Monday, May 17, 2010

A Mexican Hangover Remedy Becomes Family DInner

Being hungover in Mexico has some serious advantages.

Pozole and Chilaquiles, of course.  Two of my favorite Mexican dishes, both claiming to be remedies for those nights when you hit the tequila just a bit too hard.

I absolutely love pozole.  This Mexican soup, rich with chiles and hominy, is satisfying down to the soul.  It's an ideal mixture of tastes and textures with its crunchy garnishes and rich, tender pieces of meat (usually pork, sometimes chicken).  The hominy itself are dried corn kernels that have been treated with alkali and de-germinated-they look a bit like Corn Nuts (legendary Rick Bayless would probably kill me for saying that).   They are best when bought dried from a Mexican market but the canned version works just fine in a pinch, and it is available and most supermarkets.  If it isn't with the Latin foods look for it near the canned corn.

Another key ingredient in pozole is the chile puree.  This is a mixture of dried chiles, onions, and garlic.  In the recipe I use, the chiles are seeded and gently toasted in a cast iron skillet with the onions and garlic.  I take the chiles out when they just soften then rehydrate them in a dish by covering them with boiling water.  The water, like the water you use to soak dried porcinis, becomes part of the puree which in turn becomes the flavor base for your broth.

This is a recipe to do in steps.  Don't tackle it all at once.  If you make the elements in advance, it is a perfect weeknight dinner.  My base recipe came from this article in the SF Chronicle as well as tips from Rick's book.  I use canned hominy and chicken, which makes for a preparation that is really straight-forward.  I like what I came up with, I might even say I loved it.  It may not be 100% authentic but it was mighty tasty. 

Red Pozole

6 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs
4 cups chicken stock
2 dried Ancho chiles, seeded and stemmed
1 white onion, half cut in four wedges and the other half thinly sliced 
1 garlic clove, peeled
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 tsp dried oregano (preferably Mexican), plus extra for garnish
1 29-ounce can hominy, drained and rinsed
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
2 large radishes, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced (seeded if desired)
1-2 cups tortilla chips
1 lime, cut into wedges

Remove any excess fat from the chicken thighs and place them in a medium pot.  Add the chicken broth along with four cups of water.  Bring the mixture to a boil then immediately turn it to a low simmer.  Let cook, skimming off any 'scum' that rises to the top, until the chicken is very tender (almost falling off the bone), 1-2 hours.  This can be done the day before and refrigerated.  Store the chicken in it's broth then skim the fat off the top when you remove it from the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, place the anchos, the wedges of onion, and the garlic clove on a grill pan or in a cast iron skillet over medium low heat.  When the anchos begin to soften, about 5 minutes, remove them from the pan.  Place them in a bowl and cover with very hot water.  Let the onions and garlic continue to cook, turning occasionally until they are soft and lightly browned, 10-15 minutes more.  Remove the anchos from the water, reserving the liquid.  Transfer them to a blender along with the onions and garlic.  Add 1/2 cup of the ancho soaking liquid and a generous pinch of salt.  Puree until the mixture is very smooth and set it aside.  Puree can be made the day before and refrigerated.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the thighs from the broth.  Take the meat off the bones and shred it into bite sized pieces.  Skim the fat from the broth.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the sliced onions, carrots, oregano, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetable begin to soften, 6-7 minutes.  Add the broth, hominy, shredded chicken, and half of the chili puree (taste the puree for heat level-if it's not hot, you can add more, if it's very hot, you can add less-reserving the rest for garnish).  Bring the mixture to a boil the reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer to bring the flavors together, about 20 minutes. 

Make a garnish plate for the table, keeping the ingredients separate so people can add as much or as little of each one as they like.  Also serve the remaining chili puree on the side.  Ladle soup into warm bowls and top with desired garnishes.

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