Pozole Rojo is one of those dishes that conjers up fond memories for me.
Working my way up through the ranks in the restaurant industry I learned a lot about various cuisines and how to cook them authentically. I cooked under some of the best Chefs in the bay area.
But as much as I enjoyed learning from these Chefs I learned just as much from my fellow cooks.
One of the most memorable meals I learned to make was not on the menu of any of the places I worked.
It was a dish that was made for staff meal one day.
In professional kitchens in San Francisco, and in a large portion of America, the staff is mostly made up of Latinos. For me, the times I really got to see these guys shine and show off their cooking chops was not during service but during those staff meals.
You might find a few cooks huddled around a blender or crouched down in a corner with a pot of meat and a bag of tortillas. Smiles on their faces generating sounds of laughter.
It was when they were cooking, sharing and enjoying the foods they grew up on that I saw them the happiest.
I was lucky because I was a part of that crew in the corner, dishing up tacos at eleven at night, after a long service. A skinny young white girl and a handful of Latino line cooks. I talked to them in my best spanglish and they talked back in their best broken english. But when it came to the food, there was no translation needed.
They were proud of that food. And I felt fortunate to learn how to cook it from them, instead of from a cookbook.
That most memorable meal, for me, was the first time a cook from Mexico taught me how to make pozole. Pozole is a stew made with slow cooked meat (usually chicken or pork), chiles and hominy.
He taught me how to make pozole rojo (red) and although there are 3 types of pozole – red, green and white, I always make red to this day.
It was a big deal the day we decided to make pozole. The anticipation in the kitchen was so strong, cooks could hardly focus on setting up their stations.
We came into work early, cut up large chunks of pork from every area of the pig, even from the head (which is the best part for this stew). We soaked dried chiles and blended them with whole cloves of garlic and their soaking liquid and then braised the pork in that liquid.
The pork simmered all day long until the meat fell from the bones and the fat and cartilage became one with the broth.
We added cooked hominy to the stew and prepared a large tray of chopped fresh vegetables which would be used later for garnish.
All lined up with soup bowls, we took turns filling them with the hot pork and hominy stew. They were all eager to show me how to sprinkle dried oregano, chopped onion, cabbage and radish on top of my portion along with a handful of tortilla chips for dipping.
I had never experienced Mexican Food like this before. The flavors were deep and rich and the broth was so fortified with gelatin from the pork that it stuck to my lips. It was pure bliss.
What made it even more special was that, for once, there were no conflicts, complaints or negative attitudes for an entire shift. Virtually unheard of in a restaurant kitchen. It wasn’t staff meal that day, it was family meal.
I later found out that pozole is a celebratory dish. Looking back now, it explains all the excitement that it stirred up that day. This was a special occasion meal.
I’ll never forget how that dish brought us all together.
It is hands down my favorite Mexican dish to this day.