Red Posole

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If you live in LA, it’s likely you already know what posole is. If not, you can think of it as a soul food dish of Mexican cuisine, incorporating many of the classic elements of soul food: cheap ingredients, fatty or off cuts of meat, and surprisingly deep, rich flavors given the limited ingredients used. Posole is thought to have been made since the time of the Aztecs and, when I make it, I love thinking about the long history of people who stirred the bubbling pot of hominy and pork before me. I also love that it has adapted well to my modern, rushed life; I can make one pot of posole and freeze a bunch of it so that we have dinners for a long time. It holds extremely well.

This version of posole is dubbed ‘red’ because it incorporates a rich chile paste made from ancho and New Mexico chiles. When Bon Appetit published this recipe, they called it “party posole” because it’s the perfect no-fuss dish for entertaining. As for myself, I’m rather busy and don’t entertain as much as I like, so I prefer to make a big pot that feeds us over and over again.

A few notes on ingredients:

If you’re not familiar with hominy, it’s just corn that has been treated to a special process, just like the corn that is used to make tortillas and tamales. It is delicious. I used this one from Rancho Gordo because I find it superior in flavor and I love their growing and sourcing practices.

As for the pork, the recipe calls for country style ribs but, I have to be honest with you, I just used a bunch of pork trim I had lying around. Any pork shoulder cut will work- stew meat, coppa roast, picnic meat, pork butt, etc. Don’t be picky- it’s against the intention of the dish.

On the chiles: the Mexican market is the best place to buy good quality dried chiles. Sometimes Rancho Gordo has them in stock but, usually, they’re sold out. To get the seeds out, I usually cut the top off with a pair of scissors and shake the chiles over a bowl.

Red Posole

From Bon Appetit: see original recipe here

Ingredients:

Posole

  • 1 ½  lb dried large white hominy, soaked overnight
  • 2 large onions, peeled
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 3 Tbsp kosher salt, divided
  • 3.5 lb bone-in country-style pork ribs
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Chile Purée and Assembly

  • 2½ oz dried New Mexico chiles
  • 2½ oz ancho chiles
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more
  • Avocado wedges, cilantro sprigs, thinly sliced cabbage, sliced jalapeños, sliced radishes, lime wedges, sour cream, tortilla chips, and hot sauce (for serving)

Instructions:

  1. Drain hominy and place in a large heavy pot; add onions, bay leaves, peppercorns, 2 Tbsp. salt, and 12 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, still covered, stirring occasionally, until hominy starts to soften (some skins will split), about 1 hour.
  2. Sprinkle pork all over with cumin and remaining 1 Tbsp. salt. Add to pot along with garlic. Partially cover pot and cook, stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed to keep ingredients covered, until hominy is tender and pork is fall-apart tender, about 2½ hours.
  3. While the posole is cooking, make the chile purée. Wearing gloves if you have them, remove stems from chiles and shake out and discard most of the seeds (for more heat, keep more seeds). Transfer to a large bowl and add onion and garlic; pour in boiling water to cover. Let sit until chiles are softened, about 30 minutes.
  4. Drain chile mixture, reserving soaking liquid, and transfer chiles, onion, and garlic to a blender. Add vinegar, brown sugar, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 cup soaking liquid and blend until smooth.
  5. When posole is done, remove pork, onions, and bay leaves from pot (keep posole simmering). Transfer pork to a plate; discard onions and bay leaves. Let pork cool slightly, then pick meat from bones, discarding any cartilage and larger pieces of fat. Shred meat into bite-size pieces and return to pot; discard bones.
  6. Stir chile purée into posole and let simmer 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Taste and season with more salt.
  7. Divide posole among bowls. Serve with avocado, cilantro, cabbage, jalapeños, radishes, lime wedges, sour cream, tortilla chips, and hot sauce alongside for topping.


 

What is leaf lard, and why should you bake with it?

