The arrival of cold weather signals the old Spanish tradition to hold a matanza (a family and community-gathering event, with friends and neighbors helping in the labor-intensive job of processing a large pig, sheep or goat). Pork is a necessary ingredient in preparing a popular local dish seen on many New Mexican tables during the winter holidays — posole (posole-eh).
Posole is a type of corn, similar to hominy. Its name comes from the Aztec-Nahuatl word potzolli. It was another word and dish new to Spanish newcomers to Mexico, who adapted it.
Posole can be meatless, but around these parts, is typically prepared with cubed fresh pork or pork chops, posole corn, a dash of salt and pepper, a little garlic, some oregano and cumin, or maybe some onion.
The best posole is cooked slowly on a wood stove over several hours, adding more broth or water now and then. No matter how it is cooked, posole needs to be simmered until the big corn kernels are soft and the stew gets to a thick consistency.
A Taos holiday wouldn’t be quite the same without posole. At every gathering, no matter if large or small, it is customary to offer guests a bowl filled with posole as they are welcomed. People have their own special versions of this hearty stew, but the basic ingredients never change. Sometimes dried red chile pods are added for that local flavor. Others sprinkle a little chile caribe on top, which is basically course ground pods after the seeds and stem have been removed and mixed with water or broth, with added salt and pepper to taste. Like posole, this dark red, fiery blend is best cooked slow until the mixture softens.
While a traditional Christmas dish, posole is also important for welcoming the new year. As midnight approaches on New Year’s Eve, it is customary to serve and share bowls of posole.
Not from around here? Clumsy in the kitchen? No worries. Many local restaurants offer posole as either a side dish or entree, especially during the winter. Whoever the cook is, understand that he or she is probably using a time-honored family recipe.