There is little doubt Alba Saavedra runs the show at her namesake, Restaurant Alba, on a busy stretch of Chicago Avenue in West Town. She's constantly running around, sometimes taking orders herself, but mostly, back in the kitchen, making her homemade mole and pozole.
"Pozole is a hominy stew, and it can be chicken or pork and we make it with green or red sauce," said Christian Brito, Alba's son.
For her green version, giant jalapenos are first fried, then blended with fresh cilantro, onions and garlic until the mixture is a rough puree.
The sauce is fried in some oil to heat through and cook the raw onion; meanwhile, she takes large kernels of hominy that have been soaking for several hours, adding them to homemade chicken stock. She'll eventually combine that with the chile mixture, then ladle it out into wide bowls, adding chicken or pork. Alongside, a plate of garnishes includes fresh radish, avocado, cabbage, limes and onions. You decide what to add, and how much, then maybe add a pinch of dried Mexican oregano and dig in.
The mole is even more complicated.
"Mole is made of ancho and guajillo peppers and it also has raisins and chocolate with sugar which gives it the sweet taste to it," said Brito.
Those dried chilies are first toasted on the grill, then deep-fried. Along with chicken stock and some homemade chocolate imported from Mexico, she blends them all up until smooth, then heats them on the stove. Other ingredients include nuts, seeds and spices, and once the mole is cooked through, it can be added to plates of whole or shredded chicken. The sauce is complex, a little heat, a little sweet, but with a depth of flavor rarely found in sauces from other countries. Fresh tortillas for dipping are a must.
"The chocolate sauce definitely overpowers the spiciness, that's why it's not so spicy," he said.
Now a lot of Mexican restaurants only serve pozole on the weekends, but Alba always has her pozole - red or green - everyday. But when it comes to the handmade tortillas that you often see in the baskets alongside the mole, she only does the handmades on the weekends otherwise during the week they come from a package, but still no shame in having them with this homemade mole which is the same recipe she's had for 18 years.
In this week's extra course, our Hungry Hound talks about another famous dish from Mexico popular year-round: guacamole. He says the version at Alba's is chunky and satisfying.
1825 W Chicago Ave