Tony writes: I rediscover my slow cooker each winter the way some folks find $10 in the laundry. I’ll be rifling through the cupboard, looking for something (God knows what) and, all of a sudden, I bump into the crock pot, and it’s cold outside, and I experience a strange sense of wonder that life can be as simple as the flick of of a slow-cooking switch. The question last weekend was what to make with my find. I was chili-d out, but the Tex-Mex flavor palette was calling. I thumbed through some cookbooks and the pantry and decided on posole, the spiced Mexican pork and hominy stew. 6 hours later, I was in pork-y nirvana and pledging I’d never let the crock pot out of sight.
– Hominy is a kind of hardy corn (maize) that’s been soaked and treated with lime. These puffy kernels have a deep, earthy flavor similar to tortillas (which makes sense, since it’s this form of maize used to make them). Though hominy is no great shakes nutritionally, it soaks up flavors around it, adding texture and depth to this chile-infused pork stew.
– A little prep before the slow cook: Though it would be nice to just dump everything into a slow cooker and press “play”, a couple extra steps are worth your while. I like to season the pork ahead of time. The shoulder is a fatty cut of meat, which, like bacon, benefits from being seasoned ahead of time. I cut the pork into cubes, coat it with an intense spice rub, and let the flavors soak in for 24 hours. Likewise, before adding the meat to the slow cooker, I like to brown it on the stovetop first to caramelize it and intensify its flavors (and sear off some excess fat).
The recipe: Serves 6 to 8
1. Season the pork (up to 24 hr ahead): Trim 2 1/2 lb pork butt of any large fatty pieces and discard. Cut the pork into 1-inch pieces, discarding any additional large, fatty patches as you go. In a small bowl, mix 1 Tbs. ground cumin, 1 Tbs. chili powder, 2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. black pepper, and 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder. Sprinkle and toss with the meat. Let sit for 10 min at room temp or for up to 1 day in the refrigerator.
2. Sear the pork: Heat a heavy based skillet over medium high heat for 1 1/2 min. Add 1 Tbs. olive oil and once it’s shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 min, add half of the pork, evenly spaced. Cook, undisturbed, until the pork browns and easily releases from the pan, about 2 min. Flip and cook the other side in the same manner. Transfer to the slow cooker and sear the remaining pork in the same manner, add to the slow cooker after searing.
3. Slow-cook: To the pork in the slow cooker, add 2 cups cold water (or chicken broth if you have), 5 garlic cloves (smashed), 3 bay leaves, one 28 oz. can hominy (drained well), one 15-oz. can pinto beans (drained and rinsed well), 2 Tbs. cider vinegar. Set the cooker to one of the longer cook settings (anywhere between 6 and 8 hours) and cook. If you happen to pass by the slow cooker over the course of the day, do spoon off and discard any fat floating at the top.
4. De-fat, season and serve: Spoon off and discard any fat. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing, chunks of avocado and chopped fresh cilantro.