Video demonstrating how to prepare chicos with pork. Video by Liddie Martinez
By LIDDIE MARTINEZ
To me, making a pot of homegrown chicos is the ultimate way to honor the history of our northern New Mexican lives. Growing up in a small house in the Española Valley, we had a nice sized yard that was large enough for a small flower and vegetable garden and a flock of chickens, but no land for major planting. Growing corn was not an option when the family moved to Española from the family farm in El Rito in 1950.
My favorite stories that my grandmother told were of old times on the big ranch in El Rito and of my Grandpa and uncles off to tend the sheep leaving the women to manage the crops. It was a story of matriarchy. Chicos were a mainstay in those days, a way of preserving the harvest for the winter when refrigeration was a challenge and freezers unheard of. Corn was harvested, shucked, blanched and tied on kitchen sting to hang in la resolana (the south facing wall of the house) and dry in the heat of the sun.
Once dry, the cobs were brought down and the kernels were removed by rubbing two cobs together and then stored in mason jars for use all winter. It was a labor-intensive process and for families who did not grow their own corn, the dish made a rare appearance on their tables after the holidays having received a small bag as a Christmas gift from family or neighbors.
In my youth, we often saw chicos added to the pinto bean pot, a treat that allowed the small cache to last a bit longer, but on the day a pot of chicos stewed with pork was placed on the stove to cook, to me, it was a feast and a nod to an ancient tradition.
My husband and I now grow concho corn for chicos on our farm in the valley. It is a time-honored family tradition and one that I was adamant I would return to after its brief pause in our family history. This is the same recipe my family has made for hundreds of years.
A bowl of chicos with pork. Photo by Liddie Martinez
Chicos with Pork
1 ½ Pounds Pork, cubed
2 Cups Chicos, rinsed
½ Onion, chopped fine
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 Quarts Water
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2-3 Red Chile Pods, stems removed and seeded
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat sauté pork pieces in olive oil until just brown on all sides. Pre-heat oven to 375 F. Add onion to pot and continue to sauté until onions are transparent. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper. Sauté for 2-3 minutes then add chicos and cover with water. Snip chile pods into pot with kitchen shears, cover with lid and cook in oven for about 4 hours on until chicos are tender.
Serve plain or with red or green chile.
*Please note you can also cook in a pressure cooker for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Editors note: Liddie Martinez is the author of the recently released Chile Line Cookbook: Historic Recipes of Northern New Mexico, which is available online at www.pajaritopress.com.