When I was a boy, hominy was one of those foods I thought was flat out bizarre, something that old folks ate. I associated it with my grandparents, older aunts and uncles, people that were not like me. Not to mention that it was supposedly corn, but had a funny gelatinous texture and sweet/earthy flavor that tasted kind of like mushrooms, but not exactly so. It’s funny to think about now, because I have always loved my grandparents and hold especially dear my last living grandparent, my grandma Melba Morales. I loved all the foods I associated with them but a few. Hominy was one, bread and butter pickles another, (the pickles being strangely sweet and rich at the same time, too much for my young palate I guess) kohlrabi, avocados and hog brains still others. Given time, they’ve all become some of my favorite foods. Probably everyone can relate on some level to the fact that I also hated a lot of the music that I associated with my grandparents and parents that I would later take to like a homecoming, admitting that while I am my own person, I can also live by the music of Johnny Cash and the Carter Family, stuff I had dismissed as dowdy when a teenager, but as an adult had to accept not only as beautiful but as part of who I am.
My homecoming to hominy was a bit more roundabout, and came much later than my embracing of Johnny Cash and Guacamole. In fact it’s been quite recent.
Outside of Mexican cuisine hominy is fairly well forgotten, even though it provided crucial early sustenance to settlers in Virginia and eventually throughout the South. Fact is, it’s still an important food in certain parts of the South, but not as hominy. Hominy is made from field corn, then dried for storage. It can then be stored, under proper conditions, virtually indefinitely. When desired, it is then ground into grits. True grits are made from hominy, and have a much creamier texture and earthier flavor than you can achieve from field corn. The process of turning dried corn into hominy is called nixtamalization. Dried corn is steeped in a highly alkaline solution until the pericarps (thin outer membranes) dissolve and can be washed off. We use culinary lime at Big Jones, but in the old days, they’d just throw some ashes from the fire into the pot and let them do their thing.
Why nixtamalize corn? Significantly, the presence of mycotoxins is reduced. These can cause rotting during storage and also nasty musty flavors. Some of them are poisonous. Also, by removing the pericarp, more nutrition is made available, plus the reactions with the minerals in the base (ashes or lime) make more minerals available (calcium in the case of lime, potassium when ashes are used,) which was critical when dairy was not available as a food source and mineral-rich green plants were not seasonal. It also releases amino acids and makes more vegetable proteins available. Starches become gelatinous, giving hominy that wonderful biting, creamy, gelatinous texture I used to find strange, but have come to love. These are the same chemicals that allow grits to be so supremely creamy when cooked properly.
The most splendid part of the hominy story, and what may cause many folks to take a second look at this forgotten food, is that hominy is everywhere: finely ground hominy (masa) forms the dough for corn tortillas and tortilla chips, coarsely ground hominy is grits. Still, fresh hominy is virtually impossible to find, in spite of that being its most delicious form.
When we started making our own andouille, I really wanted a dish for brunch that would showcase it in a simple yet profound way. Andouille with grits and onions is a common appetizer in and around New Orleans, and seemed like it had potential, but there was another inspiration. My readings and re-readings of old Edna Lewis cookbooks left me longing to revisit hominy. She was very fond of frying it in bacon fat and onions and serving it with lots of butter. I had also made the connection last year with Tracey Vowell of Three Sisters Garden, who grew up in South Louisiana before moving to Chicago and going on to years of work at Frontera Grill and Topolobompo as Sous Chef and Chef de Cuisine. A few years back Tracey left her big city job with her partner Kathe Roybal, bought a farm near Kankakee, and started farming white corn, huitlacoche, pea shoots, squash, tomatoes, oats, and black beans.
Tracey agreed she could provide us with her whole kernel, locally grown corn, and it was clear: I had to make hominy with her corn and serve it with the andouille. So, like much of our cooking at Big Jones, this isn’t so much about me or my restaurant. It’s about Edna Lewis and Tracey Vowell, plus Greg and Lei Gunthorp, who raise the hogs we use to make our andouille, and there are the Cubberly’s at Tempel Farms Organics, who supply our farm eggs, and you have a dish that is Southern to its very core, with all of the ingredients from small sustainable farms right around Chicago. Talk about a homecoming. While you couldn’t have had this dish 100 years ago in Chicago, you might have had something very much like it on a farmstead in South Louisiana back then, made from their own local bounty.
