During Holy Week throughout Mexico, classic dishes are transformed with seafood substitutes. A red seafood pozole is a perfect example. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Holy Week Recipes: Mexican seafood pozole

In Mexico, Holy Week (the week that precedes Easter Sunday) might as well be called Seafood Week. “Everywhere you go,” says Mexico City-born Chef Oscar del Rivero, Executive Chef of Miami’s Talavera restaurant, “it’s seafood, seafood, seafood.”

With a population that’s more than 80 percent Catholic, this is an intensely spiritual time in Mexico, and one in which many people commit to fasting or giving up certain foods or luxuries as an act of penance. And since forgoing meat is the most common concession, classic Mexican dishes like tamales, tacos and quesadillas frequently receive seafood makeovers. Quesadillas become “pesca-dillas,” tamales made with pork are instead made with shrimp, and the beef or chicken in tacos is replaced with grilled or charred fish.

Even the sacred pozole, a thick stew-like soup considered one of Mexico’s most hallowed, ancient dishes, is subject to such substitutions. It’s a dish usually reserved for special occasions or weekend family gatherings and so popular that in Acapulco “Pozole Thursdays” has become a tradition, with most restaurants offering it as a special on that day. The stew is typically made with hominy and pork. During Holy Week, of course, the pork is replaced with whatever seafood is on hand.

Chef Oscar del Rivero, of Miami's Talavera, making  seafood pozole.

Chef Oscar del Rivero, of Miami’s Talavera, making seafood pozole. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

This week, NBC Latino caught up with the 37-year-old Johnson & Wales trained Del Rivero, who grew up in Mexico City eating pozoles from local markets. We asked him to share the recipe for the seafood red pozole he developed at Talavera, where he adopted the Acapulco tradition of serving the stew every Thursday. His guajillo and ancho-laced stock packs a serious flavor punch and is the perfect companion for delicate shell-fish sauteed in garlic and shallots—a classic Mexican combination. “It’s a hearty, homey dish,” he said. “And the way we make it is very much like the pozoles from Mexico. It’s that authentic.”

One key tip from the chef, if you’re making this at home: Don’t skip the step below in which the stock is “fried.” “That is a common technique in Mexico. We call screeching,” he said. “We basically fry the stock in a little oil until we hear it screech. It really wakes up the flavors and makes them more intense.”

For the pozole stock:
10 dried Guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded, veins removed
2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, veins removed
4 T olive oil, divided
5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 white onion, diced
1 oz Mexican oregano
3 bay leaves
4 quarts chicken stock

For the seafood:
2 T olive oil
16 small shallots, thinly sliced
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 pound fresh, medium-sized shrimp, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 pound fresh, small scallops
1/2 pound fresh calamari, sliced in thin strips
48 fresh mussels, whole
4 cups canned hominy

For garnish:
1/2 Haas avocado, sliced
1/2 white onion, finely diced
1 radish, julienned
Salt, to taste
2 limes, quartered
Tostadas or tortilla chips

1. Start by making the stock. Gently wipe the dried chiles clean. Put them into a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to soak for about 10 minutes, until the chiles are fully rehydrated. Drain, set chiles aside and discard the soaking water.

2. In a large sauce pot or caldero over medium heat, sauté the garlic and onion in 2 T of olive oil until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rehydrated chiles, oregano and bay leaves and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

3. Remove the stock and vegetables from the heat and let cool down a few minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor, working in batches if necessary. Strain the pureed stock through a fine mesh strainer and set aside.

2. In a large, heavy pot heat the remaining 2 T of olive oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, pour in the strained stock, being careful of splatters. Stir frequently to prevent scorching and keep the stock at a steady simmer for about 3 to 5 minutes. The pozole stock is now ready. Set aside.

3. Next, prepare the seafood ingredients. In a large sauce pot or caldero over medium-high heat, sauté the shallots and garlic in the 2 T of olive oil until the edges of the shallots begin to caramelize slightly, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the shrimp, scallops, calamari, mussels and hominy. Continue cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes or until the mussels open.

4. Add the reserved pozole stock to the pot and cook until heated through.

5. To serve, pour the stew into individual bowls and top with any or all of the desired garnishes.

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