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Pozole Rojo de Puerco (Red Pork Soup)

Image of Pozole Rojo de Puerco (Red Pork Soup)
This month’s recipe submission is a “big pot” dish and one of the most flavorful that I have ever had the pleasure of making and, the best part, enjoying for several days thereafter! Submitted by Gabby Vargas, a member of Melissa’s Procurement team, this dish is literally and truly something special.

“Pozole is a tradition in Guadalajara, Mexico, where my mom grew up and learned to make it. It is usually reserved for special occasions, like a birthday or maybe Christmas,” Gabby explained. “I started making it for my own family using my mom’s recipe, but eventually made some very minor changes of my own. It has become one of my specialties in the kitchen— a big favorite of my husband and the kids!”

Actually, Pozole Rojo de Puerco is a centuries-old dish that originated in the kitchens of those culinary-creative Aztecs, who created many tasty dishes that are still enjoyed today— tamales, corn on the cob, and guacamole, just to name a few. The Aztecs even started the special occasion tradition of this dish, albeit with some pretty dark beginnings. Though the Aztecs farmed several planted crops, livestock did not exist, so the meat ingredient was their captured enemies who were sacrificed on special celebratory occasions and served as the event's main attraction. When the Spanish arrived, this cannibalism was banned, though these conquerors tweaked the recipe by substituting pork before eradicating the entire Aztec civilization. It was their own version of cultural cannibalism. Kind of ironic that the dish is now served during the Christmas season with such a gruesome history!

At first read, Gabby’s recipe seemed a bit complicated, but it really was quite a simple, two-part preparation with the added culinary perk of most all big pot recipes. The pleasant aroma builds in intensity and permeates the kitchen throughout a three-hour simmer. Basically, Pozole is a soupy stew of pork cuts with bone flavored with a few staple vegetables and then combined with a red sauce made from Melissa’s Dried California Chiles. The Pozole is finished when the meat becomes so tender it falls off those bones; it is then served individually, topped with fresh lettuce, sliced radish and a squirt of fresh lime juice.

While I did have to sub in pork shanks for Gabby’s pig’s feet and also baby back ribs for her pork backbone due to local availability, I found these substitutes used widely in many versions of other Pozole recipes on the ‘net. I also cut the measurements down some to match the size of my largest pot and the fact that I was cooking for a single-person household! Now that I tasted it, I wish I had used a bigger pot! Still, the spirit of the recipe was not compromised, as pork bones from any cut are the key to the unique flavor of this dish. In fact, Gabby suggested leaving those bare bones in the pot after the first serving as they would continue to add flavor to subsequent reheats. I can attest, after multiple servings, that the taste deepened with each heat-up. A wonderful experience that I looked forward to at each tasting!
Image of Gabby Vargas
Gabby has a unique perspective of Melissa’s growth and development as her history with the company started when she was just eighteen, working in our shipping and receiving department, then left for several years for other pursuits (five kids!) and returned about seven years ago, eventually working her way into her current role on the Procurement Team.

“Back in 2001, I pretty much handled all paperwork connected to each order,” Gabby recalled. “Back then, our invoices were not digital. Each were multi-colored (white, pink, green and yellow copies) that went to various departments once the order was completed and shipped. The biggest task and challenge were keeping track of daily inventories, assigning tracking lot numbers to new arrivals, and updating the counts of existing lots. Before the modern scanning system, everything was pretty much done by hand. Sometimes inventory days would go into the wee hours, 1-2 a.m., or until all sales and physical counts matched. It was a great experience and taught me so much about produce items that I didn’t even know existed!”

Fifteen years later, Gabby was back. She started in the company’s Food Service Department night shift working with chefs and restaurant accounts for about four years before transitioning into Procurement.

“I have a few roles in Melissa’s now that are far different from those days of inventory control! I oversee and manage the import of our products from The Netherlands and Spain. The 8-hour time difference makes this very challenging, demanding planning ahead in a business full of daily surprises. I also handle all import permits and keep them up to date and share this info with our importing suppliers, so we do not encounter any issues with the USDA. I also help manage all containers that come in from France, both those that are shipped directly from the port of entry to customers on the eastern seaboard and around the country and those that are delivered to our warehouse here in Los Angeles. Direct container shipments can be especially challenging – success is in getting the details right!”

With a household of 5 children and a recently acquired Great Dane puppy, Gabby says that she and husband, Walter must spend a lot of their time working. Still, the couple recognizes that some “self-time” is necessary for both the relationship and just to get a breather from the routine of managing a houseful of children + dog. So, they make it a habit to carve out time to attend concerts and their favorite sports trinity: soccer, football and basketball. In answer to one of this blog’s standard questions; if you could invite any famous person, living or passed, to your own table to try your dish, who would that be? Gabby was quick to answer:

“That would probably be David Bowie, whose music and personality I still love so much. He was such a mysterious personality, yet he seemed so intelligent! A chat with him would be very memorable. Definitely one of my favorite dinner guests wishes!”

And if her Pozole was on that table, there is no doubt that he was intelligent enough to stick around a few days to help finish the pot! Enjoy!

Pozole Rojo de Puerco
Image of Ingredients for Pozole

For the Pozole:
12 cups water
2 cans Juanita’s Hominy (25 oz. each), thoroughly rinsed
2 pork feet cut (4 pieces) – option pork shanks (2)
3 lbs. Pork Backbone – option pork baby back ribs (cut into 6-inch sections}
4 lbs. Pork chunks
1 whole white onion
2 whole garlic cloves
4 Knorr Chicken flavor bouillon cubes

For the sauce:
16 Dried New Mexico Peppers, stems removed
Garlic cloves
¼ White onion, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, to taste
Salt to taste

1 head iceberg lettuce, sliced thin
2 whole white onions, sliced thin
2 bunches red radish, sliced thin
10 Limes, sliced into (thin) wedges

Image of hominy
For the Pozole: In a large soup pot bring the water to a boil. Then add the hominy, bring back to a boil, add the pork feet or shanks, bring back to a boil.
Image of scooping fat
Add the rest of the pork, bring back to boil, which will release a foam—scoop with a slotted spoon. Add the whole white onion, whole garlic clove and bouillon. Boil for 10 minutes, then scoop off the foam again.
Image of simmering soup
Cover and let simmer for 2 1/2 hours.
Image of sauce
For the Sauce: Slice each dried pepper into 3 or 4 pieces, leave seeds in and slice off the stem end. Place them in a plastic container add water to cover and microwave for 4 minutes. Let soak for 30 minutes. Then transfer to a blender or food processor along with the rest of the sauce ingredients. Purée for 2-3 minutes, strain and set aside.
Image of veggies and pozole
After 2½-hours of simmering, remove the garlic and the onion, add the strained red sauce. Bring to a boil, scoop off the foam, lower heat again, partially cover and simmer for another 30 minutes, scooping off foam as needed. Stew is ready to serve when meat has been cooked to personal preference. Serve in individual bowls topped with lettuce, onion and radish slices with lime wedges on the side.

Most of the meat will fall off the bones during the simmering process; leave bones in the pot as they will continue to add flavor when reheating.

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