Hominy is nixtimalized corn that has been treated with cal to release the vitamin niacin, making the grain healthier and easier to digest. Here’s how to cook hominy, also called posole.
Our white corn posole/prepared hominy is the subject of one of the most confusing name systems in English and Spanish. Sometimes we share elements of our cultures across borders and they morph into something new. The best thing to do when you are talking about living cuisines is to relax and not get too caught up in what is “authentic.”
What is pozole?
When dried corn is cooked and then soaked in cal (calcium hydroxide, or lime), the skins on the kernels loosen, and with a little rubbing and rinsing, they float away. The treated corn that is left is called nixtamal. If you had not treated the corn with the cal and tried to cook it, you would be very frustrated—even several days later. The miracle of nixtamal is that the corn not only cooks properly but also releases the vitamin niacin that it contains, making the treated corn healthier and easier to digest than the whole grain.
In Mexican shops in the U.S., you’ll see dried corn kernels, but unless you are in specific parts of the Southwest, it likely has not been treated with cal. Many folks just getting started in Mexican cooking have tried to cook this untreated corn, and the results have been a mess. From my experience in Mexico, you can buy nixtamalized corn in some markets, in the refrigerator section of specialty stores, or most commonly in a can. Native Americans took the nixtamal a step further and dried it again, giving us prepared hominy, or posole. It’s really nothing more than dried nixtamal.
In Mexico, the corn is called maiz. A rich stew with the cooked corn added is called pozole. In the United States, the grain is called posole and the finished dish is also called posole. Now relax and get over all of this name calling and make something delicious! You wouldn’t believe how much this conversation upsets people! I say call it what you like.
How to cook prepared hominy
To cook our prepared hominy, soak it in water to cover generously for 6 to 8 hours and then drain it and discard the water. Fill a large pot with fresh water, add the prepared hominy and a cut-up yellow or white onion, and put the pot over medium heat. Bring the water to a simmer and cook. Like with many foods, you can cook prepared hominy at a higher heat, but you risk the kernels falling apart, which isn’t a good thing in this case. I usually reserve about 2 cups of the cooking liquid to use in the stew I'm about to make, and discard the rest of the liquid. It isn't particularly good on its own. Soaked prepared hominy, cooked at a gentle simmer, should take about 2 hours; it’s done when the grains are chewy and tender but not chalky. Use a lid to control the intensity of the boil, and add more hot water as needed while the hominy cooks.
Two cups (one pound) of dried prepared hominy will yield about 7 cups cooked. It’s best used right away but can also be stored in the refrigerator in its cooking liquid for about 5 days.