A work in progress: feedback, criticism, questions, and more info are welcome
I want to make homemade hominy from corn. It's an ancient process used by Native Americans and homesteads so I thought that I'd easily find suitable instructions. Instead I found vague descriptions of the process and it often seemed the author had never made hominy.
I've made over a dozen batches, the first five were failures but I'm starting to learn the process and identify the parameters that will increase the likelihood of success on your first attempts. This blog will explore and document the process. I had my first success with a hominy recipe at Anson Mills. The process here is my adaptation of that recipe. Once I had success with it, I was able to better understand other recipes and have success with them also.
What is Hominy?
True hominy (the term is often misused) is dry corn that has been soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution to remove the hulls. The process is known as nixtamalization and it: improves the nutritional value of corn, removes fungal-mycotoxins from stored corn, improves the taste, and makes the kernels easier to grind. There's a lot more detail on Wikipedia.
This page is organized with the best recipe for first time hominy makers at the very bottom. In between is background info referenced by the other recipes.
The Corn (dry corn kernels)
• Some health food stores have bulk bins of corn kernels
• Anson Mills sells a wonderful (but expensive) heirloom large kernel corn that is perfect for making homemade hominy: Henry Moore Yellow Hominy Corn
• Some online grain stores carry whole corn.
• Check with a local corn farmer and get a few ears of dried field corn
• As a last resort, popcorn can be used--the kernels only double in size so it will be mini-hominy
• Don't use seed corn! (It's treated with fungicides, etc.)
Sort through your dry corn kernels and pick out any broken ones and discard any chaff. Broken kernels soften and swell much faster than the whole ones and make it harder to determine the point where the corn turns into hominy.
The Alkaline Solution
The best and safest recipe for first time hominy makers uses Pickling Lime (aka: CAL, or Food Grade Lime). It's available in the canning section of many grocery stores and is dangerous only on eye contact or if ingested.
Most homemade hominy recipes add the Pickling Lime directly to the water used to simmer the corn. Anson Mills recommends an intermediate step where the Pickling lime is soaked in water for 5 hours, the solids are then separated from the liquid, and only the clear lime-water is used to turn the corn into hominy. This ensures that no solids remain on the finished hominy. If the solids are ingested, they neutralize stomach acid and could possibly have other effects.
Making Lime Water (takes 5.5 hours, this can be done in advance but make sure the solution is clearly labeled and stored so that it can't be ingested.)
- Add 10 cups of water to a stainless steel (or enameled) pot of about 6 qt capacity. This is a different pot than what you will cook the hominy in. It should be easy to smoothly pour the liquid out of it--see steps below.
- Bring to a simmer.
- Add 1/4 cup Pickling Lime and stir with a non-reactive spoon.
- Cover and let rest off-heat for 5 hours
- The pH of this solution is approximately 12.5
- There will be a skin on top of the water and white solids on the bottom. You want to use the clear liquid in between.
- Make a simple filter using a paper coffee filter and a mesh strainer.
- Slowly pour the lime-water from the soaking pot through the strainer-filter into the simmering pot. Keep the solids on the bottom of the soaking pot as long as possible to avoid clogging the coffee filter.
- If the filter clogs and there's less than about a cup of liquid left, you can dump the unfiltered portion down the drain. If there's a lot left to filter, continue with a new coffee filter.
- The final liquid should be mostly clear. If not, re-filter. The second pass will go a lot faster.
The corn should be soaked before simmering it in the alkaline solution. I've tried both ways and there's no apparent difference in the results.
• Overnight Soak
- Add the alkaline material to the water, stir, and then add the corn
- Cover, and let rest overnight or 12 hours
• Quick Soak
- Add the alkaline material to the water, stir, and then add the corn
- Cover, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and let rest for 2 hours
A slow-simmer near 190° F for two hours is a critical factor in making homemade hominy. At 190°, there is almost no movement or bubbles in the water. If the temperature is a little low, it just takes longer to make hominy. If the temperature is too high, some kernels will cook much faster than others--25% of the kernels may be over-cooked and dissolving, 25% still dry, with only 50% done.
I know four methods of achieving a slow simmer and have listed them in approximate ease of use.
• Oven Simmer
Bring the covered pot to a boil on the stove and place in a 250° F oven. Check the water temperature after 30 minutes--it should be about 190° F. If you don't have a thermometer, make sure there's just slight movement or bubbles in the water. Otherwise, turn the oven up or down a little.
• Stove-Top Simmer
Bring the covered pot to a boil and then turn down to a very low heat. Check the water temperature after 15 minutes. It should be about 190° F. (Between 180 and 195 are ok). If you don't have a thermometer, make sure there's just slight movement or bubbles in the water.
• Double Boiler (or Water Bath) Simmer
If you have problems keeping the water temperature low enough with a stove top simmer, try to improvise a double boiler or water bath large enough to hold your pot.
• Crock Pot Simmer
This is what I tried first because it seemed like an obvious solution to a slow simmer. However, most crock pots aren't thermostatically controlled. Mine took about two hours to reach 190° on high and kept right on going up to the boiling point. I had the same result with a setting of low--except it took even longer to get to 190° and still started boiling. I tried using the warm setting once the crock pot hit 190° but then it cooled off.
