Holy posole

Holy posole
Ari LeVaux - 01/31/2019

I’m no fan of hominy but would crawl across broken glass for a sip of posole. Both words refer to the exact same ingredient, and the difference between the two is like the difference between a violin and a fiddle. It all boils down to what you do with it. You can spill beer on a fiddle. And you can sip posole. But hominy must be chewed.

It all starts with corn that has been bathed in alkaline fluid to remove the outer husk from each kernel. This ancient Aztec process, called nixtamalization, is the foundation of Mexican and many other Latin American cuisines. The flour made from ground, nixtamalized corn is used to make tortillas, tamales, pupusas, arepas and many more corn-based delicacies.

Posole and hominy are served intact, which makes them a minority in the nixtamalized corn community. They are popular in certain regions, but incomparable in scale with the impact of, say, the tortilla.

In the strongholds of posole (also spelled pozole), like Mexico and the American Southwest, the word is spoken with reverence. A sip of that broth brings comfort, warmth, hydration and a penetrating corny flavor.

Most recipes with “hominy” in the title will direct the cook to discard the water in which the nixtamalized corn is soaked before use – in the case of canned hominy, the water is drained and discarded. Either dried or from a can, hominy is usually served like a whole grain, perhaps fried in a pan with butter, or tossed with other ingredients into a salad or side dish.

Alas, to open a can of posole and discard the water would be like making coffee, pouring it out and eating the grounds. Or closer to the point, like making bone stock, throwing away the stock, and eating the bones. Any recipe that instructs you to toss the corn water should itself be tossed. Posole makers, on the other hand, understand that corn water is at the heart of their dish.

The centrality of corn broth to posole is comparable to that of beef broth in Vietnamese pho. And like pho, the soulful broth is used as a base onto which fresh and aromatic herbs and vegetables are added.

Slices of onion, fresh or dried oregano, and a wedge of lime will garnish a typical bowl of posole. These additions do to that bowl what plugging in does to a lava lamp, energizing it into something brilliant, a team of rival flavors coming together perfectly at a singular point. Fancier garnish plates include slices of cabbage and radish, which add crunch, color and a sweet mustard fire. As pho lovers know, a fragrant, crunchy salad added to a spicy broth is a recipe for complete, unmitigated satisfaction.

Most posole recipes include pork, typically shoulder. Chicken posole is also popular, and sometimes I’ll tear up a rotisserie chicken and add it to a batch. My favorite posole is made with deer or elk, but animal flesh is not required for the magic to happen. That distinction belongs to the nixtamalized corn.

This recipe is for vegetarian posole and would be vegan if not for the butter. Omnivores should use bone stock and meat to their hearts’ content. In mixed company, cook the meat separately and add it at the end with the garnishes.

Purists will insist that whole, dried chile pods be used, rehydrated in water or stock, and then blending into a slurry. For special occasions, I sometimes go that route, but chile powder, assuming it’s fresh, bright red and not adulterated by “fiesta spices” or such nonsense, will do a fine job.

Canned hominy is much easier to find than dried posole corn, so I’ve based this recipe on a 25-ounce can, which set me back $1.65 – perfect if you’re on a government-shutdown salary. All told, this dish feeds a whole family for about $5, not including meat.

Holy Posole

3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large minced onion (about four cups),
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tablespoons chile powder. If the stuff you have is too spicy, substitute paprika as necessary to dilute the heat – ideally smoked paprika, which will make the posole taste as if it was cooked over a camp fire.
1 25-ounce can hominy
1 medium potato, cut into inch chunks
Optional: meat. I like something tough, cooked slowly until tender. In a pinch, bacon slivers work, too.
1 cube of bouillon or equivalent amount of stock or bouillon paste
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
Garnishes: fresh lime, fresh or dried oregano, fresh onions, radish, cabbage
Saute? the onions and garlic in the oil and butter, along with any meat you may be using. When the onions are clear, add the chile powder. Stir it all together and the can of hominy, including the water (take a little sip, first). Add two more cans of water and the bouillon cube (or alternative stock), the potato and the salt, pepper and oregano. Cook on medium heat for 30 minutes. Taste, season and serve with a plate of garnishes.

Top Shelf

Indie rock'n'roller, uptown jazz and math rock
Indie rock'n'roller, uptown jazz and math rock
By Chris Aaland
02/21/2019

When did you first discover Martha Scanlan? For me, it was around 2001, when her old-time bluegrass outfit, Reeltime Travelers, began appearing on the festival circuit, playing the old Silverton Jubilee, the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, Telluride Bluegrass and RockyGrass.

Heart strings, infamous strings & belly laughs
Heart strings, infamous strings & belly laughs
By Chris Aaland
02/14/2019

Life sure keeps you busy. My boy, Otto – fresh off being named to the honor roll! – turned 12, requiring a night out with the family Tuesday.

Boring Bowl, The Dude sells out & Hillbilly Poetry
Boring Bowl, The Dude sells out & Hillbilly Poetry
By Chris Aaland
02/07/2019

Now that was boring. Not only was Sunday’s Super Bowl the lowest scoring ever, but it was my first completely sober Super Bowl since 1986 ... and I was 17 then.

Snowdown's greatest hits
Snowdown's greatest hits
By Chris Aaland
01/31/2019

Unless you live in a cave, you’ve probably noticed a number of people flying about downtown dressed in masks and capes. It’s Snowdown week! This year’s theme is “Get Your Comic On,” which brings a bit of Comic-Con to our quaint mountain borough.

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

Earth tones
Earth tones
By Stephen Eginoire
02/21/2019

Tired of looking at harsh, reflective white? Then feast your eyes on the gentler, subtler hues of winter. For most, winter brown is an acquired taste.

Rollin' a fattie
Rollin' a fattie
By Stephen Eginoire
02/14/2019

The 5th annual Silverton Whiteout kicked off last Saturday as fat bikers from ’round the hood and beyond rode lap after lap on a well-groomed 9.2-mile loop for 10 straight hours.

A bunch of comics: A look at the Snowdown that was
A bunch of comics: A look at the Snowdown that was
02/07/2019

Well, there you have it folks. Durango’s 41st Snowdown celebration is in the bag. 

Taking off the Chill
Taking off the Chill
By Stephen Eginoire
01/31/2019

With the shortest days of year in the rearview mirror, the sun a little higher and the days a little longer, our orientation toward the sun favors less chilly walks in the great outdoors, and certainly less GoreTex (on a nice day, of course.)

Read All in Day on the Life