By Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
In my wheelhouse of cuisine there are several styles, but my favorite is Latin. Bold and bright flavors hit the palate with a crash of delight. Luckily for me I get to practice and learn this style at my friend Omar’s place and see firsthand his family’s version of classic Latin dishes – I can testify they are my favorite.
Omar and his family are from Arandas, Jalisco which lays in the north Pacific coast of Mexico about three hours from the ocean, he tells me. This region provides much of the country’s grains, fruits and vegetables as well as the largest variety of fresh cheese, and is probably most famous for agave used to make tequila. Jalisco is the tequila capital of the world.
As with most regions around the globe, families will incorporate local foods into traditional dishes. In Jalisco seafood is abundant, but the most popular dishes have fork-tender, braised meats. One of my favorite dishes from this region is pazole, which is braised pork and hominy served with a lot of fresh garnishes and tortillas on the side.
My friend tells me his family will use the agave nectar, or tequila in their version of most dishes they prepare for themselves, and pazole is no exception. This is a stew that can be eaten like a soup, or the meat and toppings can be scooped out and eaten in tortillas. I personally like to enjoy pazole with warm tortillas and a squeeze of fresh lime, especially if Omar’s sister Bajis makes fresh corn tortillas!
This is an advanced recipe, but after your first attempt you will be a pro. You’ll want to create your own version and won’t need to follow a recipe – let your heart guide you. Traditionally pazole is red or can be made with fresh poblano peppers and tomatillos for a green version, or verde. My favorite toppings or garnishes are avocado, radishes and grilled Illinois sweet corn. You may like fresh, diced tomato or sliced jalapeño from your garden.
2 tablespoons dried chiles de arbol; these are hot so use more or less as you like
4 or 5 dried guajillo or ancho chiles
6 cloves garlic (2 smashed, 4 finely chopped)
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut in half
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large white onion, chopped
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 ounces of silver tequila, divided
1 tablespoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 bay leaf
3 15-ounce cans white hominy, drained and rinsed
Diced avocado, shredded cabbage, diced onion, sliced radishes and/or fresh cilantro, for topping and have some warm corn and/or flour tortillas on hand.
Break the stems off the chiles de arbol and ancho chiles and shake out as many seeds as possible. I suggest wearing vinyl gloves while removing the seeds, or be sure to wash your hands well after as the capsicum from the peppers will begin to make your hands feel very warm – touch your eye by mistake and you will have great regret! Put the chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling water; weigh down the chiles with a plate to keep them submerged and soak until soft, about 30 minutes. Transfer the chiles and 1 1/2 cups of the soaking liquid to a blender. Add the smashed garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt and blend until smooth. Warning! Hot liquid likes to explode from a fast moving blender. Be sure to cover the blender with a dish towel and start on low speed. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pushing the sauce through with a rubber spatula; discard the solids.
Rub the pork all over with the cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt; set aside. Heat the vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high. Push the onion and garlic to one side of the pot; add the pork to the other side and sear, turning, until lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.
Stir in 2 cups water, the chicken broth, oregano, bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of the chile sauce (depending on your taste). Bring to a low boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Add one ounce of tequila to the broth and drink the other ounce to your health, salud! Partially cover and cook, turning the pork a few times, until tender, about 3 hours.
Skip the next paragraph if cooking on the stove.
For those of you that like to use pressure cookers you may do the step above and then cook for 40 minutes. Manually release the pressure and add the hominy and chile sauce as below and return the pressure and cook for an additional 12 minutes and let the pressure naturally release. Adversely, once the meat is browned the recipe can be cooked in a crockpot while you are at work on low heat. When you get home remove the pork and shred the meat then return it to the crockpot with the chile sauce and hominy for an hour on high heat.
Stir in the hominy and continue to simmer, uncovered, until the pork starts falling apart, about 1 more hour. Remove the bay leaf. Transfer the pork to a cutting board; roughly chop and return to the pot. Add some water or broth if the pazole is too thick. Add the chile sauce and season with salt. Serve with assorted toppings and warm tortillas.