Authentic Mexican mole simply means poultry will never be the same.
MAR 24 14 – 12:01 AM — Among the tasty treasures than come from your kitchen, few are as wondrous and rewarding as mole, the rich and nuanced chili sauce especially popular in the Mexican states of Puebla, Oaxaca and Tlaxcala.
Yes you can pick up a jar from the Mexican aisle in a well-stocked supermarket, but it doesn’t come close to carefully crafted, long-simmered mole sauce prepared at home using a variety of chili peppers, stock, peanuts, fat, sesame seeds and Mexican chocolate. Oh, and lots of time to properly marry the ingredients.
As one story goes, mole is said to originate at the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla where nuns were challenged one day to receive the archbishop but, as they were poor, they had very little food to prepare. So they gathered what ingredients they had including chili peppers, spices, stale bread, nuts and chocolate, and served it on turkey. The sauce was an instant success. (There are other versions of the story, but you get the idea — it’s not a dish made with expensive ingredients.)
“I think mole is the most iconic sauce in Mexican cuisine,” says Maria Amalia Garza (photo, above), a self-taught cook who operates The Cultural Kitchen in Orléans, offering small classes in world cuisines including Mexican, Thai, Moroccan and Cuban, among others.
“People who know and love food know about mole,” she says.
“It’s a fusion because some ingredients are not native to Mexico, like sesame seeds and coriander, for example. And while lard came with the Spanish to Mexico, before the Spanish there were no domesticated pigs in America.
“So the Spanish introduced pigs, and the culinary fusion began. And with the appearance of lard, then frying began.”
I’ve sampled my fair share of mole over the years. Among the best I’ve tasted was one prepared by José Hadad, executive chef and co-owner of acclaimed Frida Restaurant & Bar in Toronto, who cooked for the Mexican embassy in Ottawa back in 2010. I should add that Ottawa chef René Rodriguez of Navarra in the ByWard Market also crafts a superlative, multi-layered mole with lamb stock, chili peppers, chocolate and myriad spices, which he simmers intermittently for 60 days — that’s right, two months — to achieve incredible depth of flavour.
Maria’s recipe, here, comes together in just a few hours, not days as René would make it. But, oh, the result is incredible. With this sauce spooned on top, poultry will never be the same.
“Mole represents a fusion of ancient toasting and roasting techniques, with lard added for richness and depth,” Maria says.
“It’s always best to simmer it with fat and chicken stock for a long time, but today we’re going to make it rather quickly. But it really should be a labour of love and patience.”
You’ll notice the recipe calls for no fewer than four different kinds of dried chili peppers, which you may find at a specialty Latino food shop, and for sure at Mercado Latino store on Montreal Road.
“It’s important to toast the chiles to bring out the essential oils and flavours, just as you would toast spices. We’re also toasting and roasting the seeds, nuts and spices in this recipe — that’s one reason why it takes such a long time. A great mole can take a couple of days to prepare, but we’re going to rush it along a bit today.”
Alternatively, Maria says the home cook can fry ingredients in lard instead of toasting to develop even more flavour. “In Mexico, mole is served at celebrations and important events like weddings, baptisms and at Christmas, but because it can be so time-consuming people don’t make it every day.”
The good news is, prepared mole can be frozen. Even if you take the easy route and buy a jar from the store, commercial mole sauce can be improved by adding your own roasted tomatoes, onion, lard, toasted sesame seeds and/or peanuts, simmered one hour on low heat, then puréed.
“My toasted seeds and spices go through a coffee grinder first because I find most household blenders don’t make a really fine powder. At the end, I want a fine paste and a blender doesn’t do such a great job. However, I will use a food processor for the pumpkin seeds and the almonds, then everything goes into a blender for final processing.
“Many people think they should be able to taste the coriander, or the chocolate or the cinnamon, or a specific ingredient. But Mexican food is not about that — it’s about balance. It’s supposed to taste wonderful, yes, but as a whole product. If one ingredient stands out from the rest, then that’s not what you’re looking for. Mexican cuisine is a marriage of flavours.”
A marriage made in Maria’s kitchen, and yours.
