Sunday, December 28, 2014


This is going back a ways now but I'm on vacation, it's a good time to catch up, and since this was about the most complicated thing I'd ever cooked, and it came out just the way I'd imagined it, I have been meaning to post about it. It all started with our fundraising pig roast at Sebago way back in June - when our man Steve the Paddling Chef roasts a pig, he goes whole hog - literally. Here he is with his assistant chefs preparing the perfectly roasted pig for serving.

Now I like to make stews and soups and things with things I've roasted, and I'd heard that you can make some good stuff with a pig's head, so at the end of the event, when Steve didn't want it himself, I grabbed the head and brought it home. It had been picked over some by the cook squad, they'd grabbed the cheeks (some of the best meat on the pig) for themselves, but I still took it home and wrapped it up well and threw it in the freezer. I hit on the idea of making pozole almost immediately. I've made stuff that I referred to as pozole before, simmering a meaty pernil (roast pork shoulder) bone with hominy and throwing in a couple of dried peppers, and that had been good hearty winter food, but I'd had a feeling that I wasn't really doing it right, and I wanted to try making the real deal. I looked around on the internet for a recipe, finding one that looked doable on a site called From Belly to Bacon (that'll take you to the recipe).

The only tricky part was that from my first reading of the recipe, this was going to be a three-day event, with each day's piece being fairly lengthy (not requiring direct attention for the entire time, lots of simmering and soaking and stewing, but a bit much to try to squeeze in after a day in the office). The pig head sat in my freezer for a few months (TQ making cracks about The Lord of the Flies every time I mentioned it), gradually joined by a couple of pernil bones and some good pan drippings from those roasts to flavor the eventual broth. My window of pozole opportunity finally sprang wide open during Thanksgiving week, when I'd taken the entire week off from work and the first few days included some less than lovely weather. Don't think I've ever been so happy to see some cold and damp in the forecast - this time, that meant pozole time, no excuses!

I prepared by going and buying a pound of pig cheeks on the Friday before vacation, enough to replace the ones that Chef Steve and company had justly claimed as their chefly reward, plus some extras in case the pig head had gotten too freezer-burned. Got those at Pino's Prime Meats, a renowned old-school Italian butcher shop in SoHo -- there's a pretty good butcher shop on Cortelyou Road that I usually go to but I wasn't sure if they'd have pig cheeks; I was sure that they could get them for me but I wanted to have them in hand on Saturday, and with a lot of work to do before vacation I was tickled to find out that Pino's had 'em and I was able to run out and get them on my lunch hour. I was missing a few other items (giant white hominy, guajillo and ancho chiles, and cumin seeds) but there's a very good Mexican grocery, Los Jazmines, a couple of blocks from where I live and I was pretty sure they'd have all of that.

Cooking started on Saturday with a big roasting of vegetables. The recipe called for roasted onions and garlic, and I had an acorn squash that needed to be used that I figured would go fine with the pozole, and then I also had a mess o' beets from cleaning out the garden the weekend before (those weren't going in the pozole, but I figured I'd get them done at the same time).

The big Dutch oven TQ got me for Christmas a couple of years ago was crucial to this effort - I'm not sure how I could've done this without it! 

While the veggies were roasting, I ran out to Los Jazmines. Sure enough, they had a huge pile of giant white hominy corn right at the front of the store (phew - this is not something you see in every store, the pieces are about the size of those Corn Nut snacks) and then of course they had a million kinds of dried chiles, including the ones I was after. I forgot the cumin seeds but I was getting the leeks at my local C-town and they also have a good selection of Mexican ingredients. I had a fun exchange at Los Jazmines - one of the staff there saw the corn and the chiles (and maybe the big grin on my face) and knew exactly what I was up to - "Making pozole?" "Oh yeah!" 

With the veggies roasted and all ingredients in hand, it was time to get on with the official first step of the recipe, the making of the stock. Into the Dutch oven (with the nice caramelized roasted veggie juices in there) with the pig head, pernil bones, carrots, onions, garlic, and leeks, plus some pan juices from the earlier roasts that I'd frozen for this exact purpose. Filled the pot with water to cover, and then it went into the oven for long slow simmer #1.

Here it is after a couple of hours: 

A couple of hours later still, I browned the pork cheeks and threw those in, along with a box of Pomi tomatoes (again, not called for in the recipe but they'd been around  for a while and I figured I'd use 'em up) and a couple of chipotle peppers (ditto). 

It was already looking and smelling very good that point, a little before 5:00.

Shortly before 7, I couldn't resist any more and ladled some over leftover rice for dinner. It was already delicious just the the way it was. 

And that was it for Day 1. Somewhere in there I'd started the hominy soaking for Day 2. I let the pot cool down for a while and stashed it in the refrigerator for the night.

Day 2: It's interesting looking up the pictures and then looking back in my blog to confirm -- I'd originally thought the pozole production was an uninterrupted 3-day effort, but looking at the time stamps and November's blog posts, it looks like I actually fit Stage 2 in AFTER going and spending a fun day moving extremely heavy objects around aboard the Mary A. Whalen. What a productive day. I can't do it all the time (I wish I could, I would be a much more successful person if I could call up this particular genie at will) but on occasion, when there's a project I really want to get done, I can focus and get things done; this must have been one of those moments because there were a few things that had to happen on Day 2, and the last time stamp was about one o'clock in the morning on the 24th.

The hominy had to cook - that was the easy part, just had to throw it in a pot with some water for three or four hours.

While that was cooking, there was chile paste to make. This was supposed to include roasted onions and garlic but I'd accidentally thrown them in with the stock and at this point I wasn't going out for more, I just used what I had. Here's the mostly-cooked hominy, and in the pan on the left I'm roasting peppers and pine nuts. Once again, pine nuts aren't called for, but I had some left over from Pestofest 2014 and since they don't keep that long...maybe I should've called this pig head and kitchen sink pozole.
 Pulled out the pine nuts, threw in the cumin

 Reappearance of the giant pot. At some point I did get the bones and excess skin and fat out, now it was time to heat it back up again so I could mix in the evening's additions.

 Chiles, pine nuts and cumin all ground up - the actual grinding process was probably my most egregious departure from the recipe (although I also skipped the pig's ear garnish, I think those got eaten by the roasting squad too), as I did NOT have any of the Clash music recommended for timing purposes at hand and probably substituted some Talking Heads. TQ has London Calling but I totally forgot to borrow it. Shhh. 

 Aaaand all done with Day 2 - everything into the big pot and back into the fridge. 

And a little obsession with getting a project to a certain point is sometimes not such a bad thing - I'd wanted to get everything together in the pot on Day 2 so that the flavors could mingle overnight in the refrigerator (I learned from my mom that stews and soups are always better on Day 2 'cause of mingling time), which meant that all that was left for Day 3 was a few more hours of simmering. At the end of that, I had this:

And I served it with lime, cilantro (as suggested) and a little sour cream (not suggested but seemed like it would go well, which it did). And that was my great Pig Head Pozole adventure. Very good stuff - TQ had a cold when I made this and I took him a big container, it didn't quite cure his cold but he enjoyed it very much. If our Paddling Chef decides to roast another pig next year, maybe I can do it again - or I could try it with just pernil bones and some pork cheeks from Pino's, that would probably be pretty good too. 

Next big cooking project for a bad-weather weekend - I have got it in my head that I want to roast a goose. I'd sort of hoped to do that here over Christmas break but that's going to be a two-day event if I'm going to do it right, and there have been entirely too many holiday things to do for me to manage that.  


Baydog said...

Absolutely amazing!

bonnie said...

I knew you'd like this one!