In September 2014, I attended LongHouse, where I met Carlos Gaytan, chef of the restaurant Mexique in Chicago1. He brought his mole sauce to the event and I fell in love with something I had not tasted before.
Since then, I have kept alive a desire to make a version of mole poblano and finally the current selection of the Cook the Books club, The Discovery of Chocolate by James Runcie2 gave me the necessary nudge. In this historical novel, young Diego travels to the New World with the conquistador Cortés. In Mexico, Diego discovers chocolate, at the time consumed as a beverage. He also falls in love with Ignacia. Drinking a special concoction she prepares for him makes him immortal, which allows the novel to span centuries and continents, following Diego's adventures and the fortunes of cacao beans and chocolate. In the author's words, the novel is about "Life and death, love and chocolate."
Having decided to make mole poblano, the question became: which recipe? I imagine families have their own recipes and what I found online and in cookbooks are just some examples of a rich and old tradition for a sauce that in the long list of ingredients and in the amount of time it takes to prepare, spells love expressed through food. In making it in my own kitchen I wished to pay homage to such tradition, not to appropriate it.
An nice article on the Seattle Times3 describes the spectrum of options open to whomever wishes to prepare mole poblano and focuses on one relatively easy and one hard recipe. I chose a middle ground closer to the hard way (a recipe adapted from one by Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu in the Los Angeles Times), which meant a somewhat lengthy preparation using 25 ingredients.
I enjoyed the process and loved the result so much that I made it twice more to test slight variations. Below is the version that I liked best. Note that my choice of ingredients makes the recipe vegan and gluten-free.
When I went to purchase chiles, I selected a couple of varieties that were not in the source recipe, because I wanted to taste them, including the California chile listed among the ingredients.
All chiles are whole, medium to medium-large in size
- 1 dried mulato chile
- 1 dried pasilla chile
- 2 dried ancho chile
- 1 dried California chile
- 4 tablespoons / 60 ml extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil, divided
- 2 cups / 475 ml scalding water
- 1 plum tomato
- 1 small cipollini onion, peeled
- 1 clove garlic peeled
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1/2 tablespoon raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- 1 ounce / 30 g ripe plantain, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 tablespoon shelled raw peanuts
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 2 tablespoons / 20 g raisins
- 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground cloves, dried oregano, ground coriander, ground anise seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- A bit of freshly ground pepper (2 turns of the pepper mill)
- Leaves from 1 sprig thyme
- 1 small sprig of Italian parsley
- 3/4 ounce / 21 g Mexican chocolate (Taza 80% cacao) + 1/4 ounce / 7 g unsweetened chocolate 100% cacao, all finely chopped
The night before making mole or early the same day
Remove stems and seeds from the chiles.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat and pan-fry the chiles until they become glossy, a couple of minutes.
Place the chiles in a bowl and cover them with the scalding water. Make sure they are submerged. Cover the bowl and let stand overnight or several hours.
When ready to prepare the mole
Drain the chiles and reserve the soaking liquid. Place the drained chiles in a blender. Add enough of the soaking liquid to blend them until smooth. Set aside.
Quarter the tomato lengthwise. Slice the onion crosswise thickly. Roast the tomatoes, the sliced onion and the clove of garlic in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until spotted with brown. Set aside.
Toast the sesame and pumpkin seeds until fragrant. Transfer to a small bowl.
Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Fry the plantain slices until golden and softened. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel.
Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Fry the peanuts, the almonds and the raisins for about one minute. Drain on a paper towel.
Fry the sesame and pumpkin seeds (previously toasted) for 30 seconds. Drain on a paper towel.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a cast-iron pan. Add the puréed chile mixture and enough of the reserved soaking liquid to keep the puréed mixture from sputtering when it simmers. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring often.
Place the spices, seeds, almonds, peanuts and raisins in the blender and process with enough of the soaking liquid to purée. Add to the chile mixture.
Process the roasted tomato, onion and garlic clove, the plantain slices, the salt and pepper, the thyme leaves and the parsley sprig in the blender with enough soaking liquid to purée, then add to the chile mixture. (Note: I use all the soaking liquid)
Add the chopped chocolate and stir until dissolved. Stir a little longer over the heat to bring all ingredients together. Remove from the heat.
Strain the sauce through a mesh strainer to remove any bits of chile skin and return to a clean pot. This step is very important as it ensures a smooth texture.
Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
My rendition of mole poblano pairs well with different dishes, vegetables (the dish in the opening photo is my "empty the crisper" side dish4 described in the previous post), chicken and mild-flavored fish (like cod). I confess also that I ate it by the spoonful.
1 Update: Chef Gaytán closed down Mexique some time after I wrote this post, then opened a new restaurant called Tzuco (still in Chicago)
2 The novel's page on the author's website
3 Two ways to make Mole Poblano — the hard way and the (relatively) easy way on the Seattle Times
4 "empty the crisper" side dish post and recipe
This is my second contribution to the 32nd edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started some time ago and that I continue to host.
Visit the linkup page to see what others have read and cooked.
FTC disclosure: I have received the napkin free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.