Whenever I check out a new Mexican restaurant, the first thing I look for on the menu is pozole. Pozole (also posole) is a rich, delicious Mexican soup made mostly of slow-cooked pork shoulder, chilies and white hominy. It’s garnished with a variety of bright, fresh aromatics with complementary flavors and textures. Pozole is generally an inexpensive dish served with fresh tortillas – but you won’t find it at your average American Tex-Mex chain restaurant. You’ll have to seek out the more authentic Mexican greasy spoons. I’ve sampled it at many different restaurants, and have never been disappointed.
About the Pork Shoulder
Pork shoulder is a versatile cut of meat that can also be referred to as “pork butt” or “picnic.” The whole pork shoulder actually includes two cuts of meat. The upper cut is the Boston Butt which includes a small shoulder blade bone. The lower cut is the picnic, which includes the front leg bone and joint. The picnic usually includes all the skin, whereas the butt only has a small cap of fat. For pozole, the picnic is preferred, as the bones and extra skin add to the flavor and richness of the soup.
What is Hominy?
Simply speaking, hominy is field corn (as opposed to sweet corn) that has been treated with lye or lime (calcium oxide, not the green citrus fruit). This chemical treatment helps soften the hard outer shell so that it is more palatable and easier to digest. Hominy is used to make grits, as well as masa flour, and is a common food in southern and Mexican cooking. It is similar to beans in that it can be purchased either precooked in cans, or dried in bags or bulk.
The Essence of Pozole
Although my favorite part of pozole is the hominy and garnishes, what makes this dish so special is the slow-cooked pork and chilies. Stewing the ingredients at a low temperature for two to three hours allows all the flavors to marry and develop the richness and levels of flavor that make pozole so special.
Garnishes for Pozole
I love the temperature contrast between hot and cold in the same dish, and the garnishes used for pozole satisfy that penchant for me. Served alongside an extra large bowl of pozole you will likely also be served a dish containing three or more garnishes. Popular choices include shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, chopped onions, diced jalapenos, radishes, avocado, cilantro and lime wedges. I like to add my garnishes in tiny bits at a time rather than all at once, so with each bite I get the hot and cold contrast that I appreciate so well.
If you’d like to try your hand at creating this authentic and memorable Mexican dish, here’s a great recipe for Posole Rojo.