1.24.2012

Pozole Rojo

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After cooking Korean food for a week straight, I decided it was time for a break. Time for Mexican food. I don't often cook Mexican at home. This is LA, and there's great Mexican food all around us, might as well go out and enjoy it. And that's what we usually do.

Recently, we were out and I ordered pozole. It was really good and I thought to myself, I bet this soup takes a while to make. Then I wondered if I could make it better. Without knowing it, I had challenged myself, and next time we were out, I was buying huge cans of hominy.

It took me a while to settle upon a recipe. I knew I wanted to make the red version. I knew I wanted to make it with pork. But other than that, I didn't know much. As I researched recipes online, this one caught my eye because it reminded me of making a similar red sauce for tamales.

We invited our fancy Bel Air friend for brunch, and even though I don't want to admit it here, also for a viewing of Clueless. Yes, the movie. I had never seen it. This is what happens when you don't grow up in America. Our friend was shocked at my unfamiliarity with the movie. He grew up in a Clueless high school, and declared I must see it. Who was I to argue? With a doctor! Or kind of a doctor. I'm not certain what he does at Cedar Sinai. I think it's doctory sort of stuff.

But, back to the Sunday brunch. The husband set the table, bringing out the tequila and his fancy napkin folding. I made sure to have all the tasty garnishes -- lime, radish, onion, cilantro, cheese, avocado, and freshly fried tortilla strips -- because this soup is all about the garnishes. We rented the movie on Amazon. Everything was in place. Then, our friend shows up, and within minutes of walking in, he informs us that Wikipedia told him pozole used to be made with human meat. Gotta love Wikipedia. I informed him this pozole was only pork. I poured us healthy bowls, and we got to decorating our plates with toppings, taking a celebratory tequila shot, and settling on the couches for my very first screening of Clueless.

You're probably wondering how my first pozole turned out. It was everything I had hoped. The red sauce adds a deep, smoky flavor, but it's the garnishes that let you customize the soup. I like mine limey with lots crunchy onions and tortilla chips. Because of the pork, the broth is rich and fatty, so the toppings allow you to brighten it up.

And what about Clueless? Well, it wasn't quiet as good as the pozole, but I'm glad I saw it.

Pozole Rojo
Via simplyrecipes.com

4 ounces guajillo, ancho, or a combination of both, chili pods
Salt
1 large (108 ounce, 6 lb 12 oz, 3 kg) can white hominy, drained and rinsed
3 lbs pork shoulder (preferably with bone), cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes (can also use pork shanks), make sure to use a cut well-marbled with fat
8 cloves garlic, 4 cloves roughly chopped, and 4 whole cloves
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin (I added two, as well as a teaspoon of paprika)
2 Tbsp of dry oregano (Mexican oregano if available)

Garnishes
cabbage, thinly sliced (we skipped on this one)
cilantro, chopped
white onion, chopped
avocados, chopped
limes, quartered
red radishes, sliced thin
tortilla chips

1) Fill a large 10-12 quart stockpot with 5 quarts of water. Set on heat to bring to a boil.
2) Remove and discard the stems, seeds, and large veins from the chili pods. Heat a cast iron pan on medium high and lightly roast the chili pods for a couple minutes, until they begin to soften. Do not let them burn. While the chilies are heating, bring a medium pot with 3 cups of water to a boil. Once the chiles have softened, submerge them in the pot with the 3 cups of hot water, cover the pot and remove from heat. Let the chiles soak in the hot water for 15 to 20 minutes.
3) Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan) in a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Pat the pork pieces dry with paper towels. Sprinkle them generously with salt. Working in batches, taking care not to crowd the pan or stir the meat much, brown the meat on all sides. Right at the end of browning the meat, add 4 cloves of roughly chopped garlic to the pan with the meat, let cook with the meat for about a minute.
4) Once the meat has browned, transfer it to the large stockpot of boiling water, along with the pork bones. Scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan, and any garlic, and add those to the pot as well. Add the rinsed hominy. Add bay leaves, cumin, and paprika. Add a few tablespoons of salt. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and cook for 15 minutes.
5) Prepare the red sauce by puréeing in a blender the chilies, 2 1/2 cups or so of their soaking liquid, a teaspoon of salt, and 4 cloves of garlic. Strain the red sauce through a sieve, discarding the tough bits of the sauce.
6) Add the red chili sauce to the pot with the pork and hominy. Add another couple teaspoons of salt. This soup absorbs a lot of salt, just make sure to taste along the way. Return to a simmer, lower the heat to just high enough to maintain a simmer, partially covered. Cook for 2-3 hours until the pork is completely tender. Skim away excess fat. Taste for seasoning and add more salt to taste. The resulting soup should be rather brothy, as you will be adding a lot garnishes. Add more water if necessary.
7) To serve, arrange the garnishes in bowls on the table and serve the pozole soup into bowls. Let your guests pick and choose which garnishes they would like.

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