Hard to believe it can feel so cold outside, but still be above freezing. The gray fog of the morning eventually burned off, but earlier today it was just bone-chilling cold and wet. Only a thick, soupy stew would suffice for tonight’s dinner.
For my money, the best part of making posole is pureeing the chilis. I’m not afraid of hot spice, but I’ve come to really love milder chili peppers. Medium Hatch peppers are my favorite, but I’ve also learned that unless you drive to Hatch, NM, and buy a sack from a reputable grower, i.e. multigenerational and referred by at least two disparate sources, you’re just as likely to get a mish-mosh of peppers from god-knows-where.
I used to dismiss claims made that Hatch peppers were somehow better, but I’ve now seen the light and understand that peppers, like pinot noir grapes, reflect their terroir.
But, sadly, I’m out of hand-imported Hatch peppers so I’m using old supermarket “California” peppers augmented by some equally old Cascobel peppers from Penzey’s. You do this with dried peppers, not fresh.
You need a cast iron skillet for this. Don’t use anything else. Get the pan hot, but not crazy hot. Lay the peppers in the pan and toast them gently, turning often so they toast and soften slightly. You want them to darken, but not to burn. The kitchen will fill with the smell of toasting pepper. If you’re using hot or extra-hot peppers, this delicious smell might have the effect of tear gas, so be careful. Remove from pan, cut off and discard the stem, cut a slit in the pepper and remove as many seeds as possible. If there are dried veins of the pepper present try to remove it as well.
Place the toasted, de-seeded, peppers in a pot and add about 4 cups of water. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Check now and then to make certain the peppers are submerged.
Remove from heat and let cool.
Strain the peppers reserving the cooking liquid which should be deep red/maroon.
Add the peppers to a blender and puree to a smooth milkshake consistency. Add small amounts of the cooking liquid as needed, but don’t go overboard as the water the peppers simmered in often has a harsh, metalicky, taste. I tend to add a couple pinches of salt while the peppers are pureeing.
When I did this with my lovely hand-imported Hatch peppers the resulting puree was a magnificent golden orange reminiscent of a beautiful sunset from out of a memory. The taste was tingly; hot, but gentle with a complexity impossible to fully describe.
Tonight’s puree is deep red and tastes like the peppers were dried too long ago, left in a cabinet too long, and not grown in the magic soil of the Hatch Valley.
This is adapted from several traditional red posole recipes. I'm substituting canned yellow hominy for the authentic, and much better, dried hominy to turn this into an afternoon event rather than a two-day event.
- 30 oz 1 large can gold hominy
- 3 ounces dried red New Mexico chiles about 10 large chiles
- 2 pounds pork shoulder not too lean, cut in 2-inch chunks
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 large yellow onion peeled, halved and stuck with 2 cloves
- 3 bay leaf
- 2-4 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoon ground cumin
Cut the pork shoulder into 1 inch pieces (some recipes call for larger pieces, some call for the pork to be cooked the day before and shredded, 1 inch pieces is my compromise). Place cut up pork in a bowl and sprinkle with kosher salt while tossing to make certain every piece gets some salt. Set aside.
Combine hominy, and 4 cups of water or low-sodium chicken broth, in a large pot or dutch oven. Bring to simmer. Once hominy is simmering add bay leaves, cumin, garlic, onion, and pork. Cover tightly and return to a brisk simmer for at least 1 hour.
Toast dried chiles lightly in cast-iron skillet or stovetop grill, just until fragrant. Wearing gloves, slit chiles lengthwise with paring knife. Remove and discard stems and seeds. Put chiles in saucepan and cover with 4 cups water. Simmer 30 minutes and let cool. In blender, purée chiles to a smooth paste using some cooking water as necessary. Purée should be of milkshake consistency.
Check the pot, adding water/broth occasionally and tasting broth for salt, simmer for about 1 1/2 hours more, until meat is tender.
Stir in 1 cup chile purée and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning. (At this point, posole can be cooled completely and reheated later. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.)
Posole is the quintessential "there is no right way to make" dish. As tourists in Santa Fe years ago, Annette and I experienced two completely different takes on posole in two different restaurants. Servers, bartenders, locals selling ristras at stands all claimed to either make the best posole or know where the best could be had. And so far I've only discussed Posole Rojo.