100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 31, Cochito con Mole Xico at Hugo's
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg Warm and soothing, mole xico from Hugo's is my ultimate comfort food.
For me, Hugo's has become my go-to place for comfort food. I know many see it as an upscale date or night on the town sort of spot, and it's certainly that, too. But to me, braised pork, chips and salsa, and warm churros are the epitome of comfort.
So when I was sick, recently, I knew exactly what to do: Hugo's take-out.
Granted, the experience of getting take-out from Hugo's is not the same as eating there among the lively crowd and multitude of wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen. But in the spirit of not infecting everyone else around me with the same crummy flu-like bug I had, I got my order to-go, brought it home, ate it there, and almost immediately started feeling better. It was like magic.
I credit the mole.
Mole, a Mexican sauce that can be made in any number of ways, but pretty much always contains at least 20 different ingredients. It's complicated and time-consuming to make, so families traditionally make it for special occasions as a way to show they care. I get the same feeling of being cared for when I eat the cochito con mole xico at Hugo's.
It's a warm, hearty dish. An impossibly large serving of pork shoulder braised until it's falling apart, topped with thick, ruddy mole xico and served with mashed plantains, black beans, guacamole and asparagus on a bed of slightly sweet collard greens in a pasilla pepper and plum sauce. For $22, it's a lot of food.
The pork shoulder is tender. As it must be. The thin layer of fat on one side of it melts in your mouth, and the dark, reddish-brown mole is more sweet than it is spicy. According to a recipe from Diana Kennedy, a friend of chef Hugo Ortega, mole xico has 24 ingredients, including a wide variety of nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, spices, pasilla and mulato chiles and meat broth. Making it is quite the undertaking, but at Hugo's it's always executed flawlessly.
The sides are also wonderful. A few stalks of grilled asparagus pair well with the meaty pork and mild but complex mole, and the mashed plantains are a nice dose of starch in an otherwise veggie- and protein-heavy dish. The plate is served with several small corn tortillas, though, so if you want to make little tacos out of the pork, guac and beans, you certainly can.vI prefer it unadulterated. Save those tortillas for later.
So I encourage you to not think of Hugo's as a fun dinner spot only. It's also a great place to get a fast, comforting meal to-go, and the quality will be just as good as if you were sitting there watching chef Ortega make it before your eyes.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.