Pasole (or pazole in Mexico) is one of those comforting dishes that is just as much about the texture as it is about the taste. Namely that fluffy-meets-creamy-meets toothsome texture of the hominy; the star ingredient of pasole.
Hominy is made by soaking kernels of corn in an alkaline mixture (often lime or lye), which allows the grains to expand, then washing the grains and removing their outer layer (hulling). This entire process is called ‘nixtamalization’, and dates back to pre-Columbian times (as in before 1492) in the Americas by the Native peoples living there. By using this process not only does the corn become more nutritious, but also becomes much easier to grind into a finer texture, used to then make masa; a much finer cornmeal-like flour, typically used for making corn tortillas and tamales.
Though pasole has strong ties with Mexican culture, hominy is also considered to be an indigenous food, given the history of its preparation. It’s no surprise then to find a dish like pasole so prevalent in New Mexico; an area of the world heavily influenced by both Chicano/Chicana culture as well as the 19 Pueblo tribes which reside there. Pasole is a celebratory dish within Mexican culture, often eaten as part of a birthday or New Years celebration, but it’s also standard fare for any given Tuesday in New Mexico, once the cooler months set in. Needless to say it is a much loved dish of the Land of Enchantment, made with red chile as well as with green (of course!).
This week, as we are still bundled up and hiding from the chilly temperatures and rain, celebrating the birth of both our children (a time of year I like to call ‘cake week’), it felt like the perfect time to dig into the pantry to pull out the dried hominy I had been saving, and make a batch of pasole, if for nothing else to counterbalance all the sugar we’ve consumed in celebration.
This recipe is not labour intensive, in fact each step is pretty easy and mostly hands-off-cooking. It does however require a few days worth of preparation in order to allow the ingredients to give you their best. Let me assure you, it’s worth the wait.
Begin by soaking the hominy in cold water overnight.
Drain the hominy, tip into a pot and fill with cold water until just covering the hominy and bring to low boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Whilst your hominy is cooking away you can make your chili sauce.
In a dry pan over a medium high heat add your de-seeded and de-stemmed chiles de arbol and toast until fragrant and oils begin to release- a few minutes on each side should be enough. Tip the chilies into a saucepan add guajillo powder and 1L/4 cups water. Bring to a simmer, then continue to simmer for up to an hour until water has reduced to approx 1-11/2 inches in depth. Remove from heat and cool slightly, then tip into a blender and blend until smooth. Pass through a sieve if desired to remove any chunky bits of chili skins before adding salt, honey and vinegar and stir well. Taste and adjust seasonings (careful it will be spicy!) and then set aside for later use.
Cube and generously season your pork shoulder. Once the hominy has cooked for an hour, add in the pork, onions and garlic, cover and continue to simmer for a further 2-3 hours until pork is fork-tender and hominy begins to split, topping up with water if necessary (remember you want to create a rich broth as well as tender hominy and pork).
Once you are happy with the texture, taste and adjust seasoning before adding in approx 1/4 cup/ 50ml of your chili sauce, depending on your desired level of heat. A traditional red pasole would add more sauce at this time, but I prefer to serve it the remainder on side and let individuals add in the amount they like.
You can serve this right away or if you can wait, allow it to cool down completely, refrigerate it and serve it the following day when flavours will have combined even further. Serve with a garnish of freshly cut radish, coriander/cilantro and lime plus your fiery sauce on the side.