December 26, 2012
If you weren’t lucky enough to have a Mexican grandmother—as I was, god rest her overbearing soul—then you may not be familiar with the manifold charms of posole, which for my money is the best of the great trio of Mexican soups: tortilla soup, menudo and the tragically less-well-known posole. Tortilla soup is an actual Mexican thing; you may not believe it if all you’ve had is whatever watery cilantro-choked version they’re pushing at your local Tex-Mex place, but real tortilla soup is delicious, albeit quite simple and better as a starter than an entree, in my opinion. As for menudo, I can’t figure out why anyone has even heard of this soup and have concluded it must be that band, because since when do Americans eat tripe? But posole is a whole different story. It’s rich and versatile and filling, it’s good as a starter or a main, and it encourages the liberal use of garnishes, which is always a plus in my kitchen.
Please note that this recipe—which after years of making it I actually bothered to write down for you, dear reader—isn’t traditional posole. You remember what I said about not following recipes? So. This soup is what happened when I was craving posole and didn’t have any pork or chiles, but did have some chicken and a whole lot of collard greens and figured, you know, why not? I should note here that the other major influence on my cooking besides having a Mexican grandmother was growing up in the South, which means I eat greens constantly and am also perpetually in search of reliable online grits purveyors—but that’s a subject for another post.
What makes this recipe work (and the reason it has so many steps) are the layers of flavor. Each main ingredient—greens, chicken, hominy, tomatoes—gets its own personal seasoning and is cooked briefly on its own before being added to the pot, so the posole has a wonderful depth of flavor. The recipe evolved over the years to include dried chiles, which makes it taste more like traditional posole, but I’ve kept the tomatoes because I love how their sweetness offsets the spice. Speaking of which, you should adjust the spiciness to your taste: if you want it hotter, use more of the chiles de arbol; if you don’t like heat, leave those out and stick with the milder anchos. Because this soup is so crowded with ingredients I skip most of the usual posole garnishes, like avocado and shredded cabbage, and just sprinkle on some diced onion to serve. But feel free to improvise.
3 lbs. bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, with their juices 2 28-ounce cans white hominy, with its juices 1 6-ounce can tomato paste 2-3 dried ancho chiles 2-4 dried chiles de arbol 2 bunches collard greens, coarsely chopped, only the very end of the stems removed 2-3 tbsp. olive oil 3 tsp. dried whole mexican oregano, crumbled 1 tbs. chile salt or purchased Mexican spice rub ½ tsp. dried chile flakes ¼-½ tsp. nutmeg 1-2 cups canned unsalted chicken stock (it depends on how thick you want the soup) Finely chopped Spanish onion (for garnish)
FOR CHICKEN: Preheat oven to 350.Separate the skin from the chicken breasts (but don’t remove) creating a pocket so that you can rub the chile salt directly onto the chicken meat. Then sprinkle the outside skin with salt and pepper and roast on a baking sheet for 45 minutes, or according to package directions; cook time may vary depending on size of breasts. (The chicken’s, not yours.) (Sorry.) Set chicken aside until it’s cool enough to handle, then shred with a fork or just use your fingers. You can also cut it into a bite-sized dice, but I love the texture of the shredded meat in the stew. Set aside.
FOR HOMINY: Boil a kettle of water, then place your chiles in a large heatproof, nonreactive bowl (like pyrex); pour water over, cover and let stand for about 20 minutes, or until chiles are pliant. When chiles are soft, drain and squeeze out excess water. remove stems and seeds, then chop finely—the chiles will get mushy and almost form a paste. In a large skillet, add the hominy with its can juices, then add chiles. Bring to a simmer over med-hi heat, then lower heat to medium and simmer for a few minutes. Transfer hominy-chile mixture, together with the shredded chicken, to a large stockpot; cover, then place on very low heat, and allow the flavors to begin to meld as you prep the rest of the ingredients.
FOR TOMATOES: In the same skillet you used for the hominy, add the cans of tomatoes with their juices and cook on med-hi heat, Breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Add your whole oregano, crumbling it into a powder with your fingers. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until you can smell that the oregano oils are activated, around 5 minutes, then stir in tomato paste. Continue to simmer and stir until tomato paste has melted, then add tomato mixture to your soup pot.
FOR GREENS: Add olive oil to your skillet and adjust heat to medium. Heat oil until it begins to simmer, then add greens, working in batches if you need to. Stir to coat greens in oil, then add chile flakes, nutmeg, and a sprinkle of salt. Saute briefly, just until greens begin to grow fragrant. Remove skillet from heat, then add greens to the soup pot.
FOR SOUP: Now all your ingredients are in the pot and it’s time for you to decide what kind texture of soup you want. Do you want a lot of broth? Do you prefer it thick and stew-like (that’s how I like it)? Add your stock until you achieve the thickness you want. You can also use the stock to adjust the flavor—if you’ve used too many chiles you can cool it down by increasing the stock. Once the soup is the consistency you want, cover and simmer on medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and ground pepper. Inevitably at this stage I decide the soup’s not hot enough, so I add more chile flakes, or some Tobasco, or really just whatever. The best thing about soups is how hard they are to screw up, so season it however you like, and then eat it with some cornbread and a Romaine salad. Buen provecho!