Friday, August 28, 2009

Mole Poblano

Last week, while watching(almost)the entire season of Top Chef Masters (thanks to iTunes!); I got SO hungry for Mole Poblano that I was either going to make it or go somewhere that had it on the menu.

Luckily for me, we have a GREAT Mexican restaurant in Lindenwold, NJ just about 10 minutes from the house. It is called: La Esperanza and they have a GREAT Mole Poblano.

It was DEEEEEE-LUSCIOUS!! Tender, fall off the bone chicken smothered in thick, rich chocolate red-brown Mole Poblano sauce. It is served with tortillas, beans and rice - and to add to the decadence I ordered maduros (carmelized fried plantains), guacamole and Sangria. It was awesome and I was a glutton for sure...worth every piggy bite!

So, what IS Mole Poblano, you ask?

Mole can be best defined as a very thick, homogeneous sauce with complex flavors. This distinguishes it from most Mexican salsas which are watery, often raw, and contain fewer ingredients (usually nothing more than tomato, onion, garlic and chili pepper) in still-identifiable chunks.

The most common way to consume mole is over chicken, though any kind of meat may be served with mole sauce. Another preparation, more common in restaurants, is enchiladas (corn tortillas wrapped around chicken, cheese or some other simple filling) baked in mole sauce.

Because of the labor-intensive nature of mole, when prepared at home it is most often made in large batches on special occasions, such as religious holidays or weddings.

The most popular kinds come from the Mexican states of Puebla and Oaxaca, and there is an annual national competition in the town of San Pedro Atocpan in the Milpa Alta borough of Mexico's Federal District, on the southern outskirts of Mexico City. Oaxaca has been nicknamed the "Land of the Seven Moles."

In Guatemala, "mole" refers to a dessert composed of fried or boiled chunks of plantain in a chocolate/spice sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Mole Poblano, whose name comes from the Mexican state of Puebla, is a popular sauce in Mexican cuisine and is the mole that most people in the U.S. think of when they think of mole. Mole poblano is prepared with dried chili peppers (commonly ancho, pasilla, mulato and chipotle), ground nuts and/or seeds (almonds, indigenous peanuts, and/or sesame seeds), spices, Mexican chocolate (cacao ground with sugar and cinnamon and occasionally nuts), salt, and a variety of other ingredients including charred avocado leaves, onions, and garlic. Dried seasonings such as ground oregano are also used. In order to provide a rich thickness to the sauce, bread crumbs or crackers are added to the mix.

Now - while most people associate mole with either with Puebla or Oaxaca , but the origin of Mole Poblano, the thick, rich, chocolate-tinged sauce made so famous in the colonial mountain city of Puebla, Mexico, is still disputed, and generally involves these two versions of the legend:

The first says that 16th Century nuns from the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla de los Angeles, upon learning that the Archbishop was coming for a visit, went into a panic because they had nothing to serve him. The nuns started praying desperately and an angel came to inspire them. They began chopping and grinding and roasting, mixing different types of chiles together with spices, day-old bread, nuts, a little chocolate and approximately 20 other ingredients..

This concoction boiled for hours and was reduced to the thick, sweet, rich and fragrant mole sauce we know today. To serve in the mole, they killed the only meat they had, an old turkey, and the strange sauce was poured over it. The archbishop was more than happy with his banquet and the nuns saved face. Little did they know they were creating the Mexican National dish for holidays and feasts, and that today, millions of people worldwide have at least heard of mole poblano.

The other legend states that mole came from pre-hispanic times and that Aztec king, Moctezuma, thinking the conquistadors were gods, served mole to Cortez at a banquet to receive them. This story probably gained credibility because the word mole comes from the Nahuatl word “milli” which means sauce or “concoction”. Another connection could be that chocolate was widely used in pre-columbian Mexico, so people jumped to that conclusion.

What do the real experts say? “The idea of using chocolate as a flavoring in cooked food would have been horrifying to the Aztecs—just as Christians could not conceive of using communion wine to make, say, coq au vin. In all the pages of Sahagun that deal with Aztec cuisine and with chocolate, there is not a hint that it ever entered into an Aztec dish. Yet, today many food writers and gourmets consider one particular dish, the famous pavo in mole poblano, which contains chocolate, to represent the pinnacle of the Mexican cooking tradition. …the place of origin of the dish and its sauce, the Colonial Puebla de los Angeles; this beautiful city, unlike others in central Mexico, has no Aztec foundations – and neither does the dish, regardless of what food writers may say.” Taken from The True History of Chocolate, Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe [Thames and Hudson: London] 1996 (p. 216-7).

There is no greater expert on pre-hispanic Mesoamerica than Michael Coe and this detective is convinced. Case closed (for now) on the mystery of the origins of mole poblano.

Wherever it came from - it is delicious and I am glad that someone created it!!

Mole Poblano with Chicken


1 (4 - 5) pound chicken, cut up in at least 6 - 8 pieces.
4 dried pasilla chilies
4 dried mulato chilies
6 dried ancho chilies
or 14 dried ancho chilies.
2 cups boiling chicken stock, fresh or canned
3/4 cup blanched almonds
I cup coarsely chopped onions
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped, or I cup drained, canned Italian plum tomatoes
1/2 cup lightly packed seedless raisins
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
I tortilla, broken in small pieces
I teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground canela cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons lard
2 cups cold chicken stock, fresh or canned
11/2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons sesame seeds


NOTE: Review the instructions for handling of chilies before you begin this recipe.

Heat 4 tablespoons lard in 12" - heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to skillet and cook until brown on all sides, about 12 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until almost cooked through approximately 20 - 25 min. Remove chicken and drain on paper towels. Set aside. Drain any excess lard from pan, do not rinse pan.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the mole (sauce). Prepare the chilies using the method described. In a large bowl, pour 2 cups boiling chicken stock over the prepared chilies and soak them for about 30 minutes.

Blend the almonds in the jar of an electric blender until they are completely pulverized. Force the nuts through a sieve and return them to the blender with the chilies, their soaking liquid, the onions, tomatoes, raisins, 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds, tortilla, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, anise seeds, salt and-pepper, and blend at high speed until the mixture is reduced to a smooth puree.

Alternative - Make Sauce By Hand

To make the sauce by hand, put the chilies, onions, tomatoes, tortilla and garlic through a food mill set over a large bowl and discard any pulp remaining in the mill. With a pestle, pound the almonds, sesame seeds and anise seeds in a mortar until they are pulverized, force them through a sieve, then stir the mixture into the chili puree. Stir in the chilies' soaking liquid and add the cinnamon, cloves, coriander, salt and pepper.

Preparation Continued

In a heavy 10 - inch skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the lard over moderate heat. Pour in the mole and simmer it, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Add the cold stock and the chocolate. Cook, uncovered, over low heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate has melted. Cover the skillet and set it aside off the heat. Using the skillet the chicken was cooked in, return the chicken to the skillet. Pour the mole sauce over the chicken, turning the pieces about in the sauce to coat them evenly. Cover the skillet and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, basting the chicken now and then with the sauce.

To serve, arrange the pieces of chicken on a heated platter and pour the sauce over them. Sprinkle the top with 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds.

Makes 6 - 8 servings

NOTE: Prepare Dried Chilies

Rinse the chilies under running cool water. Continue to let the water run over the chili as you work. Break the chili in half and pull out the stem and rinse away the seeds. Cut or tear away the ribs.

Once the chilies are cleaned, tear them into pieces and place in a large bowl.

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