March 25, 2010 10:00 PM
Mole Poblano: Yes You Can!

The showcase of last week's class was one of Mexico's most famous and delicious moles, the Poblano, which originated in the kitchen of the Convent of Santa Rosa, in Puebla. After seeing how much guests enjoyed it, I can't wait to share it with you.

I know, the word Mole sounds exciting to eat yet intimidating to prepare. As the root of the word describes, from the náhuatl mulli, Mole is a thick sauce or paste made by grinding ingredients together in a molcajete or communal mill. A food processor works as well. This sauce can be thinned out with broth or water when ready to use.

The Poblano with its long ingredients list and its laborious process, is not the best way to introduce Moles. There are some simple Moles with no more than 4 or 5 ingredients that are easier to prepare and just as tasty.

But here I am! I adore the Poblano and I know you will too...

I tested many ways to find the easiest route to make it without compromising its authenticity and flavor. As long as you prep your ingredients and have them in place before you start throwing them in the pot -what the French call Mise en Place and Mexicans Estate Listo!-, it's a manageable task that takes about an hour. Trust me. Here we go.

As I list the ingredients, we'll go through some Mole basics...

Four chiles are typically used: The reddish Ancho (6 o'clock) with bittersweet and fruity flavors; the black Mulato (12 o'clock) with much sweeter, chocolaty and fuller tones; the raisin colored Pasilla (3 o'clock) with a deep, strong and bitter bite; and the tobacco looking Chipotle (9 o'clock) smoky, rich and spicy.

Mole poblano dried chiles.jpgTo be worthy of the name Mole, its not enough to be a sauce. You need chiles in there, but adding a Jalapeño doesn't make it a Mole. Some chiles work together and some don't. Some work for certain kinds of moles and some don't. This group of four, is like the Fantastic Four. 

The Mole Poblano has the deep clean flavors from the white onion, a judicious use of the pungent garlic, the refreshing punch from the tomato and the tartness of the tomatillo.

Mole 3.jpg
Moles show a deep intermarriage between the native Mexican cuisine and that brought from Spain. Three centuries of Colonial life deeply influenced our food. That's the case of the onion, garlic and many of the nuts, fruits and spices added below.

Native peanuts and pumpkin seeds which are present as a thickener and flavoring element in many Mexican dishes, add some Mediterranean almonds, a bunch of sweet raisins...

Mole 5.jpg
Chile seeds tend to be discarded in many Mexican dishes, but not in this Baroque concoction from the late 1600s. Seeds do store most of the heat from chiles but also a ton of their flavor.

They are beautiful too, especially in my grandmother's bowl which photographs so nicely...

Mole 4.jpgOther seeds and spices included take a ride through Mexico's history: Sesame seeds brought by African slaves; anise seeds, cloves, cinnamon and black peppercorns from the Orient routes; allspice from the Caribbean; coriander, thyme and marjoram from the Mediterranean...

Mole 7 c.jpg
To thicken the Mole and to add an earthy base with a small town flavor, corn tortillas are used. As well as Mexican style bread -bolillos or teleras which are the Mexican adaptation of the French baguette from the times of Maximilian. 

Mole 8.jpg
To top the balancing act of this dish, and also because it was created by Sor Andrea de la Asunción, a nun with an incredible sweet tooth, Mexican chocolate is added. Made with toasted cacao, cinnamon, sugar and typically ground almonds, it is sweeter and grainier than regular bittersweet chocolate.

Not that much chocolate is added though, so the idea that the Mole Poblano is a chocolate sauce is a bit exaggerated...

Mole Mexican Choclate.jpg
Now that we ran through the ingredients, let's cook it. As we do, you will see that another Mole quality is that ingredients are transformed, and their qualities brought out, before they are pureed together. That helps achieve such a smooth layering of complex flavors. 

First add lard, vegetable shortening or oil in your pot. Once hot, saute the chiles until crunchy and browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. They will look something like this...

Fried chiles.jpg
In that same pot add the onions and garlic and cook until softened, for about 2 to 3 minutes.

Mole 6.jpgMake some room and toss in the almonds, peanuts, raisins and pumpkin seeds, cook for another 2 to 3 minutes more...

