Pozole is a celebratory dish. And while its highest holiday associations may indeed be New Year’s Eve, Christmas or Mexican Independence Day–all Winter and Fall holidays to be sure–it nevertheless felt fitting to channel a celebration, in honor of our next guest.
Chef Sarah Thompson is a consummate badass. Since graduating from culinary school in 2010, Sarah has payed her dues cooking for and alongside some of the very best in the New York restaurant scene. Her resume includes formative stints at Michael White’s Marea (she could tell you how to really make the octopus and bone marrow fusilli pasta, but she’d have to kill you), Alder (Wylie Dufresne), and led teams at several Andrew Carmellini restaurants, including Locanda Verde, Lafayette and Leuca.
I’d drop the mic now for Sarah, but there’s actually more.
I first met Sarah in the early days of Cosme, where, yes, she ALSO cut her teeth as a young line cook. I’d personally make deliveries to the Cosme kitchen one to two times a week and quickly noticed that she never stayed in one part of the kitchen too long. Wherever she was planted, she’d crush it, and she’d ascend through the ranks accordingly.
Sarah has since been tapped to open the much-anticipated Elio in Las Vegas, by our friends Daniela Soto-Innes and Enrique Olvera. Not only is this a significant cornerstone in her career, I do believe that this will be the first in-house masa program in the history of the Las Vegas strip.
Like I said, friends, it’s a celebration. So we’re making pozole.
Proudly sourced from our partner Don Armando (the legend that brings us our cónico varietals), the cacahuazintle landrace is the star of this week’s special. With its soft, floury starch and large kernel size, cacahuazintle blooms into a beautiful addition to any soup or stew. Here, Sarah shares her go-to recipe and approach to pozole from Utah, where she’ll be corn-tining in Fall-ish weather until Elio opens for service.
750 g Cacahuazitle
7 g Cal
12 qt Water
150 g Grapeseed oil
3 # Pork shoulder
70 g Guajillo chile, no stem or seed
15 g Ancho chile, no stem or seed
50 g Garlic, sliced
500 g Onion, small dice
15 g Ginger, brunoise
3 g Bay leaf
10 g Mexican oregano
8 qt Water
PRE-COOK: Although cacahuazintle looks similar to some corn varieties I have used to make masa, the cook is different. For this application we cook the corn with less cal than when making tortillas. We also want to cook the corn all the way through (no white/chalky look in the middle), whereas for tortillas the corn is supposed to be a ‘medium rare’. The corn before it is cooked is hard and the outer layer flakes away (this will be removed with the initial cook). Unlike most corn varieties (like bolita or chalqueño) cacahuazintle varies in size, therefore when you cook it you would always test the largest pieces to be sure they are cooked though.
I used a gas range and the largest stock pots I had available to cook the corn. Typically you should have 4 parts water to 1 part corn. You want to cook corn in the same way you would blanch a vegetable: a large volume of water at a rolling boil, otherwise the corn will take a long time to cook and will not cook evenly.
COOK: I started by bringing the water to the boil and adding the cal – I take a small amount of the boiling water to dissolve the cal before adding it to the large pot of boiling water. Next I added the corn, cooking it for 30 minutes before rinsing under cool running water to remove the outer layer. In a perfect world I would then add the corn to my pozole base but I did not have a pot large enough – so I had to cook them separately. The corn took around 4 hours to cook through (about the same time it takes the pork shoulder to cook properly) and required additional water throughout to keep it submerged as the kernels expand drastically as they take on water.
NIXTAMALIZATION: One thing that I have learned from moving from NYC to Las Vegas is that water affects this process greatly. Water in Las Vegas is very hard and high in iron – getting the proper ratio of cal to corn was difficult and vastly different than the process we use in NYC. At Elio we have to add an additional 2 g of cal per kilo of corn to get the masa to be light and fluffy, and have the tortilla puff. I used the 1 % ratio for this preparation and found that because the cacahuazintle is being processed differently than masa I did not see a significant difference.
NIXTAMALIZATION: Rinsing the cacahuazintle to make pozole to remove the outer layer – If the bottom tip came off naturally I kept it off – but I do not find it to make a huge difference in texture so it was not a priority in the process. The corn can be deemed fully cooked once it is tender all the way through and translucent, you should not see any chalky white color in the center. The texture is somewhat bouncy but takes on the flavor and complements the richness of the broth and pork.
Other notes: I have found that even though it takes much longer (closer to 6 hours), you can cook the cacahuazitle without any cal. This will keep the outer layer of corn on and give it a nice bouncy texture.
Cook: Remainder of the recipe (after corn).
- Clean all of the chiles by removing the stem and seeds. Toast in a 350 F oven for 1-2 minutes. The chiles should be very fragrant. Rehydrate the chiles with enough water to cover, once the chiles are tender blend in vita prep (or blender) with enough water to cover until smooth.
- Cut pork shoulder into large cubes and season generously with salt. Sear on all sides in large pot with 75 g of grapeseed oil. Remove from pot.
- In same pot/oil cook onion, garlic, and ginger until translucent.
- Being sure the pan is ripping hot and add the blended chiles, the chiles should fry in the oil with the onions until it resembles a paste and is very aromatic.
- Add pork shoulder and cover with 8 qt of water. Cook over low heat until the pork is tender and shreds easily, this should take 3-4 hours. (Around the same amount of time it takes the corn to cook).
- Remove the pork and shred, it will be easy to do while hot, this also ensures the pork will not dry out.
- If you have a large enough pot you can cook the pork and corn together, adding water as needed as the corn takes it in.
- Season the broth to taste with salt as needed.
- To plate you can garnish the pozole with various things (all to taste) – I used cilantro, serrano, lime, crema, queso fresco, shredded cabbage, tostadas, radish, tomatillo, and escabeche vegetables.