I recently developed my own chico recipe, but most people don’t even know what a chico is. I’m not talking about a little boy.
When visiting Acoma Pueblo, aka Sky City, (too many times to count), I always come away wondering how they prepared all the dried corn I’ve seen in surplus there. Then, the other day at the grocery store I noticed a new display of indigenous foods in the veggie department, and there they were – chicos! – dried kernels of corn pre-packaged and begging me to buy them. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them, but I am a resourceful woman, and I knew I’d figure out a recipe for chicos.
Local Hispanics claim their ancestors developed chicos here in the American southwest, and the indigenous peoples claim them too. I have a feeling that it was the natives who taught the newcomer Spanish colonists all about corn and how to dry, store and later prepare corn to eat, since corn wasn’t even an item in Europe back then, and it still isn’t very popular today for human consumption. Chicos may be preserved in two ways, but the Pueblos I have visited here in New Mexico use both methods together. The freshly picked corn, (any variety or color works), is roasted for several hours in the husk, and/or the husk is peeled back and the corn hung up to dry. In our NM Pueblos, I’ve seen the cobs stored whole and the kernels are rubbed off as needed. They may also be rubbed off after drying and stored in containers.
Here in New Mexico we also have a more popular corn dish called posole. The name serves to describe the type of corn itself as well as the traditional stew made with it. This corn is also known as hominy. It’s served on New Years for good luck, and everyone has their favorite family recipe that all have mostly the same ingredients in varying quantities. But chicos are not posole, or hominy. They are something very different.
We cooked a big leg of lamb for Easter, and there was a lot left over. We ate lamb for days and there was still a pound or so left over, so what to do? I thought…Chicos.
I found a recipe in a fantastic cookbook our utility company has been publishing for over 30 years, called Cocinas de New Mexico, (available at their website with all proceeds going a charitable fund). The recipe is called Guisado de Chicos, or Dried, Corn Stew. I read the basics and came up with my own ideas, as usual. I just can’t leave a recipe alone.
I’m thinking – the Navajos raise sheep and grow corn…so I’ve got a natural waiting to happen in my kitchen. Here are my ingredients for chicos:
five cups of water – twice
1 cup chicos
12 oz cooked lamb, 1/2″ cubes (more or less, ok)
8 oz diced salt pork ( i love it…makes everything taste better!)
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced @ 1/4″ or so
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 red chili pods
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp powdered cumin
These are simple ingredients that will make a very complex taste. Don’t over season!!!
Soak the chicos overnight in 5 cups of water. Drain off water and discard.
In a stock pot, brown the diced salt pork
drain excess fat, leaving just enough to
saute the onion until just about brown
add in all the rest of the ingredients, including 5 cups of water
bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer
simmer on low for 3 1/2 hours or so. Chicos should be a little firm, and many will be burst open. Don’t cook until they fall apart or become mush.
I am going to make this again next week with beef only, no salt pork. Maybe I;ll add pinto beans, since they are often served together. I’ll let you know what happens.
Resources – These can be very hard to find outside of the southwest US. The ones I buy at the supermarket are from Casados Farms, near Okay Owingeh, (San Juan Pueblo), North of Santa Fe. If you can’t find these “little ones” online, let me know and I’ll see if I can’t help find some for you. As for the Chili – any kind of dried chili will do. You can even use Thai or Seranos, and so what if they are fresh instead of dry…it’s ok.
The Cocinas de New Mexico cookbook is the absolute best out there for authentic New Mexico food, and includes a glossary of New Mexico ingredients, traditional cooking tools, commonly used spices and emergency substitutions. Here is the link to go get one now.
If you think you would like to sample some chicos during you stay at our Albuquerque bed and breakfast, just let me know before your arrival and I will whip you up a batch. Sure – you can eat chicos at breakfast!
Muy Bueno! Enjoy!
I know the best things to eat in Albuquerque!
Sarah Dolk, Adobe Nido Bed & Breakfast
Expert on Destination Albuquerque and Central New Mexico!