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Albuquerque Innsights

A local innkeeper knows New Mexico secrets and tells anyone who will listen.

A Simple, Easy Chico Recipe – My Chico Experiment

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.

chico ingredients

My ingredients for Chicos

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!!!

dry chicos

You must soak the chicos overnight.

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.

common red chili pods

Common NM red chili pods

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!

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13 Responses to “A Simple, Easy Chico Recipe – My Chico Experiment”

  1. Stephanie says:

    Are these the same thing as Maiz de Tostar that I found in a South American store?

    • adobenido says:

      Judging by the photo’s of “maiz de tostar” on the internet, I’d say that it’s more like hominey than chicos. Hominey, or Posole, (name in the southwest) corn is preserved and prepared in a different way and requires much soaking, rinsing and rinsing again, and a fairly long cooking time – hours – until the kernels pop open. But if you want, try try doing all the above mentioned things to your maiz de tostar and then use the ingredients from my recipe and tell what happens! Literally, maiz de tostar is “toasted corn”, but I’m sure it’s not toasted).

  2. Carole says:

    I live in Culver City in Ca. but my heart lives in New Mexico. Having tried Chicos on a New Mexico culinary tour years ago, I fell in love with the taste and texture. If you are looking for an online source, The Santa Fe School of Cooking has them and has an online catalog
    santafeschoolofcooking.com just search chicos – Susan Curtis and her daughter Nicole are the wonderful and accommodating owners. I can’t wait to try this recipe

  3. Duane Goeske says:

    Can you suggest a web site where I can buy chicos? I used to have one and get them for my wife but it’s off line now. I’m really having trouble finding chicos anywhere online. My wife cooks with them, can’t believe they are so hard to find

    • adobenido says:

      Duane..I have been unable to find a site online, but there are now two places in our neighborhood that sells them. I have purchased them for other readers and mailed them. Would be happy to do the same for you. Email me from my website, remind me who you are, and I’ll be happy to get some for you.

    • Natalie Lopez says:

      My husband and I are from a small town in Northern New Mexico called Penasco it is about 28 miles east of Taos. We make authentic Chicos steamed and roasted in the horno. If you are interested in purchasing some please contact me via e-mail at nat5lopez@yahoo.com

  4. Teresa says:

    The chicos that we get come from the pueblos, there are some sold that are not the same chicos should be small in size and are round not oval, like some I have seen sold in Espanola. They are costly so you don’t want to waste money on fake chicos.

    They are delicious we cook them with Chicken and Red Chili. Oh, so good!!

    • adobenido says:

      You are so right , Teresa – and it’s hard to find the real ones too. If they’re inexpensive they are probably not the real think. I always ask about the source if it’s not evident.

  5. Patricia says:

    If you ask around Albuquerque to hispanics from older sections of the city they can tell you how delicious chicos are in any New Mexican dish. Established areas of Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico have always dried or used chicos in our native dishes. You must be new to New Mexico if you never heard of them. Good luck using them in your favorite dish/es. :)

    • adobenido says:

      I’ve been here for 33 years and have not encountered a single chico until recently, and we have lived in historically Hispanic neighborhoods. Now I wonder why you don’t ever see them in restaurants.

  6. chieko says:

    I have dried blue corn. I’ve roasted some with salt and red chile to make a crunchy snack. I’m thinking of boiling a bunch up in my pressure cooker and freezing to save the steps of having to soak, etc. That way it’ll be handy when I decide to make something that calls for chicos. :)

  7. Mike CQ says:

    I was introduced to Chicos in a little town north of Santa Fe call Espanola 6 years ago. I had ventured down this dirt road and happened on this great local restaurant run by an elderly lady who should be long retired. I tried the chicos stew and was turned on. I ended up buying 3 lbs of the dried chicos from a street vendor.. A little pricey I must say. Our friends who was raised and lived in Albuquerque had never heard of this, and in checking around, very few people had heard of chicos.
    Today I am making a chicos stew with venison and my own smoked lamb with Tohono O’odham Tepary beans (another great native product). The beans will add a soft sweetness to the stew. Then I will add some of my fire roasted NM chiles for a kick. This will be a true NM/Native American dish.

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