It’s a Good Time to Cook

So long as we’re self-isolating for safety’s sake, we ought to make the best of it

By Rob Breeding

There’s no avoiding the bad news spreading across the nation, but I’m not going to pretend everything is fine and dandy, nor will I obsessively focus on our shared health crisis. The Beacon is well staffed with top-notch journalists prepared to bring you the news you need on the coronavirus pandemic.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have any useful insight to share. As a natural introvert, I’m something of an expert when it comes to social distancing. This may be the reason I’m so attracted to fly fishing, which is sometimes a social activity, but is usually best enjoyed in solitude.

Fly fishing was social distancing before social distancing was cool.

We’re all somewhere on the isolation spectrum now. Sheltering in place is a pleasant euphemism for locking yourself indoors and staying put. So long as we’re self-isolating for safety’s sake, we ought to make the best of it.

Dining out may be out, but the flip side is that we get to cook.

March and April are still categorized as stew months in my book. That’s good because most of what remains in the game freezer is stew meat — tough cuts requiring extended, connective tissue dissolving, low-temp cooking sessions.

My favorite stew is pozole, a Mexican dish that lends itself perfectly to cleaning-out-the-freezer sessions. My usual go-to pozole meat is bone-in pork butt (the shoulder actually). The butt has lots of connective tissue, plenty of fat and is eclipsed only by the hocks as a source of pig collagen. Collagen is key to any stew, so if you’re replacing pork butt with a leftover venison roast, don’t be afraid to add some store-bought gelatin to the broth to give your stew that — fancy television chef speak to follow — unctuous mouth feel.

Whatever the protein, start your pozole by giving the meat a good sear in a Dutch oven. Once the meat is seared it comes out of the pot temporarily so you can sweat some diced onions and bloom dried spices — cumin, chili powder, Mexican oregano, bay leaves and a touch of smoked paprika. Then the meat goes back in the pot, along with a braising liquid.

My pozole braising liquid includes two or three ingredients: red chili sauce, Mexican beer, and, if needed, water. My preferred canned chili sauce is El Pato. El Pato is a smaller, family-owned producer of Mexican food products based in Southern California. It’s semi-widely available, but if you can’t find it, any red chili or enchilada sauce will do. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you can make your own sauce from dried chilis. This will add an hour to the front end of the pozole process, however, and is probably gilding the lily a bit for this recipe.

Braise for a few hours in a 300-degree oven. Keep an eye on the liquid and add more beer or water if necessary to keep the meat about three-fourths covered. When the bone pulls free, it’s done.

Remove the meat, shred, and return to the pot. I like to strain the onions and bits from the broth. Re-season, and add more chili sauce if you like heat. This is also the time to add gelatin if necessary. Then stir in a few cans of drained-and-rinsed hominy.

Besides pork butt or venison, just about any protein works in pozole. Turkey, preferably dark meat, plays well with red chili broth, as does beef, elk and maybe even duck or goose (I haven’t tried those yet). Feral pigs, presently invading north-central Montana, make a good pozole as well.

You can also make pozole with a green chili broth that pairs well with chicken or game birds.

I’ve posted more detailed pozole construction tips on the website listed below.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.