February 12, 2018
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In Mexico City, Pozole for Every Mood
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On the hunt for the worthiest pozole in Distrito Federal.

Attend a party virtually anywhere in Mexico and you’re likely to be treated to a bowl of pozole, a comforting stew of hominy and pork served at every type of Mexican celebration since recorded history was, well, a thing. So when I recently moved into a new apartment in the Centro Histórico district of Mexico City and wanted to treat myself to a special meal with a friend, pozole was the obvious choice.

There are countless regional variations of pozole, the most celebrated being pozole rojo, from the western state of Jalisco, seasoned with mild, faintly smoky guajillo or ancho chiles. Pozole verde, another take, can get its color and verve from fresh herbs, like the distant oregano cousin epazote, or pepitas (Mexican pumpkin seeds, which have a pretty greenish hue), or both. Pozole blanco is the stew pared down to its essence; it obtains complexity mostly from its garnishes—which, regardless of pozole type, tend to be the fundamental trinity of chopped raw white onion, dried oregano, and lime juice.

Among such abundance, then, where to find the worthiest pozole in Mexico City? I called on Margot Castañeda de la Cruz, the food editor of Chilango, a magazine about Mexico City culture. She responded without hesitation, saying, “That’s easy. El Pozole de Moctezuma. It’s nearly 70 years old.” The establishment, she warned, was not exactly in a designer-boutique neighborhood.

When our taxi pulled up in front of a stucco apartment building with no visible indication of a restaurant within, my dining companion and I exchanged a look. Uncertainly, I pressed a doorbell whose placard read simply Pozole, and after a pause we were buzzed into the foyer of the building. In the absence of a better idea, we climbed the stairs to the second floor. We were, I supposed, either on our way to the restaurant or to Señor Pozole’s apartment .

Seated in a dining room that was clearly a converted domicile, we ordered pozole blanco. With what toppings, the waitress asked us. Well, what she did recommend? “The works,” she proclaimed with confidence. The works it is, we agreed. A glance at the menu as she disappeared into the tiny kitchen disclosed that this entailed the usual condiments and garnishes plus a Dada-esque list of items including raw egg, tinned sardines, fried pork rinds, radishes, avocado, fresh chile, and…mezcal?

Soon two steaming earthenware bowls were set before us. Into each the waitress cracked an egg, stirring them in slowly so as not to cause them to stiffen and scramble. At once the pozole thickened ever so slightly and turned a beautiful golden color. Then a cavalcade of onion, oregano, dried pequin chile, chopped fresh serrano chiles, and lime juice—plus half an avocado apiece. As she mashed in the sardines, I wondered if we’d been overambitious, but it was too late; here came the fried pork rinds, crumbled directly on top. At last she stood back expectantly.

And the mezcal?

“Try this first,” she said with a smile.

Even the friend I was with, a lifelong resident of Mexico City, pronounced it the best she’d ever eaten. Fortified by the avocado and egg, brightened by lime and fresh chile, with the sardines adding the subtlest oceanic whiff, it was pure, nourishing, and extraordinarily satisfying.

Then a small quantity of mezcal was mixed in, and our reactions monitored. The faint touch of alcohol somehow both receded into, and lifted up, the rich landscape of surprisingly harmonious flavors. An odd yet marvelous addition—but where did this tradition originate? Intrigued, we inquired after the owner, and soon Jerónimo Alvarez Gerduño, a friendly man in his 40s, was sitting at our table.

El Pozole de Moctezuma was once his great-grandmother’s residence, he explained. Pozole blanco being not just a family favorite but also bearing ties to her genealogical lineage—it’s the pozole of choice in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, where she came from—she’d tried her hand at selling it in her apartment and soon had a hit on her hands. The mezcal, Gerduño confided, had been his own innovation. What had made him think of it? “It seemed,” he said, considering, “like the right thing to do.”

Over a round of mezcal minus the pozole, we toasted the fact that even in a tradition with roots that date back to antiquity, every so often a wonderful little flourish can still come along and make it even better.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound bone-in pork shoulder or baby back pork ribs, or a combination of both
  • 2 medium white onions, peeled and quartered
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly bruised
  • 6 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 6 allspice berries, cracked open
  • 1½ tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 5 cups prepared hominy (3 15-ounce cans), drained and rinsed
  • Garnishes
  • 4-6 eggs
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground pequin chile
  • 2 serrano chiles, stemmed and coarsely chopped
  • The juice of 2 medium Persian limes, plus more to taste
  • 2-3 ripe avocados, such as Hass
  • 8-10 canned sardines, preferably packed in olive oil
  • 2 cups lightly broken fried pork rinds
  • 4-6 tablespoons mezcal
  • 15-20 tostadas, for serving

Here’s a recipe for one of the classic foods of Mexico as prepared in the state of Guerrero. Made of slow-cooked, mildly seasoned pork and hominy, it gets its savor and complexity from an abundance of unusual garnishes, including avocado and canned sardines—the favored garnishes at El Pozole de Moctezuma, the Mexico City restaurant that inspired this recipe. Traditionally made for parties and important holidays, this stew also makes an excellent and hearty one-dish meal for a chilly night.

  1. Place the pork, half of the quartered onion, 3 cloves of garlic, 3 bay leaves, half of the cracked allspice, and half the salt into a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover all the ingredients by an inch and bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until scum forms on the surface of the broth; skim it off with a spoon. Continue to cook the pork at a steady simmer, partially covered, until the pork is very tender but not falling apart, about 3 to 4 hours. Taste the broth a few times toward the end of the cooking process and adjust seasoning accordingly. When the pork is very tender, remove it from the pot and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Cut or shred the meat into ½-inch pieces, discarding the bones, and set aside. Set aside the pork broth in the pot it was cooked in.
  2. Meanwhile, about an hour before the pork is finished cooking, add the drained and rinsed hominy to a medium pot along with the remaining aromatic ingredients: the onion, garlic, bay leaves, allspice, and salt. Add enough cold water to cover all the ingredients by an inch and bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until a flavorful, aromatic broth has developed, about an hour. Taste the broth a few times toward the end of the cooking process and adjust seasoning accordingly. Strain the hominy from the broth, reserving the hominy broth.
  3. Add the hominy and chopped pork to the pot containing the pork broth. Stir it around a bit and observe—you should have roughly 50 percent hominy and pork and 50 percent broth. Add more of the hominy broth if you need to. Taste for salt, adding more if necessary. Place over a medium fire, and when the liquid comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered partially, until all the flavors blend, 20 minutes.
  4. Set the garnishes out in bowls at the table. Allow the pozole to cool slightly before serving—you don’t want the egg to curdle when it’s stirred in. Serve each diner a portion of pozole in a bowl large enough to allow room for all the condiments. Encourage your diners to try all of the garnishes. Start with the eggs: Allow a single egg per bowl; blend it before stirring it into the warm broth. Then, per bowl, continue with a tablespoon or so of chopped onion; a generous pinch of oregano; a pinch of pequin; about a teaspoon of chopped serranos; roughly 2 teaspoons of lime juice; half an avocado, scooped directly from the shell in chunks; 1 or 2 sardines, mashed slightly into the pozole broth; a handful of crumbled pork rinds; and 1 to 3 teaspoons of mezcal. Instruct diners to stir the entirety and enjoy with tostadas, broken directly into the pozole or eaten on the side.

James Oseland

James Oseland is the editor of World Food, a collectable book series forthcoming from Ten Speed Press that celebrates the world’s greatest food destinations; the first two volumes are about Mexico City and Paris.

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