While Andrew Carmellini is renowned for his Italian cuisine, his second cookbook, American Flavor, focuses on the diversity of cuisine across the country. From the barbecue in his native Cleveland to pozole, a Mexican comfort food so delicious it made it onto Carmellini's menu, American Flavor is a good reminder to always expand your repertoire.
Pozole is the Spanish word for hominy: dried corn kernels with the germ and husk removed. The soup known as pozole is a staple in Mexican cooking; the different styles you find across the U.S. depend on what part of Mexico the cook’s family comes from. (This version, for example, could be made, if you wanted to go that way, with veal head instead of chicken.)
My take on pozole comes from a classic family-meal staple at Café Boulud that was cooked up by some of our dishwashers, who came from Puebla. I loved it so much I actually put it on the menu.
This soup is really all about the garnishes. On its own, it has some heft from the hominy and a meaty savoriness from the chicken, but when you load it up with salsa, cilantro leaves, romaine, and tortilla chips, squeeze a good hit of lime on top, and dose it with a little hot sauce, you’ve really got something special. It’s a great party soup: make a big pot of this, put it in the middle of the table, and let everybody throw on their own garnishes. People love that.
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, halved and sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 6 chicken legs, split (about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds; if you can't find legs that are already split, use a meat cleaver to divide the leg from the thigh)
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 cups canned hominy
- 1 (4-ounce) can diced Hatch green chiles (about 1/3 cup)
- 2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1/2 medium red onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- juice of 1/2 lime (about 1 teaspoon)
- dash of your favorite hot sauce
- 2 limes, quartered
- 7 radishes, diced (about 1 cup)
- 5 green onions, chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 head romaine lettuce, sliced into thin ribbons
- 1 cup whole fresh cilantro leaves
- 1/2 bag corn tortilla chips
- your favorite hot sauce
For the soup:
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over a medium-high flame. Then add the onions and cook them for about 1 minute, until they start to soften up.
Add the cumin and chili powder. Cook for 10 seconds or so, until the spices release their aroma. Then add the chicken legs and mix well to coat the chicken in the spices.
Add the chicken broth and 2 cups of water, and turn the heat up to high. When the soup comes to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and stir in the oregano and salt.
Cook the soup, uncovered, for about 30 to 45 minutes, until the chicken is falling off the bone. Using a slotted spoon, pull the chicken out of the pot. Cool it down on a plate in the fridge.
In the meantime, stir the hominy and green chiles into the pot; then remove the pot from the heat. When the chicken has cooled, pull the meat off the bones. You can throw away the skin if you want, but I like to keep it on the meat and throw it in the soup for a little more mouth-feel. Watch out for rubbery pieces of cartilage and small bones. When you’ve pulled out anything you wouldn’t want to eat, add the chicken meat back to the pot and bring the soup back up to a simmer.
For the salsa:
In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes and onions.
Mix in the salt, the olive oil, the lime juice and the hot sauce. The result should be tangy, juicy and rich on the tongue.
I like to serve the soup in a pot in the middle of the table, with a big ladle that can pick up the chicken, hominy and liquid all at once. Give each person a large wide-mouthed soup bowl (so they can fit in all the garnishes) and make sure everybody grabs some lime to squeeze over the top.
Arrange the salsa and the garnishes in little bowls around the pot. Heap the tortilla chips in a big bowl, put a bottle of your favorite hot sauce on the side, throw some beers on ice and let everybody go to town.
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