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Dried corn, posole, chicos... Help me understand the difference & how to use them

I've been looking at a bunch of web sites about dried corn and I can't really find the answer I'm looking for so I'm hoping the Chowhound community will help me!

Today I made posole (Mexican pork stew with dried corn) in the pressure cooker. The dried corn kernels I used looked like large kernels of dried white corn. They weren't huge, just a little larger than regular white corn. Now I'm curious about the huge dried corn kernels I see sold in bulk in Mexican grocery stores. I've seen white ones and red ones.

The product I used today was purchased in a high end, specialty grocery store and was quite expensive for what it was. That's why I'm curious about the product in the Mexican grocery stores.

What I need to know is, has the bulk product been soaked with lime resulting in the hulls falling off? I can't really tell by looking at it. I guess if all else fails, I can use the Babelfish tranlation I just found for "Has this corn been treated with lime? (Este maiz se ha tratado con la sal?) Or I could just buy some and try soaking it overnight in water and cooking it the way I did the one from the gourmet grocer....

Any other ideas out there?

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  1. I think that chicos are a special smoky New Mexican dried corn that is pricy and wouldn't be sold in an average Mexican market.

    I've wondered what that red corn was used for in Mexican markets. Here's a little info about making posole from dried corn.

    I'm sure someone will answer your question here, but if not, you might as Rancho Gordo at Ferry Plaza or at La Borinquena Mex-icatessen in Oakland about this. Both places have excellent English.

    4 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Thanks Krys - lots of good info that I didn't find when I searched... I'm still not sure if what I had was chicos. The package reads "Los Chileros de nuevo mexico" "white corn posole"; it was a 12 oz. pkg and cost $5.99 which seemed like a lot to me. I really don't think it's chicos but I'll check the company's website and see what it says (should have done that before I posted but I was impatient I guess). I still might experiment with the bulk white/red corn.

      1. re: RWCFoodie

        Yeah, lots of that New Mexico stuff can be expensive.

        Do check out Rancho Gordo

        1. re: RWCFoodie

          I will second that... that brand happens to be way more expensive for identical products. I just paid $5.50 for some dried chipotles (Los Chileros) at Whole Foods. If I would have waited and gotten them at my local Mexican market I would have paid $2.

          BTW... the Chileros branded stuff is not really any fresher than the lower priced brands... I still had to throw out about 20% of the chipotles because they were pale & way to hard... they would never soften.

        2. re: rworange

          about the Dry corn that you are using for the pozole is full cook and is not for the Mexican Pozole. Salvadorians and Peruanos they use that corn to make, to cook something else. like Tamales.
          they cook a little bit different us the Mexican.
          for the pozole its better if you buy the can from Juanita's. that one is for pozole.
          or you could use the other one the white homeny .

        3. The corn used in pozole is of the Cacahuazintle variety which tends to have bigger kernels, lower sugar content & mild earthiness.

          The stuff that is sold in bulk... whether red or white (both are used in Pozoles) have not been treated. You will need to purchase ground limestone - most commonly known as Cal - and treat it your self. All Cal packages have instructions for treating corn.

          Alterntatively you might find a refrigerated product called 'Maiz para Pozole' that is pre-treated Cacahuazintle that hasn't been canned for ages.

          Otherwise - of course - you can purchase canned hominy which makes a perfectly fine pozole, but isn't as earthy, or cumbersomely satisfying as starting with the dried product.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            Thanks EN for the all the great info on the Cacahuazintle corn. I will probably try experimenting with the dry product and Cal or I will go to my local tortilla factory and see if I can buy the pre-treated Cacahuazintle from them.

            After using this dried product I don't think I'd happily go back to canned hominy. I've always loved it but it just seems to tame now. I like the slight chewiness that the posole I used yesterday has.

            I'll report back after I experiment! Thanks again.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              I have made pozole and menudo using the nixtamalization process a few times. Off all the answers that I have read here, the one given by Eat_Nopal is the closest to what you are looking for. Cal is caustic lime and you only need about one tablespoon for two pounds of corn. Boil the corn first in about double the volume of water to corn: the corn will increase between 1 1/2 to 2 times its size. This prepares it to accept the Cal. Remove it from the heat and stir in the Cal. It will turn bright yellow, but don't freak out. Eventually, the outside will turn really soft and slimy. Rub them abrasively with your hands then change the water. Do this about 3 to 5 times until they come clean. They won't be perfectly white but they will be very white looking. Next, you will have to sit down and have a de-stemming party in order to get the hard tip that used to be attached to the husk. They are now ready to be cooked, which turns them inside-out: blooming. You can also boil and wash them again if you want them to be purely white. Good Luck. It takes a little practice but this stuff is really cheap, anyway.

