John Steinbeck: Pork Posole

John Steinbeck was a locavore before it was cool. No matter where he was writing from, his letters always mention the local produce. In California, he bought a cow so he could make his own butter and cheese. In England, he foraged for dandelion greens (“cook them slowly and for a long time with pieces of bacon”). In Sag Harbor, he reveled in the local seafood (“I figure I can always catch my dinner”).

But sometimes you come home after a long day, and you don’t want to knead your own bread, dry your own pasta, butcher your own goat. You just want to buy a whole baguette, put some brie on it, eat it all while watching The Wire on Netflix and call that dinner. “I like good food and good clothes, but faced with getting them I can’t round myself into a procuring unit,” Steinbeck wrote in a particularly lethargic mood. I imagine he said it on the sofa in sweatpants.

Often it’s the presence of other people that keeps me from nights of cheese sandwiches in front of the TV; cooking for company is just more fun! But when Steinbeck was alone on the road, he would forget the butter-churning and revert to the life of a single guy. Hence his recipe for posole, borrowed from his friend (and famed screenwriter) Jack Wagner: “a can of chili and a can of hominy.” Hello, bachelorville.

* * *

I wanted to liven up that recipe a touch … but not too much. Some recipes for posole (or, as Steinbeck calls it, “pissole”) require braising the meat beforehand, roasting chiles – the kind of involvement that Steinbeck, while traveling through the Badlands of North Dakota, just wouldn’t have had time for. But given his love of locally sourced produce, not to mention his travels in Mexico, I figured adding some fresh ingredients, while keeping prep time minimal, would be a good middle ground.

Mark Bittman’s recipe came to the rescue. It’s a classic one-pot wonder: Brown the meat, add everything else, and let it bubble away until the amazing aroma makes you unable to wait any longer. To incorporate Steinbeck’s “recipe,” I added tomatoes and bell peppers; if you want to make it very chili-like, you could use ground meat instead. Just steer clear of chicken. In 1948, after signing a separation agreement from his wife Gwyn, Steinbeck confessed, “I eat at any time of the day or night and never chicken which I detest and learned to eat because both of my wives liked it.” I guess eating alone does have its benefits.

(Adapted from Mark Bittman)

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, diced
1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
2 15-ounce cans white hominy, drained
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with juices
1 dried chipotle
1 green bell pepper, diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Lime wedges

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add pork, ancho chile powder, paprika, cumin, and oregano; stir to coat pork. Cook until pork is browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.

2. Add hominy, tomatoes, chipotle, bell pepper, salt, pepper, and chicken broth. Turn heat to medium high. Bring to a boil, then adjust heat so mixture simmers steadily. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pork is tender, about an hour. Add liquid if necessary (it should be like a chili – a little soupy, but more of a stew).

3. Stir in garlic and cook another 10 minutes. Serve in bowls, garnished with cilantro and lime wedges.


21 thoughts on “John Steinbeck: Pork Posole

  1. Quinn

    Before I go exploring and lose myself in your delightful blog, I must ask: where did you find that “procuring unit” quote from Steinbeck? Thanks!

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  3. Just wanted to say how much I love your blog, though you can probably see that from the blog post I just wrote. I can’t wait to try some of these recipes and I will definitely keep reading!

  4. eastofedencook

    Just stumbled upon your blog, what a pleasant surprise! Especially fond of John Steinbeck. You have a new admirer!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I have to say, after reading his letters Steinbeck is definitely the writer I would most want to have at a dinner party. He has an endless amount of hilarious quips, but with very little pretension. Love it!

  5. I loved your blog ! Reading this is great fun as it combines two great loves of my life- food and books. This is even more relevant as I am reading John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath).

      1. Could you help me?
        So I started to express my respectful atitude to one of favourite author (Steinbeck) by preparing his meal (I hope this is the real purpose of Your blog). But I haven’t figured out what a ‘chipotle’ is (no dictionary knows it). Could You explain me it, please?

      2. Sure! A chipotle is a type of chile – they’re made from overly riped jalapenos that are then smoke-dried. You can usually find them in specialty food stores or Mexican groceries. If you can’t, I’d substitute either an ancho chile or a fresh jalapeno, chopped up, with a little pinch of smoked paprika. Hope that helps!

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