As I cleaned out my pantry at the apartment, I rediscovered a small bag of large, dried corn kernels, brown at the tips and expanding into dusky yellow balloons. Melissa quickly spotted their resemblance to Corn Nuts.
But the label on the Rancho Gordo bag said hominy. I had bought it one Saturday on a lark; it beckoned to me, challenging me to discover its charms and challenges. I brought it home, put it in our pantry, stacked some pasta boxes in front of it, and forgot about it. Its rediscovery seven or eight months later prompted a slight frenzy of research as I tried to remind myself what it was and how to cook it.
Hominy is corn that’s been de-hulled by being cooked or soaked in an alkaline solution, a process called nixtamalization. It is the precursor to grits and masa, staples of Southern cuisine and Central American cuisine, respectively.
But I would not be grinding my hominy into grain: I wanted to cook the kernels whole for posole, a stew or soup that showcases the yellow nuggets. You can find posole recipes on the Rancho Gordo site, and from them you can extract a simple cooking technique: Soak the kernels overnight or don’t, but simmer for 3 hours.
The first time I cooked my corn, I skipped the pre-soaking step, though perhaps, “I forgot about it” is more correct. I opened a can of diced tomatoes, sautéed sliced shallots, added the kernels to the pot, and then poured in the liquid from the tomatoes plus enough water to cover the hominy by about an inch. I brought the water to a boil, then reduced it to a simmer for 3 hours. Every half hour or so, I checked the hominy and added water as needed. About 2 hours in, I added the tomatoes and some fresh oregano from our yard. (You can use dried oregano — indeed I rummaged through boxes in vain looking for my bag of Sonoran oregano — in which case you should add it at the beginning of the cooking time.)
Harold McGee, in On Food and Cooking, describes hominy as having a “dense, chewy consistency.” Certainly this first batch did: We exercised our jaws and worked the kernels to the pulpish state we needed before we could swallow. It wasn’t bad, just a lot of work. I imagined adding crispy bits of fried tortilla to create a texture beyond tough.
A week later, I decided to give hominy another try. This time, I
remembered chose to soak the kernels for 6 hours before they went into the pot. I used a similar recipe, substituting green garlic for shallots, adding Spanish-style chorizo, and soaking sun-dried tomatoes in boiling water to create both ingredients and cooking liquid.
Melissa and I tentatively took bites, prepared for another chew-a-thon. But the soaking time had softened the kernels and reduced the chewiness to simply pleasant.
Like dried beans, hominy can handle a wide range of stew-y ingredients. You can probably slow-cooker it — I haven’t tried yet — but even without a slow cooker you can leave it simmering gently on your stove as you attend to other things. Just check it periodically in case the water has evaporated. It reheated well the next day for lunch.
Both times I made this, we drank beer with it. Both times, in fact, we drank Cantillon: once the gueuze and once the Rose de Gambrinus. I like the beer, and I figured its body was comparable to the dish’s weight. The acidity would carry the flavor despite the high-acid tomatoes in the dish, and the beer’s strong flavor would still be present despite the chorizo.