Cultural Kitchen Authentic Mole
From: Maria Amalia Garza www.theculturalkitchen.com
Makes about 10 cups (2.5 L)
– 1 small (3-oz/85 g) tomato
– 1/2 small onion, sliced
– 5 cloves garlic, peeled
– 8 mulato dried chiles (40 oz/113 g), cleaned, seeds reserved, deveined
– 4 ancho dried chiles (2 oz/57 g) cleaned, seeds reserved, deveined
– 2 or 3 dried pasilla chiles (2 oz/57 g) cleaned, seeds reserved, deveined
– 2 or 3 chiptole meco dried chiles (1/2 oz/14 g) cleaned, seeds reserved, deveined
– 1 corn tortilla
– 1/4 cup (50 mL) sesame seeds
– 1-inch (2.5-cm) piece canela (Mexican cinnamon)
– 1/4 teaspoon (2 mL) anise seeds
– 1/4 teaspoon (2 mL) coriander seeds
– — 5 allspice berries
– 1.4 teaspoon (2 mL) black peppercorns
– 6 to 8 cups (1.5-2 L) chicken stock
– 1/2 cup (125 mL) oil, lard, or bacon drippings
– 1/2 cup (125 mL) blanched almonds
– 1/4 cup (50 mL) raisins
– 1-inch (2.5-cm) slice baguette
– 1/2 small ripe plaintain, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch (2.5-cm) slices
– 6 oz (170 g) Mexican chocolate, chopped (or 30-50% dark)
– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) brown sugar
– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) kosher salt
– Toasted sesame seeds
2. Roast tomato and tomatillos on foil-lined baking sheet until blackened and cooked through. Remove tomato peel.
3. Heat griddle on medium-low burner and roast onion and garlic until charred, about 10 to 15 minutes; set aside.
4. On same griddle, toast chiles until fragrant, taking care not to burn. Transfer toasted chiles to bowl to cover with boiling water until softened, about 15-30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, using tongs, hold tortilla over burner flame, turning frequently, until dark golden brown colour and charred on both sides. Set aside to cool, then crumble and add to soaking chiles in bowl.
6. In a dry frypan, toast 3 tablespoons (50 mL) of the reserved seeds, stirring, until fragrant and a bit darkened, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. Toast sesame seeds, canela, cloves, anise seeds, coriander seeds, allspice and peppercorns in same skillet, stirring until sesame seeds are toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl; when cool, grind in spice grinder and reserve.
7. Meanwhile, drain chiles and discard soaking liquid. Purée chiles in blender with about 2 cups (500 mL) of chicken stock; reserve.
8. In frypan, heat 2 tablespoons (25 mL) of lard and fry almonds, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer almonds to medium-size bowl, then fry pumpkin seeds until puffed and slightly browned; transfer to bowl with almonds. Next, fry raisins until puffed, about 1 minute, transfer to bowl with almonds and pumpkin seeds. Fry sliced bread until golden; remove and transfer to bowl with almonds, pumpkin seeds and raising. Fry plaintain slices until golden on both sides, about 3 to 5 minutes, and transfer to bowl with raisins etc.
9. Transfer any remaining lard in frypan to a large heavy pot (a cast-iron 5-quart/5-L Dutch over is perfect) and heat over medium burner. Add chile purée and cook (you might want to place a splatter screen on top to contain mess), stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
10. Working in batches in blender, combine toasted and fried ingredients with roasted tomato, tomatillos, onion, peeled garlic, with 2 cups (500 mL) chicken stock. Blend until smooth. Add to chile purée.
11. Add chocolate, sugar and salt, stirring until chocolate melts. Simmer on very low heat, stirring occasionally, adding more stock as needed to maintain a thick consistency (like pancake batter), about 45 minutes. (Note: Even better if you simmer on very low heat, lid on, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching in thick-bottom vessel, 2 hours or longer.)
12. Serve mole sauce on chicken or turkey, garnished with toasted sesame seeds. Sauce improves if made a day ahead and refrigerated. Sauce keeps 5 days in fridge, or a month if frozen.