february 20, 2015
We have been waiting patiently in Richmond for the first snow of the season. Not flurries, but real snow with accumulation and temperatures that ensure it will remain beyond a fleeting moment. Wishes came true this week with a magical snowfall of half a foot, making kids and grownups alike giddy with the prospect of play followed by snuggling by the fire enjoying comforting meals and hot beverages.
It’s the perfect time to create a hot, no-fuss meal in the slow cooker, ready when the snow day winds down and it’s time to put away the sleds and snow shovels. I am certain my friends in the Northeast and New England will cringe when I admit this : I am in love with winter. Sweaters, fires in the fireplace and outdoor fire pit, pink and purple streaked skylines webbed by bare tree branches and mourning doves on the power lines, the crisp coolness of that first rush of morning air and, yes, the occasional snow which is rarely troublesome in the South.
And winter food! Soups, stews and braises. Your real cooking skills are revealed in winter, while the warm weather months have you flipping food on the grill, or rearranging foods on a plate or big bowl; not to denigrate grilled meals and big salads, but when you spend time prepping and nurturing a simmering pot of something delicious and comforting, the final product announces your kitchen prowess.
For years I had a prejudice against crock pot meals, believing they were just dumping grounds for ingredients and the inelegant way to cook something a real kitchen wizard would craft in a masterful manner. Then I got a hankering for Mrs. Green’s beef and cabbage soup, and borrowed my friend’s slow cooker to recreate my memory of that aromatic chunky broth. Now I own both a three quart cooker and a big old six quart pot for feeding a crowd. And I no longer think crock pots are for kitchen wimps.
There are as many pozole recipes as there are for lasagna or beef stew; almost always there is hominy corn and herbs and seasonings like cumin and cilantro. Today, fresh tomatillos add a tart, lemony back note and heat comes from one of my favorites, ground chipotle pepper. Serve with a citrus salad and homemade corn tortilla crisps.
This fragrant pork stew, inspired by the beloved Mexican one pot meal, may be made ahead and frozen, taken out for that snowy day by the fire, and its ease of preparation will leave you with time to enjoy the magic that is winter.
Slow Cooker Pork Pozole
makes four to six servings
1 ½ pounds pork loin, cut into one inch cubes
one tablespoon neutral oil like canola or grape seed
fine sea salt
finely ground white or black pepper
1 ½ cup diced sweet onion
four large tomatillos, diced
four ounce can mild diced green chiles
15.5 ounce can white or gold hominy corn, drained
two large garlic cloves, zested or finely minced
one teaspoon ground cumin
one cup chopped cilantro, leaves and stems
ground chipotle pepper, 1/8 teaspoon or to taste ( I like Penzey’s)
two cups best quality chicken stock
optional garnishes : cut lime, sour cream or Mexican crema, chopped cilantro, minced hot peppers like serrano or bird chiles
- Mix all ingredients except pork and oil in large mixing bowl.
- Dry pork with paper towels and season lightly with salt and pepper.
- In large sauté pan or skillet, heat oil on high; when oil begins to shimmer, add pork in small batches, careful not to crowd pieces or they will not brown.
- Since these are small pieces of meat, it will be difficult to brown all sides, so aim for two : after one minute, stir pieces of pork with wooden spoon to expose another side, then allow another minute before removing to the mixing bowl with the other ingredients.
- After all pork is seared, combine well with all ingredients except garnishes and place in three quart slow cooker.
- Cover and cook on high setting for five hours.
- Adjust seasoning; this makes a soupy stew with lots of broth, but the mixture will thicken on standing.
- Flavor is best after being refrigerated for up to four days, but if you cannot wait, serve immediately and garnish as desired. This stew freezes well.