Pozole Blanco {Mexican Hominy and Pork Soup}

When the whether turns cold, turn to pozole blanco – Mexican hominy and pork soup – to warm you up.


San Diego really doesn't get much of a spring, a few weeks here and there and then it's hello May gray and June gloom. And wouldn't you know it! Rain is in the forecast for San Diego this week and next. For as long as I can remember, May and June have been cold, cloudy and often rainy.

When it gets cold, I crave soup. I actually made and photographed this pozole blanco – white hominy soup – back in March when pretty much the entire country, San Diego included, was in the midsts of consistent rain. I was going to save it until next winter to post, intending to stay "on trend" and seasonal but seasonal is starting to have less meaning these days. The weather is becoming severe in it's unpredictability and as for trend, well, I have always been a bit of a lone wolf, not really following what all the other bloggers are posting about and keeping beat to my own drum, as they say.

I've written about pozole before, the more traditional, at least in my family, red pozole and though it's still one of my favorites, I gotta say, the wonderful thing about pozole blanco is that no two bowls will taste exactly alike. That's not to say that the recipe is unreliable. On the contrary, the soup recipe itself is solid and produces the perfect vehicle for arguably the best thing about pozole: the toppings! But more on that later.


The origins of pozole are steeped in folklore, some of it gruesome, so I won't go into details. But many of the references I found say that it dates back to pre-Columbian days with Aztecs making the stew for celebrations mostly due to the fact that hominy – or more precisely, corn – was considered a sacred food of the Gods. Later, when Spaniards arrived on the scene with pigs in tow, pork was introduced to the soup.

As for the pork in this recipe, I stick to my family's traditional choice of pork neck bones and if you want a little more "meat," opt for pork country style ribs or some chunks of relatively trimmed pork butt. Just make sure you have at least 30 percent bones in the mix as the bones will add a tremendous amount of flavor to the broth.


The star ingredient in pozole is well, pozole, which is the Nahuatl word for "hominy." There are three ways you can go with this: you can start from dried maize, buy nixtamalized hominy at a local Mexican market or tortilleria, or use canned hominy.

If you're cooking from dried, you'll also need to pick up some cal (calcium hydroxide, or lime) to nixtamalize the corn. The addition of cal in both the cooking and soaking does a few things, firstly, it helps to remove the tough outer skin of the corn, allowing water to penetrate and the kernal to "bloom" while cooking. Without it, days and days of soaking and cooking would still leave you with hard kernels. Secondly, and most importantly, the nixtamalization process renders the corn digestible.


I started with nixtamalized hominy that I picked up at my local Northgate Market in the refrigerated section of the store's in-house tortilleria. This is the same exact product used for grinding into masa for tortillas. To use it in a soup, it still requires a good deal of cooking but only a fraction of the time that from dried would take. When you get the hominy home, you'll need to rinse it several times. I find it easiest to place it in a steamer basket or colander set inside a large pot, fill the pot with water while simultaneously rubbing the corn briskly. Let it soak for 5 minutes then repeat until the water is left clear. It took me three rinses to get to the clear water in the last photo of the series above. Optionally, you can also remove the little point from each individual kernel. Removing it will allow the kernel to bloom when fully cooked, but be warned, this will take some time to do.


Next come aromatics. I like to add half a white onion and some bay leaves. The hominy will need to cook for 3 hours at a medium simmer. I don't own a pressure cooker. I'm sure one could be employed here to cut down on the time however, I rather enjoy the smell of the cooking corn wafting throughout the house all morning while going about my other tasks for the day. To cut down on time, you can fill a second stock pot with the meat and water. The meat will require 2 1/2 hours of cooking time.


Though you could most certainly toss in spices and herbs directly into the pot of simmering meat, I like to create a bouquet garni: the herbs and spices get wrapped in cheesecloth, tightly tied with kitchen string before getting tossed into the pot. I feel this helps keep the broth clear and less muddled. A tip for working with cheesecloth for making the bundles: tame the fringe created while cutting the cheesecloth to size by saturating it with water, wring it, then smooth it out so it's ready to be filled with your aromatics.


I used fresh oregano, fresh thyme, garlic, peppercorns and whole allspice berries which I cracked using a mortar and pestle.


As I mentioned earlier, no two bowls of pozole blanco tastes the same and that's because each bowl can be customized by the diner. Some suggested toppings include:

  • diced avocado
  • dried Mexican oregano
  • sliced radishes
  • chicharrones
  • cilantro
  • diced white onion
  • lime wedges 
  • shredded cabbage
  • tostados or tortilla chips
  • your favorite salsa




Pozole Blanco (Hominy and Pork Soup)

Serves 8

Ingredients

For the meat:
5 pounds pork neck bones or a mix of pork neck bones and country style pork ribs
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt, as needed to pre-season meat

To cook the hominy:
2 ½ pounds fresh nixtamalized hominy
8 quarts of water, more as needed
2 bay leaves
½ large white onion, root end intact

For the broth:
Water, as needed
½ large white onion, top end intact
2 (6 to 7-inch) square pieces of cheesecloth and some string
6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed with the side of a chef knife
6 cracked allspice berries
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano

For the optional toppings:
  • diced avocado
  • dried Mexican oregano
  • sliced radishes
  • chicharrones
  • rough chopped cilantro
  • diced white onion
  • lime wedges 
  • shredded cabbage
  • tostados or tortilla chips
  • your favorite salsa 
  • crushed red chile flakes

Directions

Spread the meat out on a sheet tray. Generously sprinkle with salt on all sides. Place the tray in the refrigerate to rest until needed.

Place the hominy in a steamer basket or colander set inside a large pot, fill the pot with water while simultaneously rubbing the corn briskly. Let it soak for 5 minutes then drain and repeat until the water is left clear. Add the hominy to a large 10-quart stock pot and fill with 8 quarts of water. Add the bay leaves and onion. Bring to a boil then lower heat to maintain a medium simmer. Cook, partially covered until the hominy is tender but still has a bit of chew, about 3 to 3 ½ hours. To combat evaporation, check the water level about every ½ hour and refill with hot water as needed.

After the hominy has cooked for 1 hour, place the salted meat into a second large stock pot. Add water to cover by 4 inches. Stack the cheesecloth, saturate it with water, wring then smooth it out. Place the garlic, allspice, peppercorns and herbs in the center and gather cloth into a ball, tying securely with string; add to the pot of meat. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 2 hours or until just fork tender. When cooked, remove the meat to a bowl and strain the broth through a sieve, discarding the onion and herb bundle.

When the hominy is tender, add the meat and broth to the hominy pot. Taste soup for seasoning, adding salt as needed. Simmer the soup for another ½ hour or until the meat is falling off the bone and the flavors have combined.

Serve in large soup bowls, leaving room for diners to customize their soup bowls with optional toppings. Allow soup to completely cool before placing into airtight containers. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months.



Until next time, friends … !Buen Provecho!
xo, ani

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