add the chile into the soup by serving. Everyone has their preference, but if you ask me, taste the soup once you’ve stirred the chile in. If your brain gasps out the phrase, “more weight,” before trying to make its peace with an uncaring god, you’ve got it about right.
Then add any or all of the following condiments (listed in order of importance): diced onion, lime (fresh squeezed), cilantro, sliced radishes, tostada (or tortilla chips), shredded lettuce or cabbage, and for you gabachos out there, sour cream. Enjoy!