Monday, January 5, 2009

Chicken Posole

It's chilly today. Tomorrow it'll be back in the 60s, but today was cold and wet... the perfect day for chicken soup, Austin-style. Posole [or pozole] is dried giant corn (hominy) but when people talk about "posole", they usually mean posole soup. The traditional preparation -- by way of the conquistadors -- is with pork and red chiles, but I've only ever eaten chicken posole, either made by a friend's mother or at my favorite breakfast place. After becoming obsessed with it a while back, I decided I needed to learn how to make it myself. It's stupidly easy and, I think, the best chicken soup ever. It's rich tasting but lean and pleasantly filling; the crunchy veggies, cilantro, and the squeeze of lime make for great flavor and textural contrasts. I've always wanted to try it truly from scratch using the giant dried kernels, but canned hominy is so convenient I've never actually bothered. Even you New Englanders will be able to find all the ingredients for this recipe...
Recipe: Chicken Posole, Pozole con Pollo
I usually throw in cut up chicken pieces and shred them, but you can also dice raw boneless skinless breasts and/or thighs and brown them with the onions. I've never tried it, but I'm sure it would work just as well to dump all the ingredients in the slow cooker on low when you get up the morning... the posole might break down too much, though. You could wait to add that at the end -- it's already soft; it just needs to warm through. I didn't have any cabbage on hand this time, so I shredded some purple baby bok choy from my garden. It was tasty, but I missed the cold crunch from the cabbage.

6-8 servings

2 tsp olive oil
~1 lb chicken (about half a chicken), cut up... or cubed boneless breasts or thighs
6 cups water
4 cups chicken stock
2 large white or yellow onions, diced
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (~32 oz total) white or yellow hominy, drained and rinsed
1 Tbs dried oregano (preferably Mexican, Greek is fine)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
salt to taste (~2 tsp, depending on whether you use a salty stock)

Garnish Options:
lime wedges
shredded green cabbage
sliced radishes
chopped fresh cilantro
sliced avocado
a dash of Cholula or Tabasco

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onions and chicken, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and chicken is somewhat browned, ~10 minutes. Using tongs, blot chicken and onions with paper towel to absorb accumulated fat. Discard towel. Add garlic, stirring frequently until fragrant, ~1 minute, then add liquids, scraping bottom of the pan to loosen the browned bits (fond). Add salt and dried herbs. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to simmer, covered, for 1- 1.5 hours or until chicken begins to fall apart, stirring occasionally. If the chicken is bone-in, remove to another bowl using a slotted spoon, allow to cool enough to handle, shred, and return to pot. Add drained posole, return to a simmer and check for seasoning before ladling into individual bowls. While soup is heating for the final time, prepare topping options in separate small dishes so everyone can garnish as they so choose.

Variations:
Use your post-holiday turkey carcass for pozole con pavo
Use 1 lb pork butt, cubed, in place of chicken and add 1 tbs of mild chili powder with the herbs for pozole con puerco Deglaze pan with 1/4 cup white wine before adding water/stock.

Use a whole chicken:
Break down a chicken into breasts, thighs and legs. Snap carcass into manageable pieces with kitchen scissors. Boil carcass, uncovered, in 8 cups of water for 1 hour or until it begins to break apart [or pressure cook with 4 cups of water for 20 minutes]. Skim fat and strain out solids. Either measure out remaining liquid and add enough water to equal the 10 cups total for the normal recipe [using about half of your meat] or increase liquid to 16 cups total and use all of your meat, doubling remaining ingredients. Add up to 2 more cups of water with the hominy if the soup isn't soup-y enough.

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