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So, the internet is telling you to use this thing called pork leaf lard in your pie crusts. And so are chefs, foodies, bakers, and ranchers. BUT WHY? And what in the world is leaf lard? Well, I’m here to save the day and, I’ll tell ya, I had to scour some deep academic research papers to get to the bottom of the why. I mean, I've always told customers that leaf lard is the best, but when I went to find out why it yields such a flaky, tender pie crust, I couldn't find the answer. All the available info on the internet was superficial and non explanatory. Also, A LOT of it- even from reputable resources that I generally trust- was flat out wrong.

When it comes to animal fats, not all fat is created equal. They all have their own virtues, sure, but the more you get to know the anatomy of the animal, the more likely it is that you can identify and distinguish between fat from the shoulder, leg, loin, and so on. When it comes to pork, good butchers and charcutiers classify pork fat in different groups related to the kind of charcuterie you can make with them. When it comes to baking, though, the fat from one particular area of the animal is king. This fat, called leaf fat, comes from around the kidney of the animal, and the abdominal lining. It has a different texture than fat from the rest of the animal. It’s more delicate and soft, easily crushed between your fingers, and more mellow in flavor than fat from the rest of the pig. The fat, when rendered (or cooked down) becomes leaf lard. The rest of the fat from the animal, when rendered, becomes just plain lard.

Okay, that’s what leaf lard is. But what’s the big deal about using leaf lard in pie crusts? I know from experience that using leaf lard can yield an incredibly tender and flaky crust. But I really wanted to know why. From my research, I believe there are five major qualities of leaf lard that make it superior for pie crusts:

  1. Lard has a higher melting point than butter. This is a good thing because you want whatever fat you’re using to stay in crystals as long as possible in the oven so that the structure of the pie can set before they melt. This helps in the creation of flaky layers.

  2. Leaf lard has a higher smoke point than butter and a more mellow flavor than regular lard. This is a good thing because, most of the time, we’re making sweet pies and we don’t want them to taste like bacon. Also, butter can easily burn in a hot oven and when you’re trying to bake your pies nice and brown as is the trend today, the last thing you want is a burned butter flavor.

  3. Lard is higher in healthy unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats than butter. Okay, I’m not sure yet if this relates to the quality of your pie crust but, as I see it, it is related to the quality of your life. Interestingly, lard is also a good source of vitamin d and other healthy nutrients especially if the pig leads a good life and eats the right diet.

  4. Lard has a lower water content than butter. Actually, lard has no water in it and butter usually has between 14% and 18%. So, the thing about water in your fat of choice is that water activates gluten in flour and gluten is something you don’t want too much of in a pie crust. Not that you don’t want any, but you’ll have plenty of time to activate a little gluten when you actually add water intentionally to the crust. Until then, you want to limit the water.

  5. Lard has larger fat crystals than butter. From what I could tell from the research, this isn’t always strictly true. And this is important for butchers to know too. It seems that the size of the fat crystals correlates directly with the speed and intensity of cooling after rendering. FASCINATIN! SO, if you cool your rendered lard more slowly and over more time, you’ll allow larger crystals to develop. Large crystals of fat are good because, as with the higher melting point thing, the crystals take longer to melt in the oven, and create bigger pockets and, therefore, more flake.

Wow, I have to say, I’ll never cool my rendered lard the same way again. :) But seriously, though, it’s nice to know why things work they way they do. One important note to end with: it appears to me, from all the research I did, that many of these characteristics also apply to regular lard, and regular pork fat. The difference is that leaf lard has the more delicate flavor that bakers prefer for sweet pies. Also, if I can form one hypothesis for us all to think on, I also know that leaf fat renders faster and more easily than normal pork fat and that, perhaps, this interrupts the fat structure less, leading to those desirable big fat crystals. If you can’t find leaf fat to render or leaf lard to use, try regular lard from a good butcher. As long as it’s rendered slowly, it should have a mellow enough flavor. Remember to COOL IT SLOWLY!

Yours in pork fat,

Melissa

Here are some of the resources I used:

https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/299902?n1=%7BQv%3D1%7D&fgcd=&man=&lfacet=&count=&max=25&sort=default&qlookup=lard&offset=&format=Full&new=&measureby=&Qv=1&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=

https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2501&context=etd

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/04/how-to-use-rendered-leaf-lard-in-pastry-dough-recipe.html

 

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