If you’ve never eaten pozole, this is a good start. This soup (or is it a stew?) is the underrated star of Mexican cuisine and ready to be discovered. We’ll give you an everything-you-need-to-know crash course in pozole, from chilies to hominy.
What is pozole?
Pozole means boiled and stirred. The dish is essentially a broth with ‘hominy’, corn kernels that have been swollen by an alkali treatment. More on that later. Because the most important thing is that you actually put pozole on the table unfinished. The layered broth is finished by the diners themselves according to their taste, mood or whim. A kind of DIY soup!
That doesn’t mean you always have to ‘dress’ soup, the stock should be tasty enough on its own. But admittedly, with a few onions, a slice of radish and some salsa it really becomes a party.
Pozole without hominy is no pozole. The Aztec name of these large, soft corn kernels is cacahuacintle . The Aztecs believed that humans were descended from corn. That is why the ingredient has been eaten in Mexico for centuries as a kind of tribute to man. You cannot eat corn without the grains undergoing a so-called nixtamalization process. Nixtamalization makes it easy to remove the husk from the maize, increasing nutrients and enhancing flavors and aromas.
Most pozole recipes call for canned hominy. A great option, but it does taste a bit more floury and the texture is on the soft side. So if you can get hold of it – and if you have the time – it’s better to use dried pozole. Once prepared, these are nice and thick, soft as pillows and spring back like an al dente pasta. It also tastes a lot better, a bit like polenta or American grits.
This is the backing chorus that the whole soup revolves around. Pork is most commonly used for the pozole stock, but you can also use beef, chicken or fish. Pumpkin is a tasty vegetarian option. Whichever protein you choose, each stock relies on a mixture of onion, garlic, fresh herbs and spices that transform the stock into a flavor bomb.
In terms of spices, each region has its own mixture. In Oaxaca, it is common to use epazote (a bitter herb with the taste of oregano and mint) and hoja santa (a sweet herb that tastes like a cross between peppermint and anise). Sometimes they sell it in organic markets, but you can also recreate the flavors with a combination of fresh mint, coriander, cloves, bay leaf, oregano and black pepper.
You can also make pozole from a ready-made stock. Absolute! But choose a high-quality stock and cook your spices and pieces of protein in the stock so that the pozole gets depth.
Red or green pozole?
Most Mexican dishes come in green and red, but pozole also comes in a white variety (a bit like the Mexican flag). After you’ve got the stock and hominy under control, it’s time to choose the color of the pozole. Pozole rojo, pozole verde, or pozole blanco.
The resemblance to the colors of the flag wasn’t quite a joke, by the way; they are very important to the Mexicans. Green stands for hope, white for purity, and red symbolizes the blood of the men and women (and everything in between) who fought for independence. How do you get those colors in your pozole? Simple: rojo uses red dried chilies, verde uses fresh chilies, and blanco has no chili. Nice and mild, sometimes nice.
When making a pozole verde, you want to use fresh chiles that are clear, firm, and crunchy. Kind of like a green pepper. In other words, avoid those soft, wrinkly chilies that are discolored.
You can combine yourself with different chilies. Culinary writer Rick Martinez uses a combination of cubanelle, poblano and jalapeños to flavor his pozole verde. To enhance the greenery, he roasts tomatillos and spring onions, which are mashed together with coriander, oregano and lime zest and added to the stock.
For a red pozole, choose dried chiles that are soft, pliable, and deeply colored (bright brick red, mahogany, and black). When you sniff it, it should release aromas and the texture feels a bit like a thick raisin or date. You can throw away chilies that are dry, stale or brittle. They are probably old and have little taste.
Working with dried chilies
Tip: Store dried chilies in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag. You can even freeze them.
Before using dried chilies, it is important to soak them first so that they rehydrate. Thirty minutes soaking in boiled water is sufficient.
And another bonus tip: if you’re toasting chili’s (do it, because that gives a nutty, caramelized taste) it’s best to do it in a 180 ºC oven. After five minutes they are ready. But above all, use your nose and senses.
Toppings for pozole
The power of pozole is its individuality, and that is entirely in your hands. So choose your own toppings! In a pozoleria you will often be served the following in a variety of containers: diced avocado, crema, queso fresco, chopped iceberg lettuce or romaine, chopped cabbage, chopped onion, radish slices, fried tortilla strips, chicharones, lime wedges, dried oregano, flaked chili the arbol, escabeche, spring onions and salsas.
Put everything in your bowl of pozole, or leave it naked. Up to you!
Curious about the background and history of pozole? Watch the Munchies episode below.