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If It’s Thursday, This Must Be Posole

AND PEG ROSEN

It’s Thursday afternoon in the palm-cloaked town of Zihuatanejo on Mexico’s west coast. The doctor’s office is dark. Construction sites lie idle. The hotels are staffed with skeleton crews.

This isn’t just another siesta hour. Here, and in other Mexican towns dotting the coast, Thursday is posole day. By 2 p.m., tourists may still be at the beach, but locals are on their way to a serious feast that--between eating, socializing and simply digesting--will likely consume the remainder of their work day.

Posole , a dense, gelatinous stew of hominy and, typically, pork head, meat and bones, is eaten in many parts of Mexico. You’ll find a simple white version at cantinas in Guadalajara and a shrimp-based variety in mountain towns along Jalisco’s Ameca River. In Mexico City, overzealous revelers swear by posole as a sure-fire hangover cure.

But along the Pacific Coast, this gutsy concoction is the center of a time-honored Thursday ritual. On that day, humble posolerias , shuttered most of the week, come to life. Rickety tables are perked up with checked oilcloths, and kitchens emit the mouthwatering aroma of simmering meat and piquant spices. By mid-morning, local workers are busy debating which posoleria they’ll visit--a subject not taken lightly, since everyone seems to have a favorite.

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In Zihuatanejo, Teozintle is one of the town’s best-loved posole haunts. With only a small sign dangling out front, this utterly unassuming building on the busy airport road is easy for out-of-towners to miss. But locals have no problem. By 3 o’clock, VW Beetles, shiny sedans and dented pick-up trucks have filled the parking lot and spill out onto the road.

Shaded by a sloping red tile roof, the packed outdoor dining terrace offers a human profile of the town. At one table sit 10 Westin resort bellmen in starched white uniforms; another table seats five Sheraton receptionists in vivid floral prints. Nearby, 10 government officials pow-wow in open-necked dress shirts, and a doctor chats quietly with his nurse, wife and child.

Owner Arturo Meneses keeps a small stack of hand-lettered menus around, but regulars rarely request them. Their only dilemma is whether to order mild white posole or the lusty green variety (popular in the state of Guerrero) that is laced with toasted pumpkin seeds, epazote and fragrant hoja santa. (The neighboring state of Michoacan typically serves a red posole , spiked with guajillo chiles.) The intrepid, or simply indecisive, can visit the kitchen, where Arturo’s wife, Rosalva, offers tastes from huge caldrons brimming with pig snouts.

Once this decision is made, the ritual begins. Waiters carry fried pork rinds, crisp tortilla triangles and posole platters laden with shredded lettuce, chopped onions, red radishes, diced avocados, crumbled white cheese and sliced limes to tables littered with cigarette packs and tequila glasses. Aficionados round all this out with plates of pickled pig’s feet.

When the posole arrives, chatter dies down and diners turn their attention to the deep ceramic bowls before them. To the steaming broth, thick with morsels of pork and chewy kernels of perfectly blossomed hominy, they add some or most of the garnishes from the central platter. Then they get down to business.

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In the intense afternoon heat, beads of sweat form on foreheads, trickle down faces. Every few minutes customers pause to smoke a cigarette, mop their brows. Posole is a workout, often leaving green-horns feeling they’ve been physically pummeled. But when that soft breeze hits one’s moist skin and icy beer braces one’s tingling palate, this Mexican foil to midday heat puts dainty salads and air conditioning to shame.

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Traditionally, posole is made with hominy--a large kerneled corn treated with limestone and dried. To obtain a lively flower-like bloom, Mexican cooks usually remove the tiny hull from each kernel by hand before boiling for hours. In the interest of time and accessibility, we have substituted canned hominy in the following posole recipes. Additionally, most pork-based posoles rely on pig heads and feet for their hearty, gelatinous body. We suggest American cooks use stew bones and pig’s feet. If using feet does not suit you, feel free to omit them--the result will still be quite delicious.

Do be sure to present a generous garnish platter alongside the posole --it makes all the difference.

