Pozole for Cinco de Mayo


It’s not a celebration in Mexico without pozole. The spicy, porky soup, laden with tender hominy corn and a fiery chile paste, is perfect for a crowd and just the ticket for a Cinco de Mayo party.

The trouble is it’s hard to find a really good recipe that you can make with readily available ingredients. I mean, who can find pork trotters without an exhaustive search?  Even the Mexican markets in my town don’t carry them.

Then there are the secrets that you’re not likely to know unless you grew up in the culture, cooking at your mother’s elbow. I struggled with the dried corn for which the dish is named through a couple of batches of soup before I understood that even the bags of corn in the Mexican market had to be boiled with slaked lime before washing and cooking.  The pozole tasted good but it was so rubbery and tough it was almost inedible. Cans of white hominy – many cooks’ standby – just didn’t appeal.

Luckily, I found the already treated – nixtamalized – corn at Steve Sando’s great online store, Rancho Gordo. Sando uses small Southwestern corn kernels for his posole (it can be spelled with and “s” or a “z”).  The treated kernels cook up tender and fluffy,  providing the perfect canvas for rich pork, lively chiles and the panoply of toppings that give pozole it’s festive character.

For my recipe, I started with Rick Bayless’ “Mexico One Plate at a Time.” No one does a better job translating Mexican food for American cooks than Bayless.  His recipes are authentic but approachable for anyone with a modicum of patience.

It can be difficult to find the appropriate ingredients, however.  Bayless calls for pork shanks, trotters and bone-in shoulder for his recipe.   I followed the advice of a sympathetic butcher and used country-style pork ribs instead.  The results were exceptionally good.

It takes more time than skill to make this dish and much of the time can be spent doing something else while the pozole bubbles away on the stove.  You can even make it ahead and rewarm it the next day.  The flavors will be richer after they’ve had some time to meld.

In the last hour, while the corn, pork and chile are simmering together, prepare the toppings that diners will add to the soup to their own taste.  Don’t skimp here. The mild, fresh flavors and varied textures of crisp radish, crunchy cabbage and silky avocado are a perfect counterpoint to the spicy soup.

I can’t think of a better party dish.  Viva Mexico!

Serves 8

1 pound Southwestern dried pozole corn
or 2 30-ounce cans white hominy
1 large head garlic (divided use)
4 pounds country-style pork ribs
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
2 large white onions,  chopped, divided use
6 medium dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 limes, cut into wedges
4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage
8 radishes, thinly sliced
18 crisply fried corn tortillas or good commercial tortilla chips
2 avocados, pits removed, sliced horizontally
3 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
Hot red chile flakes

If you’re using Southwestern dried pozole, measure 4 quarts of water into a large stockpot the night before you plan to cook and add the corn.  Let soak overnight.  The next day, peel garlic cloves and slice in half, reserving 2 cloves for later use.  Add garlic to the soaking pozole and bring the mixture to a boil with the lid slightly ajar atop the stockpot. Reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until the corn is tender.  Add more water if necessary to keep the corn from drying out again.

It may take as long as 5 hours to cook the corn but don’t be tempted to rush it.  Slow cooking at low temperatures makes for the most tender and flavorful pozole.  This step can be done a day ahead and the cooked pozole stored in the refrigerator until the meat and broth are ready.

In the meantime, prepare the meat and broth.  Bring pork and 1 ½ tablespoons salt to a boil in 3 quarts of water, skimming off the gray foam that rises to the top in the first few minutes.  Add half the chopped onions.  Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover pot and simmer for about 2 hours, until fork tender.  For the best flavor, let the meat cool in broth, then remove it and shred, discarding the bones.  If time is short, though, you may remove the meat from broth immediately and let cool before shredding.  Skim fat from broth and add meat.  Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

While the meat is cooking, stem and seed chiles and place in a bowl.  Cover with boiling water and soak, turning occasionally, for 30 minutes. Place soaked chiles in a blender with half of the remaining onion, soaking liquid, the 2 reserved cloves of garlic, and 2 teaspoons salt.   Whirl together until smooth.

When corn is tender, add pureed chile mixture into the simmering liquid.  Add the broth and pork and simmer for 1 hour, partially covered.

If you’re using canned hominy, this is the point when you drain, rinse and add it to the pork and broth with about 3 cups of water before simmering for 1 hour. Add more water if necessary to maintain a thin, soupy consistency.

When it’s time to serve, set out bowls of limes, sliced cabbage, sliced radishes, avocado, the remaining chopped onions, and fried tortillas for guests to add to their bowls of pozole.  Pass oregano and chile flakes for additional seasoning.

Adapted from “Mexico One Plate at a Time,” by Rick Bayless (Scribner, 2000)

8 thoughts on “Pozole for Cinco de Mayo”

  1. mmm, pozole. I’m a big fan of the red and the green varieties — and of both Steve Sando and Rick Bayless. 🙂

    We get our pigs feet from Marin Sun Farms ($4 a pound) or Prather Ranch; it’s best to pre-order from either place. Alternately, I’ve bought pigs feet in bulk and made stock, then frozen (or pressure-canned) it and used it as the base for pozole and other recipes that call for pigs feet. It doesn’t affect the taste much, but that lip-smacking texture is definitely missing if you leave it out.

  2. I’ve been looking for a solid Posole recipe. Thanks! The ribs sound like a perfect substitute for a nice, rich broth. Can’t wait to give this a try.

  3. Anita, Thanks so much for the tips on buying pigs feet. I’m sure they would be helpful. I did use pork shoulder with skin once when I found it in Portland and it did improve the texture. The ribs are great, though, if you’re shopping in an ordinary market.

  4. Anita, Thanks so much for the tips on buying pigs feet. I’m sure they would be helpful. I used pork shoulder with skin once when I found it in Portland and it improved the texture, too. The ribs are great, though, if you’re shopping in an ordinary market.

  5. I wasn’t sure how easily accessible the pigs feet were going to be in my hometown, but I found a little mexican meat market and they had some! I made this for Cinco and it was so amazing! Thank you so much, couldn’t have done it without your recipe and help..

  6. I like Rick Bayless but I’m really a big Dianna Kennedy fan as far as Mexican cookbooks go. But my alltime favorite is Mexico, The Beautiful Cookbook. Every fabulous dish I’ve ever had in Mexico is in that book and the recipes all make my kitchen smell just like the ones in Mexico City or Morelia.

  7. Hey, Cathy. Good to hear from you. I agree Dianna Kennedy is great but I think Rick’s recipes are more approachable for many cooks. Who published “Mexico, The Beautiful Cookbook”?

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