Mexican done right at Café Poca Cosa
There are some things that make me proud to claim Tucson as my hometown. The breathtaking Santa Catalina mountains. The constant sunshine. And Café Poca Cosa—almost certainly the best restaurant in the city by a desert mile.
There’s no question that owner Suzana Davila’s creative, authentic and upscale Mexican cuisine (sans guacamole and sour cream) could
survive thrive in any of the country’s cutthroat culinary proving grounds—from NYC to Chicago. But pleas from restauranteurs to open locations in other cities have fallen on deaf ears. Suzana—and her melt in your mouth chicken mole and moan-inducing tamale pies—are staying put in the Old Pueblo. And that makes me smile.
Another thing that I love, love, love about Suzana is her refusal to sacrifice her culinary prowess in the face of popular demand. The ever-changing (twice daily!) Poca Cosa menu has a mere dozen-or-so entree choices—no distracting appetizers and absolutely no alterations or substitutions. What you get is a beautiful dish that is exactly as the chef intended it. ¡Que fantastico!
Lucky for me, I got inside access to Poca Cosa(thanks Candice!)—and two of Suzana’s most delicious dishes: chicken in mole verde and shredded chicken in mole de chilhaucle. Lucky for you, dear BWB readers, I’m sharing these treasured recipes with you.
Mole de chilhaucle with shredded chicken
8 skinned chicken breasts (bone-in)
32 oz. sesame seeds
16 oz. fresh almonds, shelled
8 oz. roasted peanuts, shelled
4 large roma tomatoes
12 cloves of garlic
3 yellow onions
10 chilhaucle chilis
6 pasilla chilis
3 guajillo chilis
3 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon oregano
8 oz. red chili powder
2 oz. sugar
4 oz. vegetable oil (soy or canola works best)
8-10 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Place chicken breasts in a large pot with enough water to yield a gallon of broth. Cut up one carrot, one onion and one garlic clove and add to the pot. Cook for 20 minutes at medium-high heat, making sure the liquid simmers, but does not come to a rolling boil. Remove the chicken breasts from the pot and pick the chicken from the bones. Refrigerate. Season broth with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour about half of the vegetable oil in a sauté pan and add the nuts and sesame seeds and brown until golden. Set aside.
Roast peppers, garlic and one onion under the broiler, turning until they are lightly charred all around.
Mix the nuts and vegetables, in small batches, in a food processor or blender.
In a large, dry sauce pan, toast the chili powder, oregano, cloves and cinnamon. Remove the spices and set aside. Cut up the remaining onion and cook it in the pan with the remaining oil. Add the veggie mix from the food processor and the seasonings and cook for 20 minutes over medium heat, gradually adding broth to maintain a loose but thick consistency. Add sugar, a little more broth and the shredded chicken. Serve with tortillas.
Chicken in mole verde
6 corn tortillas
Vegetable oil for frying tortillas
1 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup hulled, raw pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
1/3 cup whole blanched almonds
4 large garlic cloves
3 fresh poblano chilis, chopped
4 fresh serrano chilis, chopped
1 1/2 cups husked tomatillos, chopped
1 large bunch fresh corriander (about 2 cups packed)
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
about 4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons safflower oil
3 lbs cooked chicken, turkey or pork
In a large, heavy skillet, heat 1/4 inch vegetable oil on medium-high until hot but not smoking. Fry tortillas in batches until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and break into pieces when cool.
In a dry heavy skillet, toast sesame seeds over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden brown (about 8 minutes) and set aside. Repeat with the pumpkin seeds for about 2-3 minutes (until they puff up but do not darken). Finally, repeat with nuts for 2-3 minutes. Set all nuts and seeds aside.
In a food processor, blend garlic, chilis, tomatillos, corriander, lettuce, tortilla chips and 1 1/2 to 2 cups broth until the mixture forms a thick paste. Add nuts and blend until combined, but not smooth.
In a large saucepan, heat the safflower oil over medium-high heat until hot and add sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, adding broth as necessary to reach a thick, pasty consistency—about 12 minutes. Stir in meat and cook for 1o more minutes, stirring constantly. Serve mole with tortillas.
Another thing to visit Poca Cosa for—Cup Quequitos from Suzana’s daughter, Shanali. With more than 100 flavors of vegan cupcakes—and counting—every meal there can have a sweet ending.
Thanks again to Suzana and her staff for welcoming (and feeding) us!