So we have Char Grilled Andouille, Hominy, Farm Eggs, and Onions. We make andouille 40# at a time at Big Jones, I have scaled it down to 20#, which can be made and frozen to supply you with ample andouille for the future, or you can scale the recipe down. Be sure to cook and taste some of the forcemeat before stuffing it into the casings. It’s always a big drag to have to unstuff sausage, reseason, and restuff. Better to get it right the first time. The hominy recipe makes a few pounds depending on how long you cook it, how tender you like it. It can be frozen fresh, or dried in a very low oven or dehydrator to grind into grits. We’ve been known to do this on occasion at Big Jones. The resulting grits are fantastic. It will keep fresh refrigerated about ten days. It can also be ground into masa for tortillas, or cooked whole into posole.
- 10# fatty pork trim or pork shoulder, passed through a 1/4″ grinding plate once only
- 10# pork shoulder and skin, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
- 3/4# kosher salt
- 1/2 cup freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup uncooked granulated yellow onion
- 1/2 cup uncooked granulated garlic
- 1/4 cup crushed red pepper
- 2 Tablespoons dried thyme leaves
- 2 Tablespoons pink curing salt
- 3/4 cup nonfat milk powder (as a binder) alternatively use 1.1 ounces transglutaminase
- 3 cups iced water
- approximately 15 feet beef middle casings
- approximately 2# pecan wood for smoking, alternatively hickory wood plus sugar cane
Soak beef casings in two gallons of lukewarm water for one hour. Rinse thoroughly inside and out with cold water, chill, and reserve. Chop and grind pork trim and shoulder and combine. Chill thoroughly to 40 degrees f. Combine seasonings and iced water and mix thoroughly. Mix thoroughly with the pork. Using a sausage stuffer, stuff into casings and secure into 1′ segments with butcher twine. Hang in a cooler at 36 degrees f for three days to dry and cure. Place in smoker with appropriate amount of pecan wood and smoke at 165 degrees for four hours, then increase heat to 185 degrees for two hours. Smoke until andouille reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees f. Remove and cool on wire racks to room temperature, about one hour. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, date,and refrigerate or freeze.
For the Hominy:
Day 1, in stainless steel stock pot:
- 2-1/2 pounds whole kernel corn
- Enough water to cover by 4”
- 1/4cup culinary lime
Wash corn to remove any kernels that float, and bits of stalk and debris. Cover with clean cold water and add lime. BE CAREFUL NOT TO GET LIME IN YOUR EYES OR TO INHALE IT. Place the mixture on the stove and gently bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low boil and simmer for one hour. Check to see if the hull slips off under cold water. If not, return and continue simmering, checking every ten minutes, until the hulls can slip off.
Immediately transfer to a sink and run under cold water and remove hulls by rubbing between your hands. Continue until all hulls have washed off and water runs clear. Drain, and transfer to storage container. Cover, label, date, and refrigerate.
Day 2, in stock pot:
- Hominy from 1-1/2# raw corn
- 1 gallon cold water
- 4 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
Slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Retaining a low boil, cook until just tender, generally 3-4 hours. Cool to room temperature for one hour. Cover, label, date, and refrigerate.
To complete the dish and serve four:
- 6 strips bacon
- 4 ounces butter
- 4 ounces yellow onion, minced
- 24 ounces cooked hominy
- 1 cup water
- salt and pepper, to taste
- one pound smoked andouille
- 8 farm eggs
- poaching water: large sauce pan, 2 quarts water, 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- 1 bunch green onions, julienned
Start up your char grill to heat the grates. In the mean time, set the poaching water to simmer in a large sauce pan. In a separate large saute pan, cook and render the bacon, then remove the strips from the pan and drain on paper towels. Add butter and onion to bacon fat and cook over medium heat until onions are sweated and butter is foaming. Add hominy and fry in hot butter, tossing often, for 3-4minutes. This is a good time to put the andouille on the grill. While andouille cooks, add water to fried hominy to emulsify the butter and bacon fat. Reduce liquid while tossing frequently to emulsify and thicken butter sauce. Drop eggs into simmering poaching liquid and turn andouille if well marked by the grill. Once all water has reduced from hominy, transfer to plates and garnish with crisped bacon. Top with grilled andouille, poached eggs, and julienned green onions.