Pozole Verde, with Pheasant

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Pozole (po-zo-lay) is one of those classic stews that every culture seems to hold dear. Like chili in Texas, burgoo in Kentucky, Brunswick stew in Virginia, chowder in New England, pozole is that stew that everyone makes, but is slightly different depending on the region and cook.
 
Like chili or Vietnamese pho, pozole is one of those stews where half the fun is adding all sorts of toppings at the table. A lot of pozole recipes add chicharrons and even sardines to their toppings, but I stuck to the more familiar cilantro, avocado, onion and lime. Chopped green chiles would be another good idea. Just keep it green.
 
Flavorwise, if you have never eaten pozole verde, it’s a cascade of Mexican flavors. The stew base hinges on acidic tomatillos, but you get alkaline hominy kernels to balance that out. There’s a bit of brightness from the sorrel leaves, lime juice and chiles. It’s not supposed to be ├╝ber hot, but it does have a nice gentle heat. The stew broth gets a lot of body from toasted, ground-up pumpkin seeds (pepitas), and little shreds of meat round everything out. It is truly one of the great stews of the world.
 
Pozole verde can be made with any light-colored meat. Traditionally it’s pork or chicken, but pheasant, quail, turkey, wild boar or rabbit will all work, too. To make it taste right, you do need to head to a Latin market to buy tomatillos (unless you can find them in your regular market), pepitas — shelled, roasted pumpkin or squash seeds — and hominy, which are gigantic kernels of corn. All of these ingredients are common in every Latin market in America, and I’ve seen hominy in regular markets, too. Pepitas are often in the “Mexican spices” section of regular markets’ “Hispanic Aisle.”
 
There are two optional items here that make the dish better, but which you can skip if you have to: Epazote, a strange-smelling green herb, and sorrel, a lemony green. Epazote is pretty easy to find in Latin markets (it’s also a common urban weed), and sorrel can sometimes be found in farmer’s markets.
 
This is a one-pot meal, but you could serve it with rice if you wanted to. As for something to drink? Cerveza, mi amigo, cerveza.  
 
Serves 4 to 6.
 
Prep Time: 45 minutes
 
Cook Time: 2 hours
 

Ingredients 

  • 2 to 4 pounds of pheasant legs
  • 1 quart of chicken broth
  • 20 to 30 tomatillos (the normal kind, not the little ones)
  • 10 large sorrel leaves (optional)
  • 2 to 3 hot green chiles, serrano or jalapeno, chopped
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons lard, corn oil or other cooking oil
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) pepitas, toasted in a frying pan until aromatic and then ground
  • 1 28- to 32-ounce can of white hominy
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, Mexican if possible
  • 1 small bunch of epazote (optional)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • Lime wedges

Method

You’ll need to simmer the pheasant legs in the broth, plus enough water to cover, until they are tender enough to shred, about 90 minutes to 2 hours. You can do this up to 5 days in advance if you want, or use leftovers. Basically you simmer the meat (or meats) until tender, then shred, then set aside. Save the cooking liquid.
 
Cover the tomatillos with just enough water to cover and boil. Drop the heat to a bare simmer and let this cook for 15 minutes. Move the tomatillos to a blender and add to the blender the sorrel and the chopped chiles. Buzz into a rough puree; you might need to add some of the tomatillo cooking liquid.
 
Heat the lard in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot and add the tomatillo puree. Cook this over medium-high heat for a couple minutes. Add the ground pumpkin seeds, the shredded meats, the oregano and the epazote if you have some. Add enough of the reserved liquid from cooking the meats to make this a stew. Simmer this gently for 25 minutes. Add salt to taste.
 
Serve everyone some of the pozole and let everyone top it with the onion, avocado, cilantro and lime.
 
A member of both Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Hank Shaw is a hunter, cookbook author and award-winning writer. His website is Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (www.honest-food.net). He lives near Sacramento, CA. 
 
Photo Credit: Holly A. Heyser