Pozole (pronounced poh-SOH-leh), sometimes spelled posole in the southwestern United States, is the quintessential Mexican party food; patriotic holidays, weddings, and patron saints’ days are frequently celebrated with a steaming bowl of this fragrant, comforting soup. Originally made with slowly cooked pork, the chicken version (pozole de pollo) of this classic has become popular in recent years.
The following recipe will show you how to make basic “white” or “plain” pozole, and then let you in on the few additional ingredients needed to turn this into a red or green version. In any of its varieties, pozole´s attraction and comfort food status thrives because of its main components: a hot, flavorful broth, slightly chewy corn and meat, and a wealth of bright, crunchy garnishes.
Making traditional pozole from scratch involves nixtamalizing the corn kernels, a labor-intensive process that takes at least a couple of days. Such elaborate preparation is well worth the effort when one is making dozens of servings for a special occasion. In this version, however, you can make a deliciously aromatic soup with much less effort, turning your pozole into a wonderful everyday type of dish. But do not hesitate to serve it at a party—your guests will be grateful that you did.
- 1 large onion (cut in half)
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breast and/or thighs
- 12 cups good quality chicken broth
- 2 cloves garlic (finely diced)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 1/4 pounds prepared (cooked) hominy
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Optional: 1/2 teaspoon dried epazote
- Garnish: 3/4 pound white cabbage (or purple cabbage)
- Garnish: 6 medium-sized radishes
- Garnish: 6 to 8 Mexican limes
- Garnish: 1/4 cup dried oregano
- Garnish: 2 tablespoons powdered chili pepper (or crushed dried chile pepper, such as piquín or ancho chile)
Gather the ingredients.
Cut one half of the onion into 3 parts.
In a large soup pot, place the cut up onion and the chicken into the broth and boil gently for about 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
Skim off and discard any foam that rises to the top of the cooking liquid.
Remove the chicken and allow it to cool enough to handle safely. Remove the pieces of onion from the broth and discard them. Shred or chop the chicken into pieces that can fit onto a soup spoon. Discard any bones, fat, or cartilage.
Return chicken to the broth and add garlic and cumin.
Empty the prepared hominy into a strainer. Rinse it under running water, then drain.
Add the hominy, salt, and epazote (if using) to the broth. (Although epazote is optional, use it if you can, as it adds a wonderful rustic note to the soup.)
Allow the broth to boil gently for 20 to 30 minutes so that the flavors can meld.
To prepare the garnishes, cut the cabbage into chunks that are no bigger than 2 or 3 inches long on each side. Shred each chunk with a grater or cut with a sharp knife into thin slices. “Fluff” the shredded cabbage with your fingers so that the slices separate from one another. Place the cabbage into a serving bowl.
Cut the stem and tail off of each radish. Cut radishes into halves or quarters, then thinly slice each piece.
Dice the other half of the onion. Cut limes into halves or quarters.
Place the sliced radishes, diced onion, and cut limes on a serving plate or in a bowl.
Place the dried oregano and powdered chile pepper into a small serving dish—either together side-by-side in a shallow bowl, or in separate small condiment dishes.
Before serving your pozole, taste it and add more salt, if necessary. Hominy dishes often need more salt than you would think.
Serve the pozole very hot in deep bowls; remember, room temperature garnishes will be added, which will significantly cool the soup.
Commercially prepared hominy can be found in cans or jars on the grocery store shelf or in vacuum-sealed bags in the refrigerated case. You can use dried hominy, but it would add another 12 hours to the cooking time.
Pass the garnishes so that each diner can prepare his or her serving to taste. In Mexico, the garnishes are often picked up with the fingers to place into the bowl of pozole, but you can provide tongs or spoons for each ingredient. Hand-squeeze the limes or use a lime squeezer directly above the bowl of soup so that just the juice flavors the broth.
In Mexico, pozole is often served with tostadas (relatively flat baked or fried corn tortillas) slathered with Mexican crema (or sour cream) and sprinkled with shredded or crumbled cheese. Use a genuine Mexican cheese for the best flavor experience; try crumbled queso fresco or shredded Cotija or añejo cheese.
If possible, make the pozole one day before you plan to serve it, then store in the refrigerator until time to reheat. Pozole is one of those wonderful dishes that is even tastier the next day.
Many Mexicans like to add a garnish of a homemade Mexican table sauce or a bottled hot sauce. An oil-based salsa de chile de arbol is traditional for this use, or any sauce made with dried red chiles or a commercial hot sauce like Valentina, Búfalo, or Tapatío.
Some people prefer to use chopped lettuce (romaine or some other stiff, substantial variety) instead of cabbage for a garnish. Lettuce is not as crunchy as cabbage, but it is a good substitution for picky eaters who will not eat raw cabbage or who have trouble digesting cruciferous vegetables.
If you prefer pork, you can use this very same recipe to make a delicious pork pozole. Slowly cook chunks of boneless pork, covered, in 12 cups of water together with the half onion for an hour or so, until very tender. Omit the chicken broth and use the liquid the meat cooked in for the rest of the recipe. Another option is to use half pork and half chicken.
To Make Pozole Rojo de Pollo or Red Chicken Pozole: In addition to the standard recipe ingredients, you will need 2 or 3 dried red chiles (chile guajillo or chile ancho, or some of each). Cut each chile open and remove the seeds; discard seeds and stem. Allow the chiles to soak in 1 cup of very hot water for about 15 minutes until they have softened. Place chiles, soaking water, garlic, cumin, and a little of the chicken broth into a blender and process until smooth. Strain this mixture, if desired, and then pour it into the broth, continuing with the recipe as directed.
To Make Pozole Verde de Pollo or Green Chicken Pozole: For this delicious, herby variety of pozole, you will need (in addition to the ingredients listed in the main recipe): 12 ounces tomatillos, 1 bunch of cilantro, 1 small bunch of parsley, and 1 or 2 small fresh green chiles (such as jalapeño or serrano). Gently boil the tomatillos in enough chicken broth to cover for about 10 minutes or until they have changed color from a bright green to an olive green. Remove stems and seeds from the chile pepper(s). Cut off any roots or wilted parts from the cilantro and parsley. Place tomatillos, their cooking liquid, chile(s), cilantro and parsley (leaves and stems of both herbs), garlic, and cumin into a blender and process until you get a relatively smooth mixture. Pour this mixture into the broth and continue with the recipe as directed.