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This dish can be served as is with garnishes, or used as a base for red posole.

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WHITE POSOLE

8 quarts water

2 heads garlic, halved crosswise

2 onions, halved

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2 1/2 pounds boneless pork leg or butt

2 pork soup bones, preferably shoulder hocks

2 pig’s feet, cleaned and halved, optional

1 pound fatback, optional

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2 1/4 pounds boneless pork loin, in chunks

1 (2 1/4-pound) chicken, quartered

3 (14 1/2-ounce) cans hominy, drained

Salt

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Shredded lettuce

Red radishes, sliced or diced

Chopped onions

Ground chile piquin or cayenne pepper

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Dried oregano

Tortilla chips

Sliced avocados

Sliced limes

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Crumbled fresh white cheese or feta cheese

Combine water, garlic, onions, pork leg, bones and feet, fatback, pork loin and chicken in large stock pot. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and cook over medium heat until meat is tender, 1 1/2 hours. If necessary, add more water.

Remove garlic and discard. Remove chicken. When cool enough to handle, cut meat off bones into bite-size piece. Set aside. Discard bones and skin. Skim surface of broth to remove scum and excess fat.

Add hominy to soup and simmer 20 minutes. Remove pork and cut into cubes. Remove soup bones, fatback and pig’s feet and discard. Return chicken and pork meat to stock pot. Reheat until soup begins to boil. Season to taste with salt.

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To serve, ladle posole into soup bowls. Serve with lettuce, radishes, onions, chile, oregano, tortilla chips, avocados, limes and cheese in bowls on side. Makes 16 servings.

Variation--Red Posole: Soak 6 ancho chiles and 6 guajillo chiles in bowl of water 20 minutes. Rinse chiles carefully. Seed, stem and devein. Puree chiles in blender with 8 garlic cloves, 1 1/2 onions, chopped, 1 teaspoon oregano and salt to taste. Heat 1/4 cup oil in large saucepan and add blended ingredients. Cook 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Add to soup base along with meats. Proceed as directed. Makes 10 servings.

SHRIMP POSOLE

5 quarts water

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2 medium onions

3 heads garlic, cut in half crosswise

1/2 stalk celery, thickly sliced

6 carrots, coarsely chopped

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12 guajillo chiles, deveined, seeded and rinsed

2 pounds red snapper, cleaned

1 pound fish heads, backs and tails

Dried oregano

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Black peppercorns

Salt

1 medium onion, cut in half

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans hominy, drained

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1/2 cup olive oil

1 1/2 pounds large, peeled and deveined shrimp, heads and tails reserved

Red radishes, sliced or diced

Chopped onions

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Ground chile piquin or cayenne pepper

Dried oregano

Tortilla chips

Sliced avocados

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Sliced limes

Crumbled fresh white cheese or feta cheese

Heat water in large stock pot. Add onions, 2 heads garlic, celery, carrots, chiles, red snapper, fish parts, 1 tablespoon oregano, 1 teaspoon peppercorns and salt to taste. Simmer broth about 1 1/2 hours. Set aside to cool. Skim broth and strain. Discard solids.

Heat all but 1 quart of strained fish broth in large stock pot. Add 1 head garlic and onion. Simmer 15 minutes. Add hominy and simmer 15 minutes more. Remove garlic and discard.

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Meanwhile heat oil in large skillet. Add shrimp and saute until just pink and opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside. In same pan saute shrimp heads and tails until crisp and red. Add remaining fish broth and simmer 4 minutes. Strain broth, discarding solids. Add shrimp and shrimp broth to posole. Reheat over low heat 5 minutes.

Grind 6 chiles, 3/4 tablespoon oregano and 1 teaspoon peppercorns in spice mill. Stir mixture. Season to taste with salt. Add to posole. Continue cooking 10 minutes more. Ladle soup into deep bowls. Serve with lettuce, radishes, onions, chile, oregano, tortilla chips, avocados, limes and cheese in bowls on side. Makes 10 servings.


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