Here are my notes and a recipe for a mole Poblano which is a rich deep red mole from the state of Puebla. I hope you will try to make this at home. But if you prefer something simpler, I've also put up a blogpost that tells you where to buy prepared moles around Houston.
Notes on Mole
- There are a lot of dried chiles that show up in Oaxacan cooking that you just can’t find here in the United States.
- Ancho chiles are the dried version of the poblano chile. However, the poblano which you will only see in its green form when fresh is left to ripen on the plant until it turns red. As chiles go red, the amount of sugar in the pulp increases. Thus, a dried poblano will be sweet. If you look closely you will see red in the black of the dried ancho.
- Red jalapeno chiles will be sweeter than green jalapeno chiles.
- One of the best places to buy your chiles in Houston is at the Farmer’s Market on Airline Drive near 610 North, in the area in the back of Canino’s where there are many small stalls. There are three vendors who sell chiles and spices.
- One of the things about mole is that a given recipe may call for just a little bit of a lot of stuff. For example, ’10 raisins’, ‘1 teaspoon of marjoram, thyme, and Mexican oregano’ or 1 teaspoon sesame seed. If you find the bulk supply section of your supermarket, or go to the Farmer’s Market, you will find it easier to get just a little of what you need. For example, when I went shopping for mole ingredients, I was able to ask for ’10 anchos rojos mediano and 5 guajillos que no pica’ and the guy put this together for me. He hand selected them and also thought to let me know that guajillo chiles can be mild or hot.
- When you are buying guajillo chiles, you should ask if mild or hot are available and specify the mild ones.
- Sometimes in Texas guajillo chiles are incorrectly called cascabel chiles. Cascabel is a round chile smaller than a ping pong ball that rattles when it is shaken.
- The chiles will need to be cleaned as they pick up dust in storage. My experience has been that, if you do not have to reserve the seeds, you can tear off the stem and rinse out the seeds with running cold water. It is best to do this several hours before you plan to toast the chiles, so that they can dry out. Use a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Tear them in half and spread them out flat.
- If you are going to use the seeds, for example for a Oaxacan mole negro, you need to use a wet paper towel to clean the chiles.
- Always use rubber or latex gloves when handling chiles. This is a must.
- If your recipe calls for toasting the seeds until they are black, I discovered that you could do the initial toasting in a metal pan. Then, since in mole negro recipes it calls for ‘burning’ the seeds, I found that I could put the seeds in a metal mesh strainer and shake the strainer over my gas flame to finish the process.
- Good ventilation is critical. These seeds give off acrid fumes that will have you coughing. So if you can do this outside, all the better. Otherwise, make sure you have good ventilation.
- Apparently, the burning of the seeds is what contributes to the blackness of the mole negro. The seeds are then soaked, which works to soften the bitterness, before using.
- You know how Louisiana roux picks up that wonderful nutty taste as the flour developes? Well, I tasted some of the roasted chile seeds and they had the same flavor component. A little bit fiery on the tongue but not at all unpleasant like I expected them to be. I’ll admit, the first time I read a mole negro recipe that called for this procedure, I was convinced that there was an error, as it called for ‘toasting the seeds until black but not burned’ but then went on to say ‘ light the seeds with a match to burn them’. It didn’t make sense. So, when I was doing this and realized I didn’t have a match, I came up with the idea of using my kitchen strainer.
- You may wish to do the chile prep work a day ahead, in other words, split up the process. You’ll be amazed how quickly the mole can come together if you do so.
- Most recipes will call for toasting the chiles. Some recipes call for toasting over high heat. I think that a cast iron skillet or cast iron ‘comal’ is the best container to do this. Don’t use Teflon coated cookware. At high temperatures the Teflon turns into a gas. Play with your heat, and don’t be afraid to lower it if it looks like the chiles are toasting too quickly.
- You want to toast them just until you get a whiff of the oils coming off the chiles. If the chiles burn, don’t try to use them. Toss them in your compost pile and start over. However, I have been mulling over this step in the process. From a food chemistry standpoint, if you toast the chiles to release the oils and then soak them in water, won’t you lose any benefit from the toasting process? Some people say to skip this step altogether. My compromise is to soak them in just enough water to cover but no more. Weigh down the chiles with some plates or other heavy food safe weight so that they are immersed in the water.
- After soaking the chiles in hot water to soften them, drain the water and use clean water or stock for your puree. Actually, there are two schools of thought on this as some recipes call for using the soaking liquid, other recipes say not to because it adds bitterness to the finished sauce. I believe the latter is correct and always discard my soaking liquid.
- Strain your purees and sauces. You are looking for a smooth consistency. You will discover that this is the most tedious portion of any mole making. It takes awhile to do the straining. But there is a trick. If you increase the amount of water when you are turning the chiles into a puree in the blender there will be less solids to have to deal with. You will have to cook the sauce longer in order for the extra liquid to evaporate.
The Mole Poblano Recipe
I love to use Excel to spreadsheet a whole lot of recipes by their ingredients in order to compare and contrast them. I've used this method for my recipe testing for years and have done it for mole Poblano and mole negro as well as for dal makhni, Cincinnati chili, and more.
A few years back I had a big potluck at our home for the Houston Chowhounds Club, a group that I moderate. Here is the recipe that I used on that day. Photos follow:
Our Mole Class
I researched about 10 different Mole Poblano recipes and believe that I’ve come up with one that will be fun to work with. I was looking for one that used a lot of different ingredients including tomatoes, tomatillos and plantains.
