Some food, some drink.
Easy Slow Cooker Posole (Or, how to rip on your dearly-departed Grandmother’s cooking).
I learned a lot about cooking from my Grandma. She had some truly outstanding recipes, but there were also a few that I never quite understood. Her take on posole, that spicy Mexican/Native American soup rich with pork, chile and hominy corn, was always lacking; so when I got my mitts on her source recipe, I made it a point to break it down to understand what had been amiss with Grandma's cooking. Was this a recipe that was too fussy for a home cook to do it right? Heck no! Turns out, once you take posole to the Crock Pot, it gets impossibly easy; and its simplicity absolutely belies the complexity of slow-simmered flavor. Grandma was always keen to do posole her way, but I'd like to think that after a few well-placed swear words with respect to my irreverence, that she'd have ultimately approved of my take on this Southwest-style soup.
In retrospect, I'd have to say it was like something out of a Truman Capote story: Every January for as long as I could remember, my Grandma would get it in her head that it'd be the right kind of weather for making posole. Ever had posole? Also (and maybe properly) spelled "pozole," this spicy soup rich with pork, chiles and "nixtimalized" corn (aka hominy) has its roots in Mexico way back before the likes of Christopher Columbus got lost in the West Indies. I'm of the opinion that it was that little bit of Native American blood my Grandma had that made her fancy this recipe, but for all her seasonal obsession with the dish, I could never shake the nagging thought that my grandmother's interpretation of the dish may have been a bit too loose. I was fortunate enough to get my mitts on Grandma's recipe boxes after she passed, and that posole recipe was one of the first things I looked for. The recipe Grandma used came from a clipping out of the Hutchinson News, that was printed sometime around the Christmas Holiday back in 1984. The recipe as wrote made way too much for our small household, and when I started to do the measurements, I realized that my pound and a quarter's worth of ham hock would be plenty of protein. What's more, the now smaller proportions would be a perfect fit for a standard 5-6 quart slow cooker.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
To a 5-6 quart slow cooker, add the water and the ham hocks. Kick it to high, cover, and let 'er rip for 3 hours. At the end of 3 hours, take out the hunk o' meat and add the salt, Mexican oregano, cumin, black pepper, ancho chiles, garlic, and onion to the water. Turn the slow cooker to low, cover, and continue to simmer on low for 3 more hours. Meanwhile, when the pork hock is cool enough to handle, strip the meat from it, chop it up into regular-sized pieces and reserve it to add back to the soup. After the 3 hours on low have elapsed, fish the chiles out of the broth and add them to a blender with a half cup of the broth from the crock pot. Blend until smooth (about a minute or so) and add back to the crock, along with the meat from the ham hock. Dump in your cans of hominy, lid back up, and let it all warm up for another 20-30 minutes before serving.
- The original recipe from that newspaper clipping says to augment the hocks with a bit of diced pork shoulder (e.g. Boston butt) during the second simmer. Given that I was cutting this recipe in half anyway and my ham hock was about twice what I needed, I didn't bother. However, If you want to add +2 to pork power, there's probably enough broth here to support a little mo' meat.
- As soon as you pull the leftovers outta the fridge, you're gonna notice the grease. There's not a lot, but it's all tinted red from the chile so it's all quite noticeable. In my opinion, it's not even enough fat to fool with (and it tastes good); but if you're persnickety about your lipid, feel free to skim (it's your time).
- Be sure to puree the chiles long enough to totally pulverize those fibrous skins. If you could care less about the texture of your onion, you could blend the whole mess before adding the pork and hominy too. Either way, a good stick blender is a quick alternative to the clean up involved with a jug blender. If power tools ain't your thing, the other option is to scrape the pulp from the simmered chiles... um, yeah get the blender.
- Initially reading thru the recipe as wrote, I couldn't understand why they wanted you to dump the hominy in liquid and all. I was all ready to drain until I opened the can. The liquid is a bit starchy, and carries the flavor of the hominy well. If you decide to drain, then you'll need to add a little H2O (maybe a half cup or so) back to the soup to make up for what's cooked off in the first place.
The first time I read that recipe squirreled away in my Grandma's recipe box, I realized that what was down on the paper was waaay different than what I'd been served at Grandma's house for countless Januarys. Grandma's version never had a broth to write home about (and in her defense she was a depression-era cook), and I'm pretty sure Grandma just spiked the soup with crushed red chile flake instead of properly soaking dry chiles, as I'm certain I'd have remembered the deep velvety red color the simmered chiles impart to this soup.
We've got the Scoville-packing power of four ancho chiles in this soup, so you gotta know that you'll be getting a moderate amount of heat that stacks a bit with each spoonful. I'll be the first to admit that hominy by itself is pretty blah; but when you've got the essence of chile-spiked, smoky, salty pork fat adhering to the topography of each kernel, it makes for a perfect balance. Bury a thick slab of cornbread in each bowl, and you've got dinner in the bag.