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Friday, April 16, 2010

Mexican Mole Sauce {Foodie Friday}

I have become convinced that a staple in the southwestern or Texan kitchen should be mole (mole-lay) sauce. It is so incredibly versatile and... well... good.

You may be asking, "What is mole sauce?"

Well, I'll tell you as best I can.

Mole sauce is to Mexico what marinara is to Italy.  In simplest terms, it is a blend of chiles, nuts, garlic, onions and in some cases, the seemingly secret and surprising ingredient, chocolate.   According to this site, individual home cooks have their own specific versions and special ingredients.  This Wikipedia page gives a list of different types of mole sauces.

I decided not long ago that I really wanted to make mole sauce.  I never had made it before but had tasted it at some Mexican restaurants, so I wanted to try to make it myself.  And when something like that gets in my head, I can’t shake it.  So, I began searching the internets for a recipe.

I found that there are lots of easy recipes out there for mole, and certainly buying it off the shelf would be easiest. But as I usually say, "Easiest is not always best."  A good mole is complex and has such a depth of flavor because of the intensive preparation of the roasting, toasting, grinding and blending of the ingredients.  So-called easy versions just didn’t seem to me that they would make the cut.

For instance, this recipe, by virtue of using green chilis, must be an attempt at a mole verde.  But then why add chocolate?  Why is the color not actually green? And where are the toasted seeds? It may be good, but not what I would really call a mole sauce.

And this recipe only uses chili powder and, again, no nuts or seeds in it.

The most common mole sauce that we see in this area is probably mole rojo – a combination of Ancho and Guajillo chiles, tomatoes, nuts, sesame seeds, and that special ingredient, chocolate (which should accompany the chiles in the sauce, not over-take the sauce completely). 

It took a little searching, but I finally came across an Emeril Lagasse recipe from Food Network that looked like something I would make.  The ingredient list is long, as was the preparation, but I trusted that the pay-off would come in an authentic tasting full-of-flavor sauce.

I was right.

The original recipe is combined with a tequila marinated chicken.  I wasn’t that fond of the chicken when I made it, but the mole seemed just about perfect. 

One thing I found that I really liked about the recipe is that it is a two step process.  You spend a good bit of time in the first step roasting, charring, and toasting various ingredients, blending them all together in a food processor, then simmering for an hour to make what is called a mole paste.  Then in the second step, you only use a cup of the mole paste, about five minutes and a few other ingredients to make the finished sauce.  I ended up freezing the rest of the mole paste in one cup containers to pull out to make more sauce in small batches at later dates.  It’s a time investment up front that has a huge flavor pay-off in the form of a easy to throw together and quick sauce.

As I’ve had this culinary wonder sitting around, I have added it to just about everything:  tortilla soup, chili,  and chicken and rice just to name a few off the top of my head.  It has added a depth of flavor to each dish that I had not achieved before. 

And you would not believe what it can do for a hamburger along with a couple of onion rings….


Oh, the YUM!

I had to make a very few alterations to the recipe based upon ingredients I could easily find at my local grocery store and my own preferences.  So here it is (and, as always, it can also be found on my recipe blog):

Mexican Mole Sauce
Adapted from this recipe from Food Network


Mole Paste:
2 large tomatoes
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
10 cloves garlic, unpeeled
15 ancho chiles, stems removed and seeded (reserve seeds)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon
4 whole cloves
1/4 cup fresh Mexican oregano leaves, or 2 teaspoons dried
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, or 2 teaspoons dried
1/4 cup roasted almonds
1/4 cup shelled roasted (unsalted) peanuts
1/4 cup raisins 
1 cup chicken stock, hot
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 ounces Mexican chocolate, chopped

Finished Mole Sauce:
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 (14-ounce) can tomato puree
1 cup mole paste 
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ounce Mexican chocolate, chopped

To make the mole paste, preheat the broiler to 500 degrees F

Place tomatoes, onion, and garlic cloves on a parchment lined baking sheet and broil until slightly caramelized around the edges, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the garlic to a small plate to cool. Turn the tomatoes and onions so that the uncooked sides are up. Return to the broiler until slightly caramelized on the second side, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

In a large skillet over high heat, toast the chiles on all sides until lightly browned and fragrant, just for a couple of minutes. Do not allow to burn. Transfer to a medium bowl, cover with hot water and allow to sit until softened, about 30 minutes. In the same skillet, combine the sesame seeds and reserved chile seeds and toast until light brown and fragrant. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Add the peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cloves, oregano and thyme to the hot skillet and "toast" for a few seconds, just until their perfume is released. Transfer to the bowl with the sesame seeds.

When cool enough to handle, peel the garlic cloves and add these, along with the charred tomatoes and onion, to the bowl of a food processor. Add the seeds and spices. Drain the liquid off of the chiles and add these to the processor as well as the roasted nuts and raisins, and 1 cup of chicken stock.  Puree the mixture until very smooth and thick, scraping down the sides of the blender frequently.

In a large deep pot, heat 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil until very hot. Carefully pour the pureed mixture into the pot (be careful - it will splatter) and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat so that the mixture simmers, and add 4 ounces of chopped chocolate to the pot. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, for about 1 hour, or until the mole paste is very thick and flavorful. At this point you should have about 3 1/2 cups of mole paste.

You can leave the paste rough with all the seeds and pieces, or you can strain it through a fine mesh strainer.  I strain about half of the paste and mix it back in with the rough.  This gives a nice in-between texture to the finished sauce.

You will use 1 cup to make the Mole sauce  Reserve the remaining paste for another use.

(The mole paste will keep for at least 6 months, refrigerated, or up to 1 year if frozen.  I freeze in 1 cup containers for ease of thawing for use.)

To make the sauce, heat the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the tomato puree and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1 cup mole paste and the remaining 1 to 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock and stir to combine well. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture is a nice sauce consistency. Add the remaining 1/2-ounce of Mexican chocolate and the salt and cook another 2 minutes, or until the chocolate is melted and the sauce is thick, smooth and flavorful.


You may look at this recipe and say “15 chiles and 10 cloves of garlic?!? There’s no way I can eat that!”  Be assured that this sauce is not hot.  Nor does the garlic overpower it.  It is mellow and subtle with many layers to the flavor.

Enjoy this Mexican culinary wonder!  I know I have.

In this post:
Mexican Mole Sauce
Mole Chicken and Rice
Tortilla Soup


I am linking this post up to Lisa’s weekly round up of chocolate recipes at Stop and Smell the Chocolates.  Go check out other chocolate recipes at her blog each Chocolate Friday.


Lisa @ Stop and Smell the Chocolates said...

Wow! That's a lot of work my friend! But it does sound delicious! I wish that I could just come over to your house to try some. :) Glad you linked it up!