One of the changes I’ve made to the recipe is: The original recipe calls for simmering the seeded and deveined chiles in lard before reconstituting them with water. We are going to lightly toast the chiles on a comal and reconstitute them. We will process them, strain them and then add them to oil, allowing me to do a smaller batch with vegetable oil and the larger batch with lard.
Some recipes will call for the grilling of some of the ingredients. For small batches of mole, I would normally just grill my tomatoes, tomatillos, onions and garlic on a comal.
I’ve done some advance prep work. Keeping in mind that I am doubling the recipe I bought (will advise in class) chicken pieces and have cooked them with onions, celery, garlic and salt in order to make my stock. Please note that when you are cooking chicken, it is best to rinse the chicken pieces thoroughly, add them to cold water in the pot and bring up the temperature starting from cold. There will be a pop quiz in class on why we do this. I’ve reserved the stock but we may need to make more, either with packaged stock or with water with a little bit of caldo de pollo mix.
I’ve doubled the following recipe for the class.
8 mulato chiles, stemmed, seeded and deveined
6 pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded and deveined (note: I have some leftover smoked pasillas from Oaxaca and may use these up today…we shall see)
5 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and deveined
For ease of grilling, you can tear the chiles into smaller pieces, or if you prefer, you can leave them intact. The chiles will be grilled on a comal, just until they give off an aroma being careful not to burn them. It is better to err on the less grilled side than the more grilled side. The chiles will be placed in a container of boiling hot water. Because of the quantities we’re using today, I will bring water to boil in a stock pot, remove it and add the chiles. You can use a plate to weigh down the chiles. When softened, typically 30 minutes, you will remove them and process them with a blender in small batches. Sometimes the liquid that the chiles soaked in is bitter (taste it) and shouldn’t be used for the puree phase. It’s better to add fresh cold water if the chile liquid is bitter. You’ll need to add enough water for the chiles to be broken down into a puree, thick not watery. There’s nothing wrong with a more watery puree, except you’ll then have to cook the puree longer to evaporate the water. After the chiles have been processed, you will have to run the mixture through a strainer in order to remove any of the harder, grittier material. This is one of the more time consuming phases but must be done. Then the puree will be simmered in lard (or vegetable oil). We’ll have to judge the amount to use in class.
Nuts and Seeds
1 tablespoon oil
½ cup whole almonds
¼ cup pecans
1 tablespoon unsalted roasted peanuts
¼ cup shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and stir until the color deepens, about 1 minute. Add pecans and peanuts; stir 1 minute. Watch your heat! Add pumpkin seeds, stir 30 seconds. Transfer to a blender or set aside to cool to blend later. Add the sesame seeds to the skillet and toast, being careful not to burn. Transfer two tablespoons to a small bowl and reserve for garnish. Add the other tablespoon to the nuts. Add ½ cup of stock and blend until thick puree forms. Ad nut and seed puree to the pot with the chile puree. Cook over very low heat, stirring often.
Fruits, Vegetables and Spices
¼ cup oil
1 large ripe dark-skinned plantain, peeled, thickly sliced
1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed, coarsely chopped
1 pound Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup raisins
1 white onion, exterior roasted, peeled, cut into 8 wedges
12 garlic cloves, unpeeled and roasted
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
5 whole allspice berries
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon anise seeds
1 one inch piece of “Mexican” cinnamon (Sri Lanka) stick
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon Kosher salt (and to taste)
Heat ¼ cup oil and add the plantain to sauté until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. Add the tomatillos and the tomatoes and sauté until softened, mashing with a fork and simmer until thickened, about 25 minutes. Add the raisins and the plantain. Simmer about 10 minutes. Working in batches, puree the mixture in a blender with two cups of stock. Strain the mixture into the chile and nut puree. Discard the solids.
Continue cooking the puree over very low heat while preparing the flavorings.
Next, or in parallel with the above, roast the onion and garlic in a medium heavy skillet or comal until beginning to brown and soften, turning often, about 15 minutes. Cool. Chop the onion, peel the garlic. Place in blender.
Stir the cloves in the same skillet or comal on medium heat for about 20 seconds. Transfer to a spice mill with the other spices and grind fine. Add to blender with the onions and garlic. Add 1 cup stock and blend until smooth. Stir spice and alliums mixture into the chile and nut puree and continue simmering.
3 tablespoons oil
One 3x2x1 inch bread slice (bolillo or egg based bread)
Three 5 to 6 inch corn tortillas, coarsely chopped
6 ounces Mexican chocolate, chopped
½ cup chopped piloncillo or packed dark brown sugar (Note: We will taste the mole before adding the piloncillo and make a decision on whether to add it or leave it out)
2 cups stock (if necessary)
We’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t be surprised if we hold off adding the ingredients listed above until the very end. Since everything is going into the same pot, it is probably not critical that the ingredients be added in the steps outlined in the original recipe. We will see what happens. Be sure to take class notes.
Heat 1 ½ tablespoons of oil in a skillet. Add the bread slice, fry until golden. Transfer to a blender. Add 1 ½ tablespoons oil and tortillas to the skillet. Sauté 2 minutes. Transfer to the same blender. Add 2 cups stock, blend until smooth and add to the mole. Add chocolate and piloncillo to the mole and continue simmering and stirring. Add stock if the sauce starts getting too thick. Check for salt and adjust as needed. We’ll continue simmering and look for streaks of oil on the mole surface.
Cross your fingers….everything should come out fine.