I reached out to one of the most talented couples I know for their favorite holiday recipe.  What a pleasant surprise when I was rewarded with this lovely gift.  Their Christmas dish and accompanying story is filled with a long history, a rich family tradition and most of all love.

                   POSOLE DE PERLITA

claud perla evaPosole soup is a one-dish Mexican supper my wife Perla’s family has shared every Christmas as long as anyone can remember. Simultaneously comfort and celebration, the hominy and pork (or even free-range turkey) soup is passed around the table, and each person garnishes a huge bowl of the broth, hominy, and shredded meat in a different way: avocado, shredded cabbage, fresh chiles, radishes, cilantro, onions, chile sauce like creating a beautiful garden in the center of the table, and conversation plays as big a part in the dish as the edible ingredients.

This recipe began with Perla’s grandmother. I suppose anything that comes from a grandmother’s hands is comforting. On our very first date, Perla’s mother and grandmother were making posole soup at her sister’s. It was my first visit there. Her mother is Austrian-Hungarian, but she grew up in Argentina and learned to cook from Perla’s father, who was from Acapulco. Every single Christmas, Perla’s mother would buy a pig’s head from Grand Central Market, the only place that supplied Mexican foods and produce. Back then the reason to cook the head was economical: use every part of the animal. Today it’s more expensive to buy the head than the rest of the pig’s body.

Now when I make the soup I use a pork shoulder, which is called the butt. (The derrière is actually the ham.) And I use pig’­s feet, to replace the flavoring the cartilage from the head would have provided. Unlike other stocks, there’s no mirepoix. Just garlic, bay leaf, and black peppercorns. Perla’s mom wouldn’t add more than water and salt. Still, this version has met with her approval. The key to a great stock is to keep the water just this side of simmering so the meat doesn’t dry out and the fat isn’t incorporated into the stock. At the family gatherings someone is always famished and goes over to the stove to turn the heat up to a boil and speed things along, but you can’t do that. It’s a long simmer, but as soon as you can pull the bone free, the soup is ready. You pick off the fat, shred the meat from the bone, and serve it in a separate bowl.

I’ve been tempted to use fresh hominy, but Perla is convinced that the real dish needs Mexican white hominy: large, rough kernels straight from the can.

It’s the condiments that reflect the regional aspects of Mexico. Perla insists on the purity of a white broth, while I am of the red school, so I make a red chile puree and leave it on the side as another condiment, which I swirl into the clear stock. We always add Mexican oregano, crushing the leaves between our hands so that the smell is everything. And then tons of lemons; each person squeezes half a lemon into the soup, which turns the broth cloudy. And then we pass around the various condiments. We know some families who offer red cabbage as well. And some who put green apples in the soup. And the only other side dish we serve is fresh tortillas.

For fifteen years I have cooked posole soup for our family at Christmas. So it is a complete meal. And it’s so filling! Partly because you end up eating at least three bowls . . . until you need a nap. Which is a good thing, because by that time someone’s started an argument, so it is a good time to retreat to the couch.

Note: Mexican-style hominy is found in Latin American groceries. Try to purchase half-cooked hominy from a tortilla factory and finish cooking it at home. Alternatively purchase posole from a health food or gourmet store and cook according to the directions, 3 to 5 hours. Fully cooked canned or frozen hominy is available at most grocery stores.

 

POSOLE DE PERLITA Serves 10 to 12

For the soup 3 pounds bone-in pork shoulder butt, cut into 4 pieces 3 pounds pig’s feet, neck bones, or shanks, cut into 2-inch-thick pieces (have the butcher cut these for you) 2 large white onions, quartered 2 whole heads garlic, halved across the middle 1 bay leaf 2 tablespoons sea salt 4 cups fully cooked Mexican hominy (see Note) 1 recipe Ancho Chile Sauce

For garnish, optional Coarsely ground dried red chile Dried Mexican oregano Finely chopped white onion Halved lemons and limes Finely chopped red cabbage Thinly sliced radishes Diced avocado 1 recipe Ancho Chile Sauce

ANCHO CHILE SAUCE

Makes 2½ cups

6 to 8 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed, coarsely torn 1 teaspoon sea salt 1 teaspoon sugar 2 tablespoons white vinegar Combine the chiles, 2½ cups water, salt, sugar, and vinegar in a small nonreactive saucepan over high heat. Cook for 5 minutes. Cool slightly and puree in small batches. Strain and pour into a serving bowl.

Claud’s Bio:
Chef de cuisine for Dinner & a Movie, Claud Mann graduated from the California Culinary Academy and cooked his way up and down the West Coast, including stints as executive chef at the five-star Palmilla Hotel in Cabo San Lucas and Nicola restaurant in Los Angeles. His nonprofit endeavors include Project Open Hand and his own guerrilla catering company, Eat the Rich, which simply never made a penny. Claud also co-runs Mechuda Music, an independent record label, with his wife, vocalist Perla Batalla. They live in Ojai, California, with their daughter, Eva, and are breaking ground on a home-style organic restaurant.

Excerpted from Cooking from the Heart, © copyright 2003 by Michael J. Rosen and Share Our Strength, and reprinted by permission of Broadway Books.

Claud Mann  Email:  foodstories@mac.com