Shiftwork Bites: Mole

Categories: Recipes

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In honor of the recent celebration of International Hot and Spicy Foods Day, I decided to heat things up for my most recent Shiftwork Bites adventure. I settled on molé.
The blessing, and the curse, of molé lies in the fact that there are so damn many versions of it. Molé is one of those dishes that changes from household to household and cook to cook. This means that, as long as you're following the format and the spirit of the sauce, you can't really make it the "wrong way." It also means that everyone who knows anything about mole will tell you all the ways in which you've done exactly that.

While I may not have followed any particular recipe, more or less making things up as I went along and adjusting seasoning and consistency on the fly, I think I did a pretty good job of hewing close to the spirit of the dish.

I started out by toasting dried chiles, four each of pasilla, ancho, and guajilo. I also threw in a handful of dried chiles pequín. The combination of chiles allowed me to begin building a complex flavor base, bringing in heat, smokiness, and hints of chocolate and fruit. Once toasted (a dicey proposition in a small office kitchen with no exhaust system), the chiles were tossed in our crappy office blender and pulverized.

Next in were spices: coriander, cloves, and cinnamon. Go easy here, as these spices could easily overpower the sauce. A quick toast, a quick buzz through my boss's coffee grinder (shhh!), and they joined the chiles. The same treatment was given to a few large handfuls of sesame seeds, and a handful of pepitas.

I roughly chopped a medium onion and a red bell pepper (replacing the tomatoes and tomatillos, which were mealy hot-house affairs) and tossed them in, buzzing the blender and adding a touch of water and just a splash of OJ (a bit of acid helps brighten the flavor of almost any dish) as necessary to keep things running. A banana I had lying around went in, too.

When the sauce was smooth, after a good 8-10 solid minutes of blender time, I began on the protein. Chicken leg quarters went into a hot pan with a bit of oil, getting nicely browned on both sides. These were set aside, and the mole was added to the pan. After giving the mole a few minutes alone, I added the chicken back in, popped a lid on it, and let it braise on low heat for about an hour, melting in a few ounces of very dark (85 percent) chocolate and allowing it to meld with the other flavors for the last 10 minutes or so of cooking time.

Once the chicken was cooked through, I plated it up, topping each portion with additional toasted sesame seeds and a bit of freshly chopped marjoram. It was deeply flavored and complex, with different aspects emerging through each bite. It was smoky and spicy, just a touch bitter, and almost (but not quite) a touch sweet. The herbal kick helped bring the whole thing together, adding a wonderful perfume on top of everything else. It wasn't the best molé I've ever had, but it was damn good.

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Francesco Orodinapoli
Francesco Orodinapoli

One comment from me, that might help you mole in the future. Instead of roasting the chiles and processing them in the blender, add the chiles to warm water to reconstitute them. Then blend them into a puree. Use a strainer to force the puree through, which will remove the gritty skin pieces. If you process with more water and blend for a longer time, you will have a more watery chile puree but it will be easier to strain. The puree should then be returned to the stove in a sauce pan with a little oil to temper it by heating.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

I thought about reconstituting the chiles, but decided I wanted to drytoast them to get the essential oils going. Also, I was kind ofblending (as Bruce picked up on) mole negro technique into molepoblano technique. There was no consistency issue (i.e. Unappetizinglytough bits of dried chile skin), because I pureed it for so damn long.Smooth as a baby's butt.

Soak, puree, strain will definitely give a silky texture, but I'dthink it would also keep the chiles from fully developing theirflavor. No?

Bruce R
Bruce R

I'm impressed. Forgive me, but for some reason I expected you to buy the stuff in a jar (nothing personal--that's how most people seem to do it) then add a few ingredients and claim it as your own. But you didn't. It looks good, and the bitterness/sweetness balance you describe is one of the things I like about mole negro.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Jarred Mole? Never. We do things up proper over here at Shiftwork Bites.

Sneak Peek: My next SwB project involves homemade (or would that be office-made?) cheese as one component of a dish.

Mary
Mary

And the yellow chunks? Mango, sweet potato, que? I think your boss's coffee didn't taste so good this morning. Good job (on the dish, not on irritating the boss).

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Yes, Mary. I forgot to include the fact that I diced some sweet potatoes, sauteed them in the rendered fat from browning the chicken, and topped each serving with a scattering. Thanks for catching that. The boss hasn't mentioned anything about off-tasting coffee, yet. Maybe he liked it.

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