Friday, January 21, 2011

How to Cook Hominy, Ayers Creek Style

Farmers in Washington grow all kinds of grains these days, but I haven't found anyone who grows corn for popping, polenta or posole to sell at farmers' markets. So when I heard Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon grew it, I made the journey in December to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market to get some.

While I was there, I bought lots of fresh produce, 2 bags of polenta, 4 jars of preserves and a bag of Roy's Calias Flint kernels for hominy all from the Boutard's booth. It's hard to resist buying when everything looks so perfect,and I have to say I love that Carol and Anthony are both there to sell their treasures. The line was long and when I left, my bags were so heavy I could hardly lift them.

Before I left, I asked Anthony to spoon in a tablespoon of hydrated lime with the corn. He handed me the directions for cooking hominy. Hydrated lime or cal in Spanish is caustic and and should be kept away from children and careless adults. The lime softens the corn, but with the lime in the bag, I wasn't sure about cooking half of the corn, so I cooked it all.

Here's how I cooked it:

  • In an enamel pot, add two tablespoons of hydrated lime per pound of corn. Add water to cover the kernels by an inch or so.
  • Heat the pan to a bare simmer don't boil; let it cook for 40 minutes to an hour. The solution will turn a lurid yellow-brown and the fragrance of corn will fill the kitchen.
  • Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture steep overnight at room temperature or on the back stoop.
  • The next day, strain off the lime and liquid into a compost bucket. Rinse the kernels vigorously several times until they are clean. The outer skin of the kernel, the pericarp will wash away. This is alkalized corn, or nixtamal.
  • The nixtamal is cooked very slowly until it is tender, at which point it is called hominy. If you have a slow cooker, you can use it. Refill the pot with corn and fresh water. Cover the kernels with plenty of water because they will absorb a good deal of water.
  • Bring to a boil, then simmer until the kernels split open as little flowers. The hominy is now ready to use in a pozole or soup. This is a wonderful adaptable ingredient in all sorts of dishes. Experiment and have fun.
I made Locro Argentino from The South American Table. (Check out the recipe next Monday.) But since one pound of corn when cooked produces a boatload of hominy, I've been searching around for another recipe. I found this great posole recipe at 101 Cookbooks; and for those who eat meat, a turkey posole recipe at Good Stuff NW was featured recently. I also discovered recipes for humitas, a type of corn casserole with onions, peppers, cheese and eggs in The South American Table, my new favorite cookbook. That is what I'm making tonight. My Cooking Assistant is wagging his tail already.

If you're intrigued by hominy, another place to get the good stuff is Rancho Gordo in Napa, California. Check it out.

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