Enrique Olvera, creator of Restaurante Pujol, has recently opened a tortillería (a place to make tortillas) cum snack shop, right in the smack-dab middle of ever-trendy Colonia Condesa. At Molino "El Pujol", a lot goes on in a tiny space: nixtamaliz-ation of native corns, chocolate-making, mole-making, preparation of a few other items, and some on-the-spot eating, both inside and outside the shop.
I was quite happy to be invited to visit Molino (it means 'mill') "El Pujol". A young chef friend who has been working with the establishment as a freelancer offered to talk to chef Jorge León, the in-charge person at the tortillería, to see if he could receive me a couple of weeks ago. "Sure, tell her to come on over on Monday around three o'clock." Ooooh, by all means.
Chef Jorge is a native of the Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca, a rural area approximately two and a half hours into the mountains northwest of Oaxaca city. He got his start in the kitchen when he applied for a job as dishwasher at Casa Oaxaca (in Oaxaca city). He told me, "I started working in the kitchen out of necessity, not because I knew I loved the kitchen. My family needed income--I had no idea what Casa Oaxaca was, or what working there implied. I was washing dishes, I could give my family income: that's what I knew. Little by little I learned my way around and discovered my passion." He's 32 years old, worked at Casa Oaxaca for three years and has now worked for chef Enrique Olvera for five years.
Interior at Molino "El Pujol". In addition to selling tortillas, masa (corn dough) and a few other items para llevar (to go), the little shop also sells a few vegetables to use at home, and a few menu items to eat on the premises or take out. All photos copyright Mexico Cooks! unless otherwise noted.
Jitomates riñón (kidney shaped tomatoes) are endemic to the state of Oaxaca; the tortillería brings them from there to Mexico City. They are an heirloom fruit, one of the very few heirlooms cultivated in Mexico, with a deep tomato taste that brings unique flavor to whatever recipe requires it. They're very hard to find outside Oaxaca.
It's likely that these miltomates (tiny tomate verde--what you might know in a larger size as tomatillos) are brought from the state of Oaxaca, although they grow and are eaten all over Mexico in sauces, green moles, and other prepared dishes that require them. The wee miltomate (it measures about 2cm in diameter) is a more flavorful variety of the larger tomate verde; it grows among the corn, squash, and beans in the milpa, the ancient farming method of Mexico, still used today
Molino "El Pujol" nixtamal-izes corn for its tortillas. The shop nixtamal-izes a new pot of dried corn every day. The huge kettle of corn for this day was a black corn from southern Oaxaca. All of the corn for "El Pujol" is sourced by don Amado Ramírez, a Oaxaca-based specialist in the biodiversity of corn.
Nixtamaliz-ation of corn involves simmering it for approximately 30 minutes in a large amount of water mixed with a small amount of cal (calcium hydroxide) and allowing the corn to rest overnight in the water mixture. After its overnight rest, the corn is washed thoroughly in several waters and drained, removing all of the cal cooking water. The prepared corn is then ready to be ground for making masa (in this case, corn dough) for tortillas, tamales, and other corn-based products.
Traditionally, corn masa is ground on a hand-made volcanic stone metate while kneeling on the floor or the ground. Enlarge the photo to see that this Purépecha indigenous woman has placed a petate (hand-woven reed mat) in the place where she is kneeling. She's kneading the blue corn dough on her metate; the long stone object just in front of the masa is the metlapil, a volcanic stone rolling pin used to grind corn that she nixtamal-ized the previous night. Molino "El Pujol" uses a mechanized grinding system in order to maintain the correct masa consistency and texture.
The finished product: fresh-off-the-comal (griddle) tortillas, both black and white, being wrapped in chef Enrique's invention: a 'newspaper" called totomoxtle (the word means corn husk) that offers information about corn as well as protection for one's tortillas. Tortillas at Molino Pujol are offered (as of this writing) at 21 pesos for 12. They're totally natural, traditionally made, and really delicious. Tortillas from a standard neighborhood tortillería usually sell for between 13-14 pesos a kilo, but these days aren't often made the old-fashioned way, with nixtamaliz-ed corn. Photo courtesy Eater.
The day that I visited Molino "El Pujol", chef Jorge 'El Moles' León told me that a team of young chefs would be preparing mole after the shop closed for the day. I was astonished to see the sheer quantity of each of so many ingredients involved in producing what turned out to be 40 kilos--nearly 100 pounds--of mole paste that would be used for the several of Enrique Olvera's restaurants where mole is served. This photo is a tiny glimpse of the huge tub of tomatoes ready to be incorporated into the mole. Huge, you can't even imagine.
Here, an enormous pot of peanuts, some with and some without skin, turning golden over the fire before being used to make the mole.
Here, a wide, wide pot containing about 18 inches of dried, reconstituted chiles, including chile ancho. The two young chefs who prepared the mole worked from 5:00PM on Monday until 4:00AM on Tuesday to complete the job.
A tiny portion of the enormous quantity of plátano macho (plantain) used to give both sweetness and consistency to the mole.
Mole madre/mole nuevo, as served at Restaurante Pujol. I took the photo during a meal there in January 2015, when the mole madre was about 600 days old. Chef Jorge explained mole madre to me by saying, "It's like what happens when you have leftovers after a big family meal or a party. You don't want anything to go to waste, so you add a little of this and that and invite people to finish it up the next day. Or the next day." The mole madre is currently nearly 2000 days old.
Chef Jorge brought me this really unusual (and really delicious) taco to try. The dark green on the outside of the tortilla is hoja santa, an herb that when cooked tastes like anise. The tortilla on the inside of the hoja santa is black corn, the same corn that is in the photo of nixtamaliz-ation. Toasting the two together on the comal (griddle), the flavors combine to create a marvelous taste. And inside the taco is a thick slice of perfectly ripe avocado, served with a white salsa that El Molino Pujol calls "guacachile". In fact, it's made of onion, chile serrano, and a bit of oil, blended together with some kind of secret Pujol alchemy. In the glass, the white liquid is agua de maíz: a fantastically refreshing agua fresca made with corn. Wonderful.
Chef Jorge also brought me this tamal de huitlacoche (a tamal [remember: one tamal, two or more, tamales] filled with corn smut). I would happily eat another one right this minute.
A view of the tamal filling. The black/beige-y part is the huitlacoche, the reddish part around that is a spicy, rich sauce that perfectly complements the corn fungus and the surrounding masa is of course house-nixtamaliz-ed corn. Now se me truenan las tripas--my stomach is growling!
The menu board at Molino El Pujol. Prices effective July 2018 and subject to change without notice.
My young friend with the fire in his hair, chef Eríc Martínez, who asked chef Jorge if I could visit Molino El Pujol. Eríc is pictured in my kitchen, making his own mouth-watering version of mole for my birthday dinner this year. Write down his name, remember his face. The culinary world is going to hear from this young man. You deserve it all, amigo.
A huge shout-out to chef Jorge 'El Moles' León, for kindness, generosity, and information--and for taking so much time to talk with me at Molino El Pujol. I asked him for a photo, but no, thanks.
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