Pozole is one of the most traditional dishes of Mexican cuisine.
What is pozole?
Pozole (sometimes spelled posole in the US) is a traditional pre-Columbian soup or stew. The word is of Nahuatl origin meaning froth. This soup is prepared with grains of a special corn called cacahuazintle. This special corn is pre-cooked in a water solution with calcium oxide for a couple of hours, making the corn grains lose their fibrous outer layer so that they open like flowers when boiled, giving them the appearance of froth.
This uniquely prepared corn is called hominy. It can be found canned or dried. When using dried hominy, it will need to be soaked before using it.
Pozole is a festive dish that is frequently served for celebrations not only in Mexico but also in New Mexico. You can often find it at quinceañeras (15th birthday celebrations), weddings, birthdays and New Year’s celebrations.
What is the origin of pozole?
Maize was a sacred plant at the time of the Aztecs, so pozole was mostly consumed on special occasions. Researchers have found that the meat that was used in conjunction with hominy for the traditional soup served on those special occasions was… human. Yes, human flesh. After prisoners were killed in a ritual sacrifice, the rest of the body was chopped and cooked with maize.
Fray Bernardino de Sahagun recalled, in the General History of The Things from New Spain (circa 1500), that during the celebrations in honor of god Xipe, Emperor Moctezuma was served a huge pozole dish, crowned with the thigh of a sacrificed prisoner.
During its passage through various centuries of Mexican history, pozole has been modified according to the ingredients and tastes of each region. First, human flesh is not really used nowadays. After the Spanish Conquest, cannibalism was banned, and pork became the staple meat for pozole as it “tasted very similar”, according to a Spanish priest. I personally haven’t eaten pork in 30 years, and I have rarely eaten human flesh, except when I bit my tongue… so I won’t be able to validate this statement!
Green tomatoes are added in the State of Guerrero. In Michoacán, they usually add pork rinds. In Colima, they enjoy the soup with white cheese and at coastal areas it is quite common to add sardines. One of the best-known pozole recipes is from Jalisco, and it is prepared with pork and dried poblano peppers.
How to make pozole?
Pozole can be prepared red (rojo), green (verde) or blanco (white) depending on the chiles used in its preparation (or no chiles for the white version). Although pork is used in the most traditional version, there are a number of variations with chicken, beef or shrimp as well.
What makes this Mexican soup even more interesting is that you typically customize your own at the table as it is served alongside a number of different toppings like shredded cabbage or lettuce, onion, radishes, lime, oregano, avocado (American addition), salsas, sour cream and tostadas.
This chicken pozole recipe was a very big hit at home. I was worried that the chiles would make the soup too spicy for the kids, but it was actually not the case. I think that I used mild chiles to begin with. But deseeding them and straining the blended chiles through a fine-mesh sieve also helped remove some of the inherent heat. I used dried guajilla and pasilla chiles, although pasillas are more common in Baja California. Most of the rest of Mexico would use ancho chiles but you can also include chiles de arbol or other chiles to make your own version of red pozole (pozole rojo). Be careful, chiles de arbol are very hot!
In the end, the posole had deep and complex flavors from the chiles, the spices and herbs. The toppings added some freshness and crunch to this hearty soup. It was also the first time I prepared or ate hominies, which give a lot of body to the soup.
I will absolutely make this soup again. And kids, be nice or you will end up in the soup next time!
- 1 whole chicken , cut into serving pieces
- 2 (15 oz.) cans hominy , drained and rinsed
- 1 white onion , halved
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 sprigs cilantro
- ½ tablespoon salt
- 3 dried guajillo chile peppers
- 3 dried pasilla chile peppers
- 3 cloves garlic
- ½ white onion , chopped
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ head cabbage (or lettuce), shredded
- 1 Mexican onion , finely chopped
- 6 radishes , thinly sliced
- Dry Mexican oregano
- 1 avocado , peeled and sliced (optional)
- 3 limes , cut in wedges
- 6 deep fried corn tortillas (tostada)
- Place the chicken in a large pot and add enough water to cover.
- Add the onion, garlic, cilantro, and salt.
- Bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer over medium-low heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes.
- Note: make the chile puree while the chicken is cooking
- Remove the chicken. Strain and reserve the broth.
- When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin and bones.
- Shred the chicken meat into pieces.
- Put the shredded chicken and its broth back into the pot with the hominy.
- Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and set it aside.
- Break the stems off the chiles and shake out as many seeds as possible.
- Put the chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 20-25 minutes.
- Place the chiles and ½ cup of their cooking liquid in a blender along with the onion, garlic, cumin and salt.
- Purée until smooth.
- Pass the chile purée through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing on the solids with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.
- Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the chile purée and bring to a boil.
- Cover partially and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 6 minutes.
- Reheat the white pozole over medium-high heat until it comes to a gentle simmer.
- Stir in the chile purée and cook for 20 minutes.
Serve the pozole in soup bowls along with the limes, sliced radishes, lettuce (or cabbage), onion, avocado, dried oregano, tortilla chips or tostadas, in bowls at the table so guests can customize their pozole.