            2. I just went to the Los Chileros website and here's a link to the product I bought. It's the second one; not the chicos. Still seems expensive when you add freight. I'll try the tortilla factory route for the pre-treated product and if that doesn't work I'll try working with the bulk stuff and Cal.


              1. Large grained white maize is what many eat all over Meso-America, parts of South America (choclo), and east Africa (often as ugali). In each area there are hundreds of varieties. I feel that you as consumers are being taken when you pay premiums for what is otherwise common traditional food. Treating your maize with cal is also not that big of a deal.

                On the other hand, is seed available to you in the US to grow your own white, large grain maize? Is it available fresh in supermarkets?

                EN, love that "cumbersomely satisfying" notion!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Very interesting. I think part of the problem with the pozole and chicos you now get from the NM mail order sites is that they no longer have access to the varieties that were traditionally used in NM cooking. This is just a hunch based on my experiences with the mail order NM foods. The chicos certainly don't taste as sweet as the ones I remember, and they are larger and not as yellow.

                2. A friend of mine sent me a package of 'white corn pozole' from New Mexico, which I assumed had been treated especially becuase when I soaked it, it smelled strongly (and deliciously) of masa. But then when i made it in the pressure cooker yesterday, I couldn't get it to pop after an hour. I am wondering if I just needed to wait longer, or if it was not in fact treated, or becuase they don't pop in the pressure cooker. Anybody?

                  -Gustavo (http://dinner-bell.blogspot.com)

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: dinnerbell

                    Sorry but I haven't looked at this thread in a really long time... For what it's worth, my white corn pozole from New Mexico didn't ever "pop" or bloom either... but it sure was delicious!

                    1. re: dinnerbell

                      Hominy and pasole needs to be soaked in cedar ash or similar products. This makes the kernel shell easy to remove prior to cooking. The shells on these are fairly tough so you want to get them off first.

                      1. re: dinnerbell

                        In Fabiola de Baca's book, Historic Cookery, her recipe for Pozole specifically states: "If the pressure cooker is used to cook the pozole, cook the hominy without pressure until the kernels begin to burst, then add meat and chile pods."

                        I don't ever remember my mom using a pressure cooker to cook pozole, perhaps cooking them under pressure somehow inhibits the "bursting".

                      2. Chicos are young dried corn slowly becoming popular in the New Mexico. It is claim to originate with the Mexicans and also Native Americans. Regardless, they both use it to make delicious dishes. There are several ways that chicos is made.
                        Some people will steam the young corn in the husk then peel back the husk and hang them in the sun to dry. Some people will roast them in an earthen oven and then hang them to dry. Some people use the young white corn while others use the young yellow corn. I have not seen any young blue or other corn being used but I'll bet it's just a matter of time.
                        Chicos are expensive because the process is labor intensive and not mass produced. Getting the dried kernels off the cob is a hard job.
                        Chicos are not soaked in lime or ash (not like hominy or pasole).. Just water. The idea is when you eat the corn, it bursts in your mouth and releases the flavor and juices. Slow cook them so they don't break apart.
                        I prefer the roasted chicos as I like that smokey taste and smell. You can mix chicos with other things for an interesting dish. I had pasole stew with equal amount of chicos and it was great going from 1 texture and taste to the other.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Mikecq

                          Wonderful and very complete answer! One thing- I think the preferred spelling is "pozole", not "pasole". The latter is the approximate transcription for the non-Spanish speaker pronunciation common in the SW, but the Spanish word is "Pozole", (pronounced "poh-soh-leh"). Not a big deal, tho.

                          1. re: mgent1

                            Mikecq - What do you mean "Chicos....slowly becoming popular in New Mexico"? They've been eaten here for thousands of years! And it's not "claimed" to originate with Native Americans, it did. Corn is one of the "Three Sisters", along with squash and beans, which date back to the Anaasází (Diné spelling since it's a Diné word).

                            mgent1 - I was born, raised, and have lived my whole life in New Mexico and have never seen it spelled "pozole". We spell it "posole" and we pronounce it "poe-so-lay".

