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. Previously made almost always with slowly cooked pork, the chicken version of this classic (pozole de pollo) has become popular in recent years.
The following triple-whammy recipe will show you how to make basic “white” or “plain” pozole, then let you in on the few additional ingredients needed to turn this in a red or green version. In any of its varieties, pozole´s attraction and comfort food status depend on the complementarity and contrast of its main components: a hot, flavorful broth, slightly chewy corn and meat, and a wealth of bright, crunchy garnishes.
Making traditional pozole from absolute 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. Our version, however, makes a deliciously aromatic soup with much less effort, turning your pozole into a wonderful everyday type of dish. Don’t hesitate for a minute to serve it a party, though—your guests will be grateful that you did!
- 1 medium-sized to large onion, cut in half
- 1.5 pounds (about 700 grams) pounds of boneless chicken breast and/or thighs
- 12 cups (about 3 liters) good quality chicken broth
- 2 cloves of fresh garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin
- 1.25 pounds (20 ounces, about 550 grams) cooked, prepared hominy*
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon dried epazote (optional)
- ¾ pound (about 340 grams) white or purple cabbage
- 6 medium-sized radishes
- 6-8 Mexican limes
- ¼ cup dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons of powdered or crushed dried chile pepper (such as piquín or ancho chile)
*Commercially prepared hominy for pozole can be found in cans or jars on the grocer´s shelf or in vacuum-sealed bags in the refrigerated case.
Cut one half of the onion into 3 parts. Place the chopped onion, plus 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 to pieces of a size that can fit onto a soup spoon. Discard any bones, fat, or cartilage. Return chicken to the broth.
Finely dice the garlic. Add garlic and cumin to the chicken broth.
Empty the prepared hominy out of its can, jar, or bag into a strainer. Rinse it under running water, then drain.
Add the hominy, salt, and epazote (if using) to the broth. As noted above, the epazote is optional, but do use it if you can, as it adds a wonderful rustic note to the soup.
Allow the broth to boil gently for 20-30 minutes to that the flavors can meld. In the meantime, prepare the garnishes:
Cut cabbage into chunks that are no bigger than 2 or 3 inches (between 5 and 7.5 centimeters) 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 bowl.
Place the dried oregano and powdered/crushed chile pepper into a small serving dish—either together side by side in shallow bowl, or in separate tiny condiment dishes, however you prefer.
Before serving your pozole, taste it and add more salt, if necessary. (Hominy dishes often need more salt than you would think at first.)
Serve the pozole very hot in deep bowls; remember, room temperature garnishes will be added, which will significantly cool the soup, so you want it nearly boiling to begin with.
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, if you prefer. Limes should be squeezed with hands or a lime squeezer directly above the bowl of soup so that just the juice flavors the broth; discard the spent pieces of lime.
To Make Pozole Rojo de Pollo or Red Chicken Pozole
In addition to the above ingredients, you will need 2 or 3 dried red chiles (chile guajillo or chile ancho, or some of each). Insert the following procedure after step number 1 above: 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 (some people don´t care for the tiny pieces of chile pepper “skin,” others don´t mind them), then pour it into the broth. Proceed as directed beginning at step number 3.
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 (350 grams) tomatillos, 1 bunch of cilantro, 1 small bunch of parsley, and 1 or 2 small fresh green chiles (such as jalapeño or serrano).
Instead of step number 2 listed in the main recipe, do the following:
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 starting at step number 3.
Tips and Variations on White, Red, or Green Pozole
If possible, make the pozole one day before you plan to use it, then store in refrigerator until time to reheat; pozole is one of those wonderful dishes that are even tastier the next day.
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. Serving these tostadas as a side dish adds yet another crunchy element and a very satisfying creamy dimension to the pozole feast. Use a genuine Mexican cheese for the best flavor experience; try crumbled queso fresco or shredded Cotija or añejo cheese.
Some people prefer to use chopped lettuce (romaine or some other stiff, substantial variety) instead of cabbage for a garnish. Lettuce will not give you the same satisfying crunchy texture that cabbage does, but it may work better if you have picky eaters who won´t eat raw cabbage and/or folks who have trouble digesting cruciferous vegetables.
Many Mexicans like to add a liquid element to the garnishes in the form of a homemade Mexican table sauce and/or a bottled hot sauce. An oil-based salsa de chile de arbol is traditional for this use, but any sauce made with dried red chiles will work, or open a bottle of your favorite commercial hot sauce (brands such as Valentina, Búfalo, or Tapatío).
You can, of course, use this very same recipe to make a delicious pork pozole. Use chunks of boneless pork in step number 1 and slowly cook them, covered, in 12 cups (3 liters) 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; use half pork and half chicken.