Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kitchen Table Project: Nixtamal and Posole

Another project. Corn. I've been fascinated with corn ever since I read about the huge variety of types, in gorgeous colors and all sorts of shapes and sizes.

I say with some remorse, that one year after my friend of the Dissipated Fog sent me these gorgeous, multi-hued samples of Peruvian corn, I STILL haven't tested them.

Part of the problem was not knowing how to cook them, or deal with them properly.

So the other day when I wandered into a bodega while waiting for my burrito at a little place along San Bruno, I thought, you should just look for the slaked lime. Not lime like "little green limes," mind you, lime like "calcium hydroxide" lime.

It's a process that's been used by MesoAmericans for some 3000 to 4000 years. And as with many curious chemicals that we use to cook with, but DO NOT EAT, please note that it is highly caustic, can cause internal bleeding, possible perforation of esophagus, severe pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and collapse. Just sayin'.

So anyway, there it was, this poisonous caustic chemical innocently sitting there in a plastic packet for $0.89. I scooped up that and a bag of gigantic, pale, white cacahuatzintle kernels, which are usually meant for posole.

An experiment. A Kitchen Table Project.

It would be easier of course, if a cat were not sitting on my instructions, but what can you do? I'll go from memory...

So we split a handful of the kernels off into a small pot and boiled them only in water.

1-1/2 lbs cacahuazintle
2 quarts of water
2-1/2 Tablespoons slaked lime (Cal)

In a large non-reactive pot, mix the water and lime until it is completely dissolved (the water will still look milky) and bring it to a boil over a high heat. Add the corn to the pot, skimming off any kernels that float on top. Bring the pot back to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer 20 minutes.

Fascinatingly, the corn went from white to yellow, a pretty bright yellow as it cooked. Note from the picture left that the corn we bought was con cabeza, that is, it still has the little pedicel or tab where the corn kernel used to be attached to the cob. You can also buy cacahuazintle that is already descabezado or pedicel removed.

After 20 minutes, turn off the heat and let the pot cool for 15 minutes.

Drain the corn in a colander and rinse under running water--you'll notice that the skins have turned into a sort of gelatinous slime that is easy to rub off with your fingers -- although I advise wearing rubber gloves because the chemicals did really dry out the skin on my hands a lot!

You can also use a sharp paring knife or your fingernail to pick off the pedicel or the rough tab at the end of each kernel. (This was the key step that we skipped, but don't. When you make posole, you want the kernels to bloom--kind of like soft popcorn, and it won't if you don't pick off the pedicel.)

By the way, if this skin-shucking process sounds tedious, it's evenmore so in real life. Jeez, my respect to all those Mexican grandmas who cook for the family of 20 every day.


1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cloves
5 peppercorns
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
2 quarts water

4 guajillo chiles
4 pasilla chiles
1 cup water

Condiments (which in my opinion are not optional.)
shredded cabbage
sliced radishes
dried oregano
chopped onion
chopped cilantro
avocado slices
limes wedges
corn tortillas, sliced into strips and fried in canola oil

Heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Brown the pork pieces until they have a nice dark crust. Reduce heat to medium and add chopped onion. Saute over medium heat until the onions soften.

Grind the cloves and peppercorns using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder. Add the garlic and spices and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about one minute. Add 2 quarts water and simmer until pork is tender, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, de-seeds ancarefully (i.e. with hands covered in rubber gloves, remove the seeds and veins from the dried chiles, and toast briefly on a dry skillet. Transfer to a saucepan with 1 cup of water, and cook until over low heat until tender, about 30 minutes. Once cooked, blend the chiles with enough water to make a smooth sauce.

When the pork is tender, add chile sauce and nixtamal (along with its rich cooking liquid) to the pot. Simmer for another hour.

Serve posole hot in soup bowls, with a selection of condiments for the guests to add as they wish.

If the posole had actually bloomed, it would have been better, but tasty...very tasty!

1 comment:

ChileFarmer said...

Very good post, now I know what to do with all that Mexican corn we have planted. I too am fascinated with corn (Elote) The best way I have ever eaten corn. If you haven't tried it please do. CF