Mole Poblano For The Holidays– “Beyond A Sauce”
Mole Poblano and variations are commonplace in Texas and just south of the Rio Grande for special events like weddings and holiday family celebrations. You eat the mole as the principle dish, and in Texas we serve it mainly with chicken, cut up. But you also eat mole with corn tortillas and especially with bean tamales, the way they do in Puebla. Mole is an amazing dish, once you figure out that it is not a sauce that accompanies stuff. Mole is the principal dish: Aromatic spices, roasted nuts, seeds, Chiles! I think mole is becoming more available in Texas and Northern Mexico homes because of digital media’s omnipresent food posts, along with travel. Travel routes connecting today’s Texas, Northern Mexico and Southern Mexico date back to the Texas Indians prior to the 1400’s.
The Mexico-US “Camino Real” of the Spaniards, was built upon one of these routes. These ancient routes enabled our native ancestors to learn about each other’s cuisines (types of chiles, corn, cooking utensils, pottery, types of beans).
With today’s digital media I can blog, and I think this accelerated sharing will increase the presence of Mole Poblano on our tables here in Texas and Northern Mexico. It will also lead to a better understanding of what a mole really is and that it should be eaten as a principal dish, accompanied by corn tortillas, corn tamales or, yes pieces of chicken or turkey. It’s best never to relegate mole to a secondary, accompanying role as one does with a sauce. Mole is beyond a sauce.
I learned to make mole from my mother. She’d make it with peanuts and sometimes she’d make a “Pipian” mole that emphasizes seeds. She served her mole with pieces of chicken and fresh hand-made (never a tortilla press) corn tortillas. The meal was essentially a sopping up of the mole with the absorbent corn tortillas. Those were culinary moments that shaped the way I cook today.
This recipe for Mole Poblano is an adaptation of one by Chef Iliana De La Vega who is a dear friend, and my mentor when it comes to anything Oaxaca and Puebla and Mexico. If you are ever in Austin, Texas, make it a point to taste her delicious moles and other dishes at her restaurant, El Naranjo. You’ll find that her cuisine is confidently traditional with a very fresh and contemporary interpretation.
Now let’s get cooking. I find it’s easier to learn to make it if you think of the types or groups of ingredients as you would an instrument section in a symphony orchestra. If each group is to bring its special character and tone to the sauce, the ingredients must be well prepared prior to blending.
RECIPE (serves 8-10)
14 Black Peppercorns
5 Cloves, whole
1 stick of Mexican canela, 3 inch
1/2 tsp Coriander Seeds
1/2 tsp Anise seeds
These aromatics are to be fried in a bare minimum of Canola oil to the point when they begin to release their aroma.
—NUTS, SEEDS AND GRAIN
2 oz. Pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup Brown Sesame seeds
Chile seeds from the cleaned chiles below.
1 Corn Tortilla, stale
These are to be fried in a small amount of canola oil, each separately, to the point of golden. NOTE, the pumpkin seeds turn bitter if over-cooked so be attentive.
—VEGETABLES AND FRUIT
1 White Onion, halved
3 Garlic cloves, unpeeled
4 Roma tomatoes, quartered
6 Tomatillos, quartered
3 tsp Black Raisins,
The tomatoes are to be fried in a small amount of canola oil in high heat to caramelize the starches, and the raisins are plumped, also in the oil.The onion and garlic are to be roasted in a cast iron skillet or comal. Black spots and softness will tell you that they are ready. Peel off the skin from the garlic after it is cooked.
These are the main attraction in this sumptuous sauce.
8 Mulatto chiles
5 Ancho chiles
6 Pasilla chiles
2 Chipotle chiles
Wipe them clean, seed and devein them. Reserve the chile seeds for sauteeing as described.
Use 5 oz. Mexican chocolate. Don’t use plain cacao. The Mexican chocolate has the necessary sugar and additional canela flavor.
Additional sugar and salt will be added at the very end of the process to fine tune the taste of this gastronomic symphony.
1. Fry the de-seeded, de-veined chiles on both sides in two Tablespoons Canola oil until they begin to blister and change color.
2. Remove the chiles and soak them in hot water for 15 minutes. Drain them and puree in a blender, adding water as needed. The puree should be very smooth. If there are large, grainy particles, strain through a fine mesh sieve. Set aside.
3. Sauté the tomatoes and tomatillos in the remaining oil. Set aside.
4. Using 4 tablespoons of the oil, sauté the raisins until they are plump. Remove the raisins, then saute the almonds, pumpkin seeds, tortillas, reserved chile seeds, and sesame seeds, adding additional oil as necessary. Set aside.
5. Dry-roast the onion and garlic in a comal or dry skillet over medium heat. Remove the garlic when the skin begins to brown. Remove and discard the skin. Keep turning the onion until it is soft and has black spots on all sides. Remove from heat and set aside.
6. In a small skillet, over medium heat, add enough oil to sauté the black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, coriander and anise seeds until fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
7. Blend the dry-roasted vegetables, spices and fried ingredients in batches adding fresh water, as needed, to form a smooth puree. Again, if the particles are large and grainy, strain the puree through a fine mesh sieve. Set aside.
8. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chile puree, stirring frequently, until the color deepens and you can see the bottom of the pan when scraped with a wooden spoon, about 8 minutes. Add the pureed vegetable and spice mixture. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir occasionally until the mole thickens, about 1 hour.
9. Add approximately 2 cups of water or mild vegetable broth and continue cooking for 30 minutes. The mole should coat the back of a spoon. Add the chocolate pieces and continue cooking, about 10 minutes. Season alternating with salt and sugar. The sugar will reduce any strong acid taste, and the salt will round out the flavors and also pump up their volume.
I know this is repetitive but It’s worth insisting that you serve the Mole Poblano as the main ingredient on the plate, to be accompanied by either corn tortillas (recipe here) or tamales de frijol (recipe here). Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.