My $5 Slow-Food Challenge: Homemade Chicken Posole

I know I am a little late in taking up the trend of a slow food challenge, but once I found this awesome and delicious recipe, I couldn’t resist. They say you can’t eat a nutritious and homemade meal for less than you would pay for a junk meal at a fast-food joint, and a number of other bloggers have set out to take back the “value meal” and prove that sentiment wrong.

I didn’t just prove it wrong. I kicked that theory’s butt.

Luckily for me, surviving on less than $5 per meal it isn’t a daily challenge anymore, but regardless, there’s nothing that makes me happier than a great meal for just a little money. I was raised by my mother and grandmother, and we weren’t rich — but even if we had been millionaires, my grandmother wasn’t the type to be frivolous with the ingredients. She still would have gotten the cheapest cuts and made them delicious, instead of the best cuts and the easiest recipes. She took great pride in making a huge meal and feeding her entire family for a small sum. Grandma would have absolutely loved this one.

As it is today, I am a single girl with lots of single friends, and they will all love to come over and eat this. For less than $4 per person, 4 of my friends (plus me) can have a huge bowl and take some home for later.

The cost breakdown:

  • $4.80 … Chicken thighs (2 packages of about 4 thighs each)
  • $3.10 … 2 cans of salsa verde ($1.55 each)
  • $1.57 … 1 big can of hominy
  • $1.49 … corn tortillas
  • $1.31 … chicken bouillon (this is a pack of 8 and you only need 2 for this recipe — you’ve probably got some in your cupboard right now)
  • $0.91 … bottle of Tapatio hot sauce (you probably also have some hot sauce lying around but this is the cheapest)
  • $0.90 … head of cabbage (shred it)
  • $0.40 … bunch of radishes (slice them)
  • $0.50 … bunch of cilantro
  • $0.75 … two onions (dice them)
  • $0.45 … two limes

Total of $16.18, which works out to about $3.24 per quart. Not serving. Quart. Everyone can have a big bowl and take some home for later.

A couple of other notes about this extremely adaptable recipe:

  • You can make it even cheaper than this. Omit the chicken and make it totally vegetarian, or use a cheap cut of pork. It would also be slightly cheaper and just as flavorful to use a whole chicken (bones and all). You can also save money by making and using your own stock (chicken, pork, or vegetarian) or your own homemade salsa, or your own homegrown herbs, like cilantro, or vegetables.
  • You can stretch it out! There’s an old Mexican saying for when people unexpectedly show up at your house, that loosely translates to “put more water in the beans,” and that’s what comes to my mind with this great meal. You can make it for 5 people or for 25 people. Stretch out the recipe by making it in a huge stock pot and adding more chicken, water and bouillon, and pad the sides with extra vegetables to stretch it out and feed even more people.
  • You can also make this more expensively. Use a good cut of pork instead of chicken thighs (although a more expensive cut of chicken, like a boneless breast, might get a little dry, so I would stick with a thigh since it’s got the flavor from the bone and the fattiness of the skin), use a tomato-based (red) salsa instead of canned tomatillo salsa. You can also use store-bought stock instead of bouillon, or top it with gourmet cotija cheese and sliced avocado.
  • There are lots of ways to add extra flavor. I smoked my chicken, but that’s just because I used smoked chicken for my last chicken stock, and it was so maddeningly good that I swore I would never again make a chicken soup without smoking the chicken first. It adds a wonderful flavor to any soup or chili. 
  • Fancy tools aren’t necessary. Of course I realize that most families for whom eating for less than $5 a day is a true challenge probably don’t own their own smoker. Or their own crock pot, for that matter. You can add as much extra flavor by making the soup in a large pot on the stove and seasoning the chicken, then searing it at high heat for a few minutes, then adding the salsa, onions, hominy, etc.
  • Just because this is a cheap meal doesn’t mean it needs to be a flavorless meal. Add the flavors you and your family love to eat.

Posole (also spelled “pozole”) is an incredibly adaptable dish, and indeed some versions are particular to certain regions of Mexico and Central and South America.

Based on my preliminary research talking to abuelitas and tias I know, my understanding is that “traditional” depends on the location. It can be made with pork or chicken, with red or green salsa, with a clear or a vegetable-filled broth. Some regions near the ocean in Central and South America specialize in a fish stew, and some inland areas that are thousands of miles from any coast will have a chicken leg in a huge communal pot of vegetables of every type. It’s mind-boggling how many variations there are for one dish.

I also have heard that posole has the same restorative properties as menudo after a long night of drinking. I can’t get behind menudo no matter how many versions of it I try, but I have to say that I have enjoyed a bowl of this soup after a long day of watching a football game or three, and I can personally vouch for its ability to make you feel human again. But how could it not? Slow-cooked chicken and broth, and fresh, nutritious vegetables. This is an incredibly healthy and delicious meal.

The version that is my personal favorite is with chicken and green tomatillo salsa, then served with chopped cabbage, onion, cilantro, radish, a dash of hot sauce and a squeeze of lime. One day I plan to make this with pork, only I will smoke the pork beforehand. Imagine this delicious and spicy soup with chunks of deliciously smoked pork, with a lovely smoke ring, seasoned and smoked to a perfect crispiness. Mmmmm.

This is what it looks like after slow-cooking on high for a few hours. Take out the bones and skin, add the chilled toppings.

Hillary’s Smoked Chicken Posole

  • (see ingredient list above)
  • 3 quarts water

Step 1 (optional): Smoke the chicken for 2-3 hours at 200 degrees over hickory and mesquite chips.

Step 2: Place the chicken (with skin and bones still intact) into a 5-quart crock pot. Add onion, cans of salsa and hominy (drain the hominy first), then add two cubes of bouillon and water. Set slow cooker on high and let cook for at least 4 hours. You can let it cook longer than 4 hours — the longer the better, but if you cook it for more than 6 hours keep it on the low setting. (Note: I used one white onion and one red onion, and chopped them both. I added half of the chopped onions to the broth, and saved the other half for garnish. Again, this recipe is so adaptable, you can do as you prefer.)

Step 3: Before serving, I like to remove the skin and bones and shred the meat a little, but you can also serve a chicken thigh intact and surrounded by broth. Since it will be extremely tender by this point, the bones will come out very easily and shredding will be as easily as taking a fork in each hand and whisking them around for a minute. Then add the chopped cabbage, radish, cilantro and fresh onion, a squeeze of lime, and serve with a hot tortilla or two.