Some versions of this mole ask that ingredients be charred, broiled, toasted, sauteed, ground one by one, even with different pots and pans. But you can use the same pot as long as it is heavy, large and extended and as long as you give the ingredients enough time before adding the next batch...

So, make some room again to throw in those beautiful reserved chile seeds... AND...  

after pumpkin seeds.jpg
...sesame seeds,stemmed cloves, anise seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, cinnamon stick, ground allspice, thyme and marjoram. Let it all cook for 4 to 5 minutes.

Make some room again, and add the already charred or broiled tomatoes and tomatillos, the sliced tortillas and bread...

Mole 9.jpg
As you add each additional batch of ingredients, give them time to season and brown together. Don't let any of them burn though...

Go ahead and add the chiles that you already browned, and mix it all up.

after bread and spices.jpg

Pour in some rich tasting chicken broth.

Mole 10 a.jpgOnce it starts to simmer, drop in the chocolate pieces and stir until they dissolve.

Look at the gorgeous looking mess that we have here below!!!

mole with steam.jpg
Let it all simmer for about 15 minutes. You have quite a diverse group of ingredients in there, so they need a bit of time to get acquainted with each other...

Mole 11.jpg
Turn off the heat and let the mixture stand, so it can make sense of what it will become.

Then, puree in a food processor or blender. Or why not, if you feel like it, take out that molcajete.

Finally, thank Sor Andrea for what you are about to see!!! The tastiest, yummiest... 

Mole 12.jpg
Let's just say: one of my favorite Moles.

Of the many things you can make with this mole such as enchiladas, enmoladas, empanadas, eggs, nopales or potatoes.. there's of course the traditional: poured over simply boiled chicken or turkey and covered with lightly toasted sesame seeds.

Mole 13.jpg
You can see why I took longer to post this time: I was too busy adding ingredients to the basics section of my blog, just for this recipe!

Adapted from Sor Andrea de la Asunción from the Santa Rosa Convent
Serves 24-25

1/2 cup lard, vegetable shortening or vegetable oil
(reserve the seeds from all chiles)
3 oz chiles anchos, about 6 or 7, stemmed and seeded
3 oz chiles pasillas, about 12 or 13, stemmed and seeded
3 oz chiles mulatos, about 6, stemmed and seeded
1/3 oz dried chipotle chiles, about 4, stemmed and seeded
1/2 white onion, about 1/2 pound, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons raw almonds with skin
3 tablespoons raw shelled peanuts
3 tablespoons raisins
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 cup reserved chile seeds
5 whole cloves, stemmed
1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 stick true or ceylon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoondried marjoram
1/2 lb roma tomatoes, about 2 , charred or roasted
1/3 lb tomatillos, about 2, husked, rinsed, charred/roasted
2 corn tortillas, sliced in 8 pieces
1/2 bolillo, telera or baguette, about 2 oz, thickly sliced (if it is a couple days old, better)
6 oz Mexican style chocolate or bittersweet chocolate
5 cups chicken broth(plus 4 more cups to dilute later on)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted, to sprinkle at the end

In a large extended casserole dish set over medium high heat, add 1/2 cup lard, oil, or vegetable shortening. Once hot, about 2 minutes later, add the chiles in 2 or 3 batches and saute, stirring often, and being careful not to let them completely burn. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a mixing bowl as you move along.

In the same oil, add chopped onion and garlic and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring, until they soften and release their aroma. Stir in the almonds, peanuts, raisins and pumpkin seeds, and let them cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in the sesame seeds, reserved chile seeds, stemmed cloves, anise seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, cinnamon stick, ground allspice, thyme and marjoram. Stir frequently and let it all cook for 3 to 4 more minutes, stirring often. Make room again, and add the tortilla and bread pieces along with the tomatoes and tomatillos. Let it all cook for a couple minutes.

Incorporate the already sauteed chiles and pour in the chicken broth. Stir and once it comes to a simmer, add the chocolate pieces and the salt. Mix well, and let it simmer for 12 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover and let the mix rest for 1/2 hour, so the chiles can completely soften.

In batches, puree the mixture in the blender or food processor until smooth. You can store this mole, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a month, or freeze it for up to a year.

When ready to eat, dilute a cup of mole with 1/2 cup chicken broth in a saucepan and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve over cooked chicken or turkey and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds on top.
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