Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mole Poblano

I've put off giving you a recipe for mole poblano, primarily because I've been a) too lazy to make it and b) too lazy to type out the instructions. This is a time and labor intensive dish to make (unless you use store-bought mole, of course), and it's usually reserved for major holidays for that reason.

Although the word "mole" (MO-lay), which means "sauce" in Nahuatl, is used for a number of dissimilar sauces in contemporary Mexico (including black, red, yellow, colorado, green, almendrado, and pipián), the most famous variety is mole poblano.

Mole poblano has been ranked as number one of "typical" Mexican dishes. It has also been called the "national dish" of Mexico. The state of Puebla is identified with mole poblano and the dish is named after the state. ("Poblano" means "of Puebla" in Spanish.)

Traditional mole poblano usually contains in the vicinity of twenty ingredients, including "the holy trinity" of mole chili peppers (ancho, pasilla and mulato) along with chocolate, which works to tame the heat of the chili peppers. But this should not be thought of as a chocolate sauce, since its inclusion adds depth and color to the sauce but does not dominate it. Below the recipe you'll find pictures and descriptions of those three chiles.

Note that this recipe was given to me by a friend in the Riviera Maya (before it became the Riviera Maya) about 20 years ago. She got it from her mother, who got it from her mother, who probably got it from her mother. So I think it's safe to say that this recipe is a very old one. I have not changed a thing in it except to convert metric measurements to our ounces, tablespoons, cups, etc.

Note that this takes 2 to 3 hours to make (though you can start it the night before) and makes about a gallon of the stuff, so unless you're feeding a crowd you'll have plenty left over to freeze for future meals! Note also that you'll need a powerful blender to grind the nuts and chiles, etc. into a paste. Oh, and one more Note: Since you'll be handling a lot of chiles, it's a good idea to wear some kind of rubber gloves during that process or place your hands in plastic bags; if you don't, the skin on your hands will burn like anything before you're done.

So are you ready? Then here we go!

Makes about 5 Liters, or 1+ Gallons(!)

  • 12 dried Ancho chiles
  • 12 dried Mulato chiles
  • 9-10 dried Pasilla chiles (depending on how hot you want it!)
  • 1/2 Cup blanched almonds
  • 1/4 Cup unsalted peanuts
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tabs of Mexican chocolate
  • About 1/2 Cup of pork lard (I know, but it does make a difference. Use something else if you absolutely have to...)
  • 1/4 Cup raisins
  • 4 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp anise seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2-3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 stale bolillos (or half a baguette), torn into pieces
  • 4 stale corn tortillas, torn into pieces
  • 8 cups of chicken stock
  • 4 cups of water

Break stems off chiles, devein, and remove seeds. Rinse them thoroughly and pat dry.

In a heavy skillet, toast chiles until fragrant, turning them frequently. Transfer them to a large saucepan, cover with water and simmer for about 30 minutes until softened. Set aside and let cool while you go to the next step.

Add a little lard to the same skillet, and lightly brown the almonds, sesame seeds, tortillas, bread and raisins, working in batches. Spoon them into a blender.

Adding more lard to the skillet if needed, toast the anise and cumin seeds in the skillet until fragrant and add them to the blender.

Wipe out the skillet and increase heat to medium-high. Add garlic and onions and saute until soft but not burned. Spoon them into the blender with the other ingredients.

Pour 1 cup of the stock into the blender, add chocolate and puree the mixture for 2 minutes. The sauce will become smooth but a little grainy. Pour the sauce into a large bowl.

Drain chiles, reserving 1 cup of the liquid. Place the chiles and about 1/2 cup of the reserved liquid in the blender and puree. Add 1 more cup of stock to the blender with the remaining sauce ingredients and puree for 2 minutes, until smooth but a little grainy. Pour it into the bowl and stir everything together.

Working in batches, pour ingredients from bowl back into the blender and blend until pieces of chile are no longer distinguishable and the consistency is that of a medium-thick milkshake. You might need to keep adding chicken stock to reach the right consistency. If you run out of stock, use the water that was set aside. After each batch reaches the right consistency, pour into a bowl and set aside.

When all the sauce is properly blended, add a little lard to the skillet. When the lard is hot but not smoking, carefully add the sauce (it will spatter!) and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly so the bottom doesn't burn. Remove from heat, transfer sauce to a large stock pot, and simmer the mole for 30-45 minutes, stirring frequently. The mole will thicken and darken in color as it simmers. It's ready when the oil starts to rise to the surface of the sauce.

Remove mole from heat and let cool. Once cooled, you can put it into containers and freeze it, and it will stay good for at least a year in the freezer.

Whew! You're done!

Now about the "holy trinity" of peppers used for this dish. If you live in Mexico or the Southwest USA you shouldn't have too much trouble finding them in the spice section or "Mexican" section of major supermarkets, or in one of the local Mexican stores. For the rest of you it may be a little harder, though you can order them online if you're really serious about making this dish. If you absolutely can't find them, you can use whichever chiles are available to you; it will still be mole, it will still be good, it just won't taste like mole poblano.

The Pasilla chile is so named for the superficial qualities shared with the pasa, or raisin. When the Pasilla chile is dried, it wrinkles and darkens, resembling a black raisin. In its fresh form, it is called the chilaca. It is a mild to medium-hot, rich-flavored chile. It is generally 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) long and 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 4 cm) in diameter. The fresh narrow chilaca can measure up to 9 inches (22 cm) long and often has a twisted shape, which is seldom apparent after drying. It turns from dark green to dark brown when fully mature.

Note that fresh poblano chiles are often sold north of Mexico erroneously labeled as pasillas. They are not the same thing. The poblano is a mild chile pepper originating in the State of Puebla, Mexico. Dried, it is called an ancho chile. The ripened red poblano is significantly hotter and more flavorful than the less ripe, green poblano. While poblanos tend to have a mild flavor, occasionally and unpredictably, they can have significant heat. Different peppers from the same plant have been reported to vary substantially in heat intensity. A closely related variety is the mulato, which is darker in color, sweeter in flavor and softer in texture. Here is what ancho chiles look like.

The Mulato is a large, flat and wrinkled chile which resembles an Ancho chile but is darker and sweeter, with a smokey/earthy flavor. It typically measures 4 by 3 inches, with a tapered bottom. This Chile is the color of deep chocolate. Mulato Chiles have a medium thick skin and a deep flavor which is not too hot nor too lingering. Here is what it looks like.

Mole is most traditionally served over turkey and chicken, but is just as good on enchiladas, tamales, huevos or anything else you can put sauce on!

Buen provecho!

If you have a favorite recipe for a Mexican or Mexican-inspired dish, I'd love to add it to our recipe box! email (and put "recipe" in the subject box so I'll know what it's about)
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain