ON ANY GIVEN NIGHT, a trip to Autentica—Portland’s holy temple of Mexican cuisine—can be an intoxicating experience. But on Thursdays, when chef-owner Oswaldo Bibiano prepares his pozole blanco, it’s an all-out assault on the senses. A fine haze of chile dust fills the air along with the pungent aroma of meat, spice, and herbs.
On a recent Thursday I visited Bibiano at Autentica and found him hunched over a stockpot filled with simmering broth, chopped onions, and an unpeeled head of garlic. As I peered over his shoulder, he measured a few cups of hominy-—a dry, large-kernel corn whose hull has been removed—before looking up at me. “The backbone of my pozole,” he said with a grin.
Considered the soul food of Mexico’s Pacific Coast, pozole is a traditional savory stew made by blending corn varieties sown by the Mayans and Aztecs with European ingredients (pork, garlic, and onions from the Spaniards). “There are several different pozole variations,” explained Bibiano as he quartered a Cascade Natural pork leg, dropping the meat into the pot. “There’s pozole verde, made with tomatillos, and pozole rojo, made with ancho chile peppers, but here we make pozole blanco, with garlic and onions. That’s always been the Thursday tradition in my family.”
Bibiano grew up near Acapulco, and as a child he’d watch his grandmother tend a large terra-cotta pot of pozole set over an outdoor wood fire. She’d use a coconut-shell spoon to ladle out the stew and serve it to her family. Today Bibiano uses a stainless steel spoon, but the result is much the same: juicy shreds of supple pork float with plump hominy in a deeply scented broth revved up by chile, black pepper, and garlic.
The soup is served with a garnish plate of shredded cabbage, diced onions, radishes, crumbled cotija, avocado, and chile sauce. When I sprinkle the trimmings into the bowl, the dish takes on a lively new dimension, and by the time I finish my last spoonful, it’s seared into my memory for good. I sense that this is how traditions are born.