Chocolate is a surprisingly versatile ingredient that does not need to be relegated to the dessert portion of a meal. When we picked chocolate for a theme I had moles in the back of my mind, though I knew very little about them.
What I knew about moles before this week:
- It’s a popular sauce in authentic Mexican cuisine.
- There is chocolate in it.
- It’s pronounced moh-lay.
One of the fun parts of this was I got do a bunch of research before this week’s post. The term mole comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) term molli, meaning sauce or mixture and it’s a broader term, there are many varieties of moles. There are legends surrounding how it developed. One legend says it came from a nun who was preparing for an Archbishop to visit and had nothing to serve, so she whipped up a mole with what was in the kitchen. Another says the Aztec King Moctezuma served it to the conquistadors because he thought they were gods. A third, more fun legend, said that while another archbishop was scolding his cooks about how untidy the spices in the kitchen were, a gust of wind came through the kitchen and sent the spices into the pan where they were preparing that day’s meal.
Though last two legends are interesting, the first seems more realistic, especially after cooking. The recipe calls for a combination of ingredients and flavors that I assumed would not blend well together, almost as if I was just pulling things off the shelf, hoping they would work. I blended together things like nuts, seeds, spices, raisins, onions, garlic, and even corn tortillas and chocolate, of course.
In Mexican cuisine, each cook seems to have their own recipe (if you ever watch Rick Bayless on PBS he’ll talk about moles this way, too). I spent a lot of time trying to find the right recipe to make. Some included over 25 ingredients and required hours of prep. I took a bit of knowledge from multiple recipes and I’ll post them below.
In the end, I found one that seemed to cover all the bases without being too extravagant. It was a mole poblano.
First the chiles. Pro-tip – invest in some rubber gloves before you skin and de-seed the chiles. Also don’t touch your face – people always say this, but it’s definitely a concern.
Making the mole a was a lengthy process. I would recommend either planning a whole day to prepare, or breaking it up into smaller sections over the course of multiple days. I took breaks between preparing the chile paste and and the other ingredients.
The other recommendation I have is to follow the French idea of mise en place or estate listo in Spanish meaning “put in place”. Basically prepare everything beforehand. This was a life saver. Before I tossed things in the pan I had the ingredients chopped, minced, sliced, or grouped together. I also read over the recipe multiple times before I even started because I was so concerned that I would make a mistake. This definitely something I need to put into practice in my regular cooking life.
I didn’t take enough pictures of the ingredients or the steps. Once you have the chile paste made then you’ll need to heat up the spices, nuts, raisins, onions, and garlic in a skillet to bring out the flavors. Some recipes said to do this together, adding things and moving them around your pan. I did things in smaller sections based on what was being toasted. This cooking, combining, and blending ingredients creates the mole.
In the skillet add the mole, the chile paste, some chicken stock, the chocolate, a bit of sugar, and let it cook for at least an hour. You and everything you own (if you have a small apartment like me) will smell absolutely delicious. I kept this in the fridge overnight. I think it also freezes well.
The next day, I browned some chicken breasts, baked them in the mole poblano sauce, and served them over rice (I used basmati because I had it on hand). The flavor of the mole was not at all what I expected but it was still delicious. It starts off sweet and then becomes spicy – but not in an overpowering way (and I am sensitive to spice, for sure). You know the chocolate is there but it’s almost hidden. I think this is what those foodies and restaurant reviewers mean when they talk about layering flavors.
Our friends Chad and Liz joined me for dinner. For dessert Liz made a s’mores bar full of chocolate, marshmallow fluff and other yumminess.
What I can do better:
- Plan ahead for the spices or find a place that has them in smaller quantities for a little less expensive.
- Gloves, use gloves.
- Blend for longer in the food processor. I always rush myself and this is a good example. There are things in the recipe that really needed to be blended well before you can serve them.
- Find a great cast iron skillet.
- Give myself a little more time for prep.
This was the recipe I made: Mastering Global Cooking – Mexican: Interview with Mexico in My Kitchen & Mole Poblano. I also consulted this one, which has the huge ingredient list, I’d love to make it some time: Mole Poblano. I looked at Rick Bayless (but beware, the steps in this recipe are very poorly written). Turkey in Mole Poblano.
Come back next week and Lisa will cover everyone’s favorite fall gourd – Pumpkin!!