It took 8 hours of simmering/cooling/boiling in my crock pot for the hominy to get done. Due to the lack of heat control, 20% were overdone, 60% done, and 20% not fully cooked. To avoid wasting a batch of corn, try your crock pot with 10 cups of plain water and see if it will hold a simmer. If it does, then it may be the easiest method for you. Plan on roughly 5 hours of time due to the hours spent getting to a 190° simmer.
Bite Testing for Doneness
To determine if your homemade hominy is done, you'll have to RINSE and bite into several kernels. The process proceeds very slowly for the first hour or so, but speeds up near the end.
Some kernels finish much faster than others so you'll have to bite more than one kernel each time. As a rule of thumb, remove the hominy from the alkaline when 10% of the kernels are over-cooked and starting to dissolve, 10% are still slightly crunchy, and 80% are done. (You'll be able to finish cooking the kernels after removing them from the alkaline solution. The crunchy ones will soften in your cooking liquid long before the others become too soft.)
To rinse for tasting, I use a plastic stirring spoon to put about 6 kernels in a small bowl with as little liquid as possible. I add cold water to the bowl then dump the kernels into my hand and rinse under running water for a few seconds. There's no need to eat the kernels, just bite into them and spit them out if they are under cooked.
The simmering time depends on the variety and possibly the age of the corn. I've found that Jarvis (a heirloom corn) takes about 3 hours. An unnamed organic corn, and Henry Moore Hominy corn both took about 2 hours.
Dilute and Rinse
Once the hominy is done, you need to dilute and rinse. Here's what works for me with my equipment. Modify to fit your situation. If you have an aluminum colander, you need to make sure you're working with a very dilute solution before letting the soaking liquid contact your aluminum colander.
- Put the pot in the sink
- Fill and overflow the pot with cold tap water
- While the pot is overflowing, stir the mixture with a non-aluminum spoon at moderate speed. You want to get rid of the dark colored liquid and floating hulls while keeping the heavier hominy near the bottom of the pot. Don't obsess over fully clearing the water--the main goal at this point is to dilute and cool.
- Once you've diluted the liquid, and the water and pot are cool, dump the hominy into a large colander.
- Use running water or a spray hose to rinse the hominy for several minutes stirring occasionally.
- Clean the cooking pot and dump the hominy back into the pot.
- Fill the pot with enough water to cover the hominy by at least several inches.
- Let soak for at least 5 - 10 minutes to remove any residual alkaline. (There is wide disagreement as to how much time and how many rinses should be used to remove the alkaline. My recommendations are near the center cluster. More and longer rinses won't hurt.)
- If there are floating hulls (probably small pieces) or corn-germs (white), use your hands or a skimmer to remove them from the pot. Stir the hominy occasionaly to release more hulls. There's no need to get them all--5 minutes work should be enough. With some types of corn, the hulls almost completely dissolve and aren't noticeable. With other types, there will be floating pieces and possibly pieces attached to the kernel. If pieces of hull are still partially attached, you can rub the kernels between your palms to remove them. If it's a lot of work, let the corn simmer longer the next time so they more fully loosen and dissolve.
- Place a storage container on the counter next to the pot. Using your hands, pick up a small handful of hominy at a time and fill the container. Most of any remaining hulls will stay behind in the water.
- As a first timer, don't worry about the tips (nibs) or the corn-germ coming off the kernels. They're not important either way. Of the tips that remain, some may come loose during the final cooking but it's only a small cosmetic issue.The bite test described above should be your main judge of whether the hominy is finished or not.
Basic Recipe for Making Homemade Hominy using Pickling Lime
(Modified from the hominy recipe at Anson Mills.)
This recipe has a lot of resting time that you need to consider before starting:
• Overnight soak: 5.5 hours the 1st day to make lime-water, an overnight soak, and approximately a 2 hour simmer the next day.
• Quick soak: 5.5 hours to make lime-water, a 2 hour soak, and approximately a 2 hour simmer.
Make Filtered Lime-Water (5.5 hours)
10 cups of water with 1/4 cup Pickling Lime and filtered per the instructions above.
Soak Corn (2 hours to overnight)
- Measure out 2 cups of dry food grade corn. It will double and yield 4 cups of hominy.
- Pick through the corn (as you would dry beans), and remove all broken kernels and any extraneous material.
- Add the corn to the approximately 10 cups of lime-water in your cooking pot.
- Soak by either method detailed earlier.
Simmering Corn (approximately 2-3 hours)
- After soaking, bring to a boil, then slow-simmer for approximately two hours by one of the methods above.
- After the first hour, check and start bite testing kernels every 30 minutes. (More frequently as they soften and swell.)
Dilute and Rinse
- When it's ready, dilute and rinse per the discussion above.
Using your Homemade Hominy
- Refrigerate the hominy until you're ready to use it.
- I usually cook the hominy in broth or sauce for about an hour. That seems to be sufficient time to soften the most reluctant kernels without the others overcooking. Any kernels that dissolve will just thicken the sauce.
Quick and Easy Posole
- Hominy about 4 cups
- Canned Green Enchilada Sauce about 24 oz
- Canned Green Chilis about 7 oz
- Boston Pork Butt cut into 1/2 inch cubes and browned, about 1 pound
- Brown a cup of chopped onions
- Combine the browned pork, hominy, and onions
- Add green enchilada sauce to cover
- Other vegetables or beans can be added: green beans, canned black beans, frozen or canned corn, etc.
- Simmer covered for about an hour until the hominy is done and the sauce has thickened to a stew-like consistency. You may have to add additional water during the cooking time.