Here’s what I always assumed about pozole, the Mexican soup that predates even the arrival of the Spanish in that country: I knew that it was usually made with pork. I knew that it was studded with pozole, corn kernels that have had their hulls removed using lime (the mineral, not the fruit), which absorb the flavors of the lightly spicy broth. Its primary appeal had, for me, been in its thematic similarity to Vietnamese pho, where the basic broth is plenty tasty, but the real fun is in the crazy mix-ins, including shredded lettuce or cabbage, chopped onion, radish, avocado, tomato, jalapenos, or crispy strips of tortilla.
What I didn’t know, and what makes this dish the most intense meal you can possibly prepare for a simple chilly autumn evening at home in front of a Duck Dynasty marathon, is pozole’s significance in Aztec ritual. Ancient Mexicans believed that man was formed by the gods out of masa, the dough used for tortillas. So the notion of combining corn with meat in one dish was already pretty complicated. On special occasions, though, the Aztecs did the soup one better. They made a special version of the stew that combined hulled corn, or hominy, with meat cut from human beings. That’s right. Their pozole was made with people. Following a ritual sacrifice, when a person’s still-beating heart was ripped out of their chest, the rest of their body was then chopped up and added to the stew, and shared among members of the community as an act of communion.
Needless to say, this gave the conquering Spanish a rollicking case of the heebiejeebies, and they banned the practice as part of their sweeping, systematic devastation of prehispanic culture. Eventually, pork came to be used as a substitute in the soup because hey, next best thing. Our version uses leftover Thanksgiving turkey, which is the next best, next best thing. You can also use chicken or pork rinds, but once you know the origins of the dish, you can’t un-know them. Eating a simple bowl of proper pozole, chewing the stewed meat, feeling the broth-soaked hominey pop between your teeth, and letting a habanero-sweat run down your temple, nearly becomes a religious event. Buen provecho.
Shredded Turkey Pozole Rojo
- 2 dried ancho chiles
- 2 dried anaheim chiles
- 2 dried japoneses chiles
- 1 1/2 cups boiling-hot water
- 1 small white onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican), crumbled
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 cups low-sodium (or homemade) chicken broth
- 4 cups shredded turkey or chicken
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can chopped tomatoes
- 2 (14.5 ounce) cans white hominy, drained and rinsed
- 8 corn tortillas
- Sliced avocado, shredded lettuce or cabbage, chopped onion, chopped cilantro, sliced radish, lime wedges, sliced jalapenos, and/or sour cream, to garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Remove stems and seeds from all chiles, and tear them into big pieces. Add chiles to a large bowl, and cover with boiling water. Add onion, garlic, oregano, and salt, cover, and steep for 20-30 minutes. Transfer contents, including soaking liquid, to a blender (or use an immersion blender) to blend until smooth.
In a large stock pot or dutch oven, combine chile puree, chicken broth, turkey or chicken, canned tomatoes, and hominy. Simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes.
While soup simmers, cut tortillas into thin strips and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Spray with cooking spray, and toss to coat. Bake until strips brown and become crispy, about five minutes, checking often.
Serve soup in bowls, with accompaniments. Top with crispy tortilla strips.