                            1. re: Pagan

                              Pagan- I was born and raised in NM; my parents were born and raised in NM; my grandparents were born and raised in NM; my great-grandparents were born and raised in NM; my great-great-grandparents were born and raised in NM; my great-great-great-grandparents were born and raised in NM - well, let me not go on, it's getting late...
                              Fabiola de Baca Gilbert (Historic Cookery) spells it Pozole, but Cleofas Jaramillo spells it Posole. Of course the "z" and the "s" are commonly used interchangeably in NM, as I'm sure you know...
                              But the final "e" in Spanish is never pronounced as a diphthong, which is what the "ay" sound is. Your pronunciation is an Anglicized one. In Spanish it is pronounced as a simple vowel, most easily represented by "eh".
                              In any case, all this is a quibble. I'm sure Mikecq meant that Chicos are becoming more popular among the Anglo portion of the population, which was previously unfamiliar with it.

                        2. Congratulations for venturing into a new gourmet trend. Here is another you should try.
                          Tohono O'odhan Tepary beans. This is an ancestral bean that the people at Tohono are starting tom grow commercially. This is a great bean and has a sweet flavor. You have never tasted anything like it.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Mikecq

                            Omg, I miss tepary beans from when I used to live in Arizona!

                            1. re: zebcook

                              You can buy tepary beans online from Rancho Gordo. The quailyty is excellent.

                              1. re: zebcook

                                Tepary beans are becoming popular in the Southwest just like Chicos..They are growing them commercially at Tohono O'ohhan since they won the rights to more water from the Salt River.
                                Several years ago I bought several pounds of Chicos from a street vendor in Espanola NM and the price was $25 per lb. Our friends in Albuquerque had never heard of them. Now you can find it in a lot of gourmet shops around Santa Fe.

                            2. RWCFoodie, did you ever get around to experimenting with the dried red corn? How did it turn out? I would think you might be able to tell whether it's posole or untreated corn by smell - does it smell like dried popcorn, or more like tortillas?

                              Dried posole does have an especially great texture and flavor that you just don't get from canned - I think it's worth the cooking time. I like to soak it overnight, then put it in the crockpot on low all day, because the texture really doesn't suffer much from long cooking. And making your own posole from untreated corn is even better. It's actually pretty easy - you should totally try it! There aren't a lot of good resources on the internet that give enough detail on how to do it, so I experimented and I've written a pretty thorough explanation on my blog.

                              Chicos are dried sweet corn, often roasted before drying, and taste completely different from posole. If you did have chicos, you'd know it! They taste like intensified sweet corn when cooked - incredibly delicious.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: veggieobsession

                                I'm a big pozole fan and this is what I have learned about dried corn:

                                1) Mote pelado (peeled grains) is the large corn found in my latino grocery (about $2 for 16 oz) and has been treated with lye which removes the husks, and is my favorite corn to use. I heat the corn in cold water to boiling, turn it off and let it sit on the stovetop overnight. Then reheat in the morning for about 2 hours until the kernels 'bloom'. The wonderful crunchy/soft texture gives amazing substance to the kernels that canned hominy can't come close to duplicating; however, Juanita's (from a latino grocery or Safeway) comes the closest with a little crunch and is a fine substitute if you can't find mote pelado or want to skip the long cooking time. American canned hominy is flavorless mush and I avoid it.
                                2) I also tried soaking and boiling the Peruvian red corn which did not indicate whether or not it was treated with lye. I found out it was not treated with lye because when it softened, it had husks that had to be slipped off (labor intensive), and also the kernels did not 'bloom' as the mote pelado did after the same amount of boiling time.
                                3) It is also possible to buy dried pozole online from Rancho Gordo for $5.95 for 1 lb plus $12.00 shipping. I ordered some from Bueno Foods a while back and it was delicious, but the kernels were not as large as the mote pelado I buy locally. Bueno Foods does not seem to have an online store any longer.

                                A great recipe for pozole can be found at www.PatisMexicanTable.com. Pati has recipes for both red and green pozole that are great.

                                Now I'm going on a hunt for chicos--that sounds delicious! Looks like my choices are buying online for $20 a pound plus shipping, or making it myself by the simple method on ehow.com.

                                1. re: chowwbella

                                  I just buy dried feed corn down at the local feed and seed store. I boil this for 20- 25 min with pickling lime you can get in most groceries. Then I rinse the corn and simmer until tender, usually an hour or two. I like the texture this produces. Diane Kennedy describes this in one of her books.

                                  1. re: LRunkle

                                    I love that this thread is still active! I will have to get busy and try some of the suggestions that you all have so generously shared...

                              2. Hi all, this looks like a string where someone might be able to help me out. I was wondering where I could find real maize? Is it available, and what would be a modern formulation?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: HealthyAuthor

                                  First, where do you live? USA (rural, city), Mexico, UK, etc?

                                  What do you mean by 'real maize'. What Americans call corn is maize. That includes popcorn and sweet corn. But maybe you want minimally processed field corn. The red and white dried corn kernels that the OP talked about might be what you want.