There are foods which you go out of your way to eat. A canele from Bad Wolf coffee, churros from Masa Azul, and tots from Nightwood are a few for my family. For me, there are also a few. One is pozole from Butcher & Larder. Driving a half hour for soup is something that requires a certain dedication, but I am nothing short of dedicated about B&L’s pozole (think “Faithfully“). Being short sighted, I never buy more than a quart when Chris and Rob make a batch. With the Chicago weather hovering near zero for basically a whole month, I was left without pozole for most of it.

When I ordered a bowl from a local shop, I got what amounted to chicken soup with giant white hominy floating in the chicken soup. This aggression will not stand. I found the giant white hominy to be excellent, but needed the heat and the stickiness that comes with standard pozole rojo. With that I acquired a pig’s head, or rather half of a pig’s head, got some great advice from Rob Levitt and Jonathan Zaragoza, and brewed up a batch of pozole for myself (and the rest of my family) and I have enough to battle whatever late January/early February wants to put on us.

Based on some basic pozole recipes from Bayless and the advice received from Rob and Jonathan, I broke the process down into three basic jobs – stock making, hominy fabrication and pozole production.

Making the pork stock was relatively simple. I added the pig’s head along with some aromatics, covered the pan with water and then foil and finally heated the whole pot in the oven until the house was filled with essence of pig head. After straining the stock, I took the bones from the pig’s head, removed the ear and chopped up the rest.

During the stock making process, I had been soaking the dried giant white corn in a pork stock solution. After a day of soaking, I drained the corn and boiled it in salted water for a three hours. At this point, I had pig’s head stock and what amounted to Bunyan-esque hominy and its cooking liquid.

To make the chili paste, I started with deeply roasted onions and garlic and pureed them with toasted and soaked chilis with some of the corn cooking liquid in hope of adding a little of the corn sweetness. As hard as I tried to remove all of the seeds, some still remained along with some skins that would not fully puree, so I strained the mixture into the soup pot. Next I added the stock, corn, pig’s head, oregano, and cumin.

After a long, slow simmer, I let the soup cool on the stove top. I was surprised to see the soup solidifying slightly off the simmer (it formed meat pudding skin at about 175 degrees). I figured, based on the Butcher and Larder pozole, the pozole would solidify when chilled, but this was a little more gelatinous than I was prepared for (no complaints, lip sticking soup is exactly what I was going for). The next day, I spooned the gel into a sauce pan and heated until it retook liquid form. While it cooked, I crisped the ear between two cast iron pans and chopped some cilantro.

With a bowl full of lip-smackingly gelatinous pozole topped with the green cilantro, bright lime juice and crispy pig ear, there were variances in flavors and textures everywhere. I love the use of the giant white corn as opposed to canned hominy. It brought a fun rusticity. The texture of the stock is a clear winner, but the addition of the corn water added a little sweetness to the deep spiciness. The pig head was boiled to a texture that seemed almost liquid-like. The lime and cilantro bring the richness of the soup back to earth a bit and provide a great, green counterbalance.

With quarts leftover, we are all set for a little while. Even with the excess pozole in the freezer, if B&L makes a batch you had better believe I will be there with a canvas bag and I will be bringing more than a quart home. You never have too much pozole – especially in Hoth-like Chicago.

Pig Head Pozole

Pig head stock

  • 1/2 pig’s head, shaved and salted
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 3 bay leaves

Step one: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add pig’s head, leeks, carrot, garlic and bay is a a deep stock pot or roasting pan. Cover with water and then foil.

Step two:  Cook foiled pot in oven for 6-8 hours. Remove and strain, reserving pig’s head.

Corn

  • 2 cups pork stock
  • 1 pound giant white corn
  • Water

Step one: Combine pork stock and giant white corn. Cover by 2-3 inches with water. Let sit for 12-24 hours.

Step two: Strain and cover with salted fresh water. Boil for 3-4 hours. Reserve water.

Pozole

  • 3 1/2 quarts pig head stock
  • 1 pint corn water
  • All of the corn from above
  • Reserved 1/2 boiled pig’s head, chopped – ear reserved and crisped in the oven
  • 6 guajillo chilis
  • 6 ancho chilis
  • 1 head garlic, roasted
  • 1 onion, roasted
  • 1 tablespoon cumin, toasted and ground
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
  • Salt

Step one: Toast seeded chilis in a dry skillet. In a large bowl cover chilis with boiling hot water. Let set under water for an hour.

Step two: Combine soaked chilis, roasted vegetables and corn water in a blender. Blend for at least one Clash song. Preferably two and preferably from London Calling. Strain through a mesh strainer.

Step three: Combine stock, chili paste, cumin and oregano in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add chopped pig’s head, soaked corn, cumin and oregano.

Step four: Simmer for 3-4 hours, tasting as you go. Season appropriate. Consume with cilantro, lime, a crispy pig’s ear and copious amounts of beer and loved ones.

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