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Dec 9, 2014
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WINE WITH…Posole

Posole has been associated with holidays and celebration since the pre-Columbian days of human sacrifice. In our own era, posole (the name of the dish itself and of the soft, chubby kernels of white corn that play a starring role in it) is linked to feasting on Christmas Eve in both New and Old Mexico. No human sacrifice is involved, and pork and chicken have become the traditional ingredients.

Chicken or pork, pork or chicken? We were making posole recently and couldn’t decide between the chicken breasts or the pork belly that were tucked away in our freezer. Then we realized the obvious answer was to use both.

We made most of the dish a day ahead, first rubbing the pork belly with a mixture of ground fennel seed, salt and pepper. You can get posole (also known as hominy) in two forms: dried or canned. While the dried option is somewhat superior, with a firmer texture and more overt flavor, it does have to be reconstituted via an overnight soak and a longish simmer. We took the lazier, quicker route, opened a couple of cans, and the result was just fine.

Guajillo and ancho peppers, which give the dish its special character, have a distinctive fragrance and taste, but since they score relatively low on the heat-o-meter scale, posole is not a wildly spicy dish. It does not have the flashy flavor profile of chili con carne or the jolt of heat that comes from fresh serranos or even jalapenos. You may kick it up a notch or two by adding extra Aleppo or some red pepper flakes, but remember that posole is delicious, soul-satisfying comfort food. Its appeal comes from subtlety, not fire. Be sure to include French bread or fresh tortillas for sopping up the sauce.

Posole

Serves 4-6

1 piece of pork belly, 1 ½-2 pounds
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1-2 teaspoons pulverized dried fennel seed (optional)
5-8 dried Guajillo or ancho chili peppers, or combination of both
2 cups boiling water
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chicken stock
About 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Garnish:
Minced cilantro
Lime wedges

Preheat oven to 450°

Blot the surface of the pork belly dry then, using a very sharp knife score the skin in shallow diagonal lines (try not to cut into the flesh). Rub the belly all over with the olive oil, salt and pepper, and dry fennel seed (if desired). Place it, skin side up on a rack in a roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 300° and continue cooking for another 90 minutes (cover with foil if it starts to burn). Remove the meat from the oven, and when it is cool enough to handle cut it in rough, bite-size pieces. Reserve until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, discard the stems from the chili peppers, shake out and discard as many of the seeds as possible and place the chilies in a bowl. Pour the boiling water over them and let soak for at least 30 minutes, turning them occasionally. Transfer the chilies along with their soaking water to a blender. Add the chopped onion and garlic and puree the mixture until smooth. Pour into a Dutch oven or other large pot and add the cumin, cinnamon, oregano and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper and simmer the mixture, uncovered, for about 30 minutes.

Slice the chicken breasts into large chunks and add them to the chili mixture. Drain and rinse the posole, then add it to the pot and simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes. To serve, sauté the chunks of pork belly in a hot skillet (preferably non-stick) for about 5 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are hot and browned. Meanwhile, reheat the posole if necessary, and ladle it into serving bowls. Sprinkle with the cilantro and scatter the pork belly pieces over the top. Garnish with lime wedges and serve at once.

* * *

We found posole to be a very wine friendly dish. With relative ease, you can find a wine, no matter whether red or white, that will partner comfortably with it. Nonetheless, you’ll want to avoid a couple of types. A light-bodied, delicate wine likely won’t be sufficiently forceful to share the stage with it Conversely, a noticeably tannic red will seem obtrusive. But with those two caveats in mind, you can scarcely go wrong. As our recommendations suggest, no single variety or type is best.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Boekenhoutskloof, Franschhoek (South Africa) Semillon 2012(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$45

A somewhat exotic white wine, with pear and golden apple fruit flavors enhanced by echoes of savory spices and a succulent, waxy texture, this Semillon tastes rich but nuanced—much like the posole itself.

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Central Coast (California) “Le Cigare Volant” 2010

$38

Heresy though it may seem, we preferred this wine, Randall Graham’s California homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to a bottle of the French original. It was softer, a tad sweeter, and more complete because more complex. That complexity made it an especially good partner for posole.

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (California) “40th Anniversary Red Wine” NV

$40

An impressive California red, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot and Malbec feels seductively smooth when you drink it. Made to celebrate the winery’s anniversary, it likely contains wines from different vintages, and has no tannic astringency to get in the way of the pleasure it provides.

Robert Oatley, McLaren Vale (Australia) Shiraz 2012

(Imported by Robert Oatley Vineyards)

$20

Exuberant and unabashedly Australian, this wine nonetheless exhibits precise balance and so tastes harmonious rather than excessive. It was in no sense too forceful for the dish.

Patz & Hall, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay “Zio Tony Ranch” 2011

$60

A lush, rich Chardonnay made in a California style, with extremely ripe fruit and plenty of buttery, vanilla-scented oak. The posole loved its fleshy feel and unabashed sweet flavor profile.