Sunday, April 22, 2012
Chicos and Pork Stew
So after we arrived, I started looking for chicos.
"I think the guy at the gas station at midway sells them," our friend Ernest said, but the man inside the gas station, midway between Las Vegas and Mora (get it?) said, "We don't have any more." Someone suggested a roadside vendor, but he was sold out, too. I looked everywhere in Mora and San Miguel counties, but couldn't find any chicos.
I finally found chicos at a farm market in Albuquerque. There they were, packaged in a plastic bag, looking just like wrinkly popcorn or maybe a bag of baby teeth.
Farmers have been processing chicos the same way for hundreds of years. I guess you could call this a heritage food. Chicos are made by steaming whole ears of corn in the husk and then hanging them to dry. After the cobs have dried, the corn kernels are removed by hand. We're talking serious labor hours when it comes to chicos. If you want to watch how one family makes their chicos, here is a link to a video made by a student in Chamisal, NM, about 50 miles east of where we live.
Unlike hominy, which has had the outside of each kernel and the germ removed using lye, chicos is a whole grain with everything intact. When they are cooking, a savory popcorny aroma drifts from the pot and throughout the house.
If you don't live in New Mexico but want to give chicos a try, here is a link to one of my favorite websites, Local Harvest. Here not only can you find New Mexico foods, but food suppliers and farmers in your own backyard.
Don't forget to soak your chicos overnight before cooking since they are a dried grain and need some time to reconstitute. Because they have a long simmer, I just might use my slow cooker next time.
Chicos and Pork Stew (adapted from a recipe by Michele Ostrove in New Mexico magazine)
2 cups chicos
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 pound pork loin from either chops or a roast, cut into half inch cubes
salt and pepper to taste
2 T chile powder (ancho or chipotle or a mix of the two)
a teensy dash of cinnamon (optional)
2-4 T cooking oil
2 roasted green chiles (Anaheim, poblano, or Big Jim), peeled, seeded and diced or 1- 4 oz can chopped green chiles
1 large onion, chopped
salsa (The chunky salsa in the photo is Antonios, made in Taos)
sour cream (optional, but nice if your food is a little spicy)
1. Soak your chicos in water overnight until they have about doubled in size)
2. Rinse chicos, place in a 4 quart pot with the chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 hours. Keep an eye on them and add additional broth if needed.
3. Give your chicos a taste test: They will be firm but chewable.
4. Meanwhile, toss the cubed pork loin with the chile powder, salt and pepper.
5. In a hot skillet, add 2 T oil. When the oil is hot, add the cubed pork and saute until browned but not totally done.
6. Add the pork to the pot of chicos.
7. In the same skillet that has those lovely remaining pork bits and crunchies, add oil, if needed, and then the onion and green chiles. Cook until the onion is translucent. Then add this mixture to the pot of chicos and pork.
8. Simmer for about 1 hour and check seasonings.
Serve with a side of tortillas; top with salsa and sour cream. Yum.