It’s taken two days to make a giant beautiful pot of pozole, and I’ve been thinking about all the things that I love which have their roots in Mexico, and particularly from Mexican kitchens: all the different more-ish salsas, rich guacamole, luscious cajeta (goat’s milk caramel), tortilla chips, hundreds of dreamy & nutritious bean dishes, creamy-spicy fish tacos, listening to tejano & norteno music while eating roasted bacon-wrapped cheese-stuffed pickled peppers and too many cold beers.. Yep, Mexico gives generously from her larder.
Right now it’s all about the pozole. I first tasted this warmly spiced, toothsome, and comforting pork & hominy soup at a local Mexican restaurant, and it was instant love. In addition to the deep savory goodness of the soup itself (which can sometimes be encountered in stew-like form), there are the garnishes: toasty crunchy corn tortillas, thinly sliced raw cabbage, crisp disks of radish, soft avocado, onions or scallions, lots of fresh chopped cilantro, and generous squeezes of lime juice. A generous, fun, and feisty bowlful of happy.
I spoke with the lady in the kitchen and asked for a few pointers, and did a lot of research in books and on the ‘net, and the recipe I settled on, which was originally from Bon Appétit, resulted in an outstanding dinner. That first time I used pork shoulder, which was nice, but now I had a freezer full of locally grown Tamworth heads, and I knew that the old traditional pozoles were originally based on a pig’s head.
First the prep:
First I scrubbed and shaved the pig’s head. This one was pretty clean, but there were some whiskers around the snout and ears which needed cleaning up. I left the eyes in because they’re a lot easier to take out after cooking. I mostly followed the recipe, but I did make a few changes: instead of chicken stock, I used a mixture of water and trotter gear; I also added a bit of extra pork butt.
Instead of ancho chili powder, I made a paste from four fat reconstituted dried ancho peppers which I had hot-smoked over mesquite. I really love the fruity warmth of ancho peppers which you get from soaking them in boiling water, making a paste with the softened peppers, garlic and ground cumin, and then frying the paste a bit with the sweated onions. The smoke added a subtle layer of deep flavor which got everyone who tasted it all excited. A good thing!
I used a mix of white and red onions (dictated by larder), and I used a mix of Mexican oregano and marjoram.
While it’s possible to make this in one day –if you start early and have a large ‘fridge or cold room– I prefer making this over two days: on the first day I clean up the head in the morning, get it and the aromats and braising liquids into the pot, and let it simmer in a low oven for around six hours. I add the very roughly chopped chunks of pork butt in for the last two hours or so as they braise up nicely in less time than the pig’s head. Once all the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender, I let it cool in the pot, uncovered, which with the gigantic pot I’m using takes two to three hours. I placed all the meat in a large bowl and kept it chilled overnight, and put the strained pot liquor (I discard the aromats) into a large stainless steel bowl to chill.
There’s no way that the very large bowl of porky pot liquor would fit in my fridge even under the best of circumstances, so I let it chill in front of a window cracked a half-inch or so. By morning the pot liquor was nice & jiggly and there was a firm layer of fat on top which I skimmed off.
I gently squeezed most of the soaking liquid from the smoked ancho peppers, and in the small bowl of my food processor I blitzed them with a large head’s worth of garlic cloves and two teaspoons of freshly ground cumin until it formed a beautiful deep brick-coloured paste. I tasted the pepper soaking water, and it was full of good flavor so I added it to the pot liquor.
I picked all the meat off the head, trimmed off most of the skin and some of the fat, and then chopped all of that, plus the butt meat, into roughly 1/2-inch pieces. Into the rinsed-out pot I sweated two more onions over medium heat until soft, added the smoked ancho chili paste, and stirred it for a minute or two –until the paste was warm and fragrant:
..and then I added the Mexican oregano and marjoram, the picked-over and diced meat, and the strained pot liquor + chili soaking water. All of this simmered, covered with the lid just off-center, for around 45 minutes.
I had a little bowl for lunch, and then for an afternoon snack, and then a nice big bowl loaded with garnishes for dinner, along with a very cold and fizzy dark & stormy cocktail. It was fantastically good, and it will freeze beautifully for delicious, easy, fast dinners over the coming weeks. Getting the gardens started is a lot of hard work and generally involves coming home late, so these meals will be a life-saver.
So, seriously, thanks Mexico🙂
Coming soon: April’s Charcutepalooza challenge: hot-smoked fish!