We eat a lot of Mexican-inspired foods in my house. And much of the inspiration comes from a few of my favorite celebrity chefs; chief among them Pati Jinich, star of the PBS show Pati’s Mexican Table. I have watched Chef Jinich for years now, and what I love best about her is her story. She didn’t start out as a culinary star; she was a political analyst, of all things, with a Masters from Georgetown! But her love for her homeland, its rich culture and its unique cuisine brought her back to what was truly her calling.
One of my favorite seasons of Pati’s Mexican Table was the one in which Chef Jinich takes us all on a guided tour of Oaxaca, Mexico, immersing us in the people, history, celebrations, family life and foods of this amazingly beautiful region. Someday I will get there, I hope. But until then, I will treasure my place at Pati’s TV table.
And it was this season-six excursion into the ways food had a huge role in a country’s history, cooking and celebrations that first gave me the idea of trying my hand at a mole. Mole, I learned, is like a family’s or region’s fingerprint. While commonalities among various standard types of mole exist, this is usually a recipe handed down from generation to generation, guarded and revered by everyone around the dinner table.
So I was a little unsure I could pull it off—I mean, most moles are all about meat, after all, with main ingredients like from-scratch chicken stock and fresh lard. Further, I’m not one bit Mexican, and I had a terrible fear of insulting a whole country and Chef Jinich with my amateur attempt. But what is the Green Gal motto? Yep: Be brave in the kitchen. And I think Chef Jinich would be right there with me on that. She is nothing if not brilliantly brave. So I dug in, researching and testing and finally coming up with a Green Gal mole that honors the farmers and the food of my region, with a significant nod south of the border, just as traditional Mexican moles honor the people of Oaxaca.
Warning: this is a long read. I divided my mole sauce preparation and the presentation of my chicken and pork moles into three days. Was it worth it? Well, even I—the vegetarian—tasted my finished sauce (lard and all!) and had to admit it was pretty darn good—balanced, rich and complex. Then my diners—one set for chicken mole and one set for pork mole—gave the final verdict: delicioso!
Any mole takes patience and time, regardless of whose recipe you use. It’s meant to be a true creation—a work of art, if you will. So pick a couple of days you can spend quality time in the kitchen and create your own masterpiece. Here’s my version…
- One-quarter cup plus one teaspoon olive oil, divided
- A mix of hot and sweet peppers (I used one jalapeño and two bell peppers, one yellow and one purple. Since ghost peppers and scorpions were not at the market yet, I made do with an additional two teaspoons of ground scorpions and black congos from last year—quick burning them in my cast iron skillet until I got a smoky char. If fresh hot peppers are in at your market, use those—add one-half to one whole pepper of choice to your mix. The level of heat is up to you, but I think charring the peppers is essential.)
- One tablespoon each whole cumin and coriander
- One-quarter cup raw green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- One-quarter teaspoon allspice or two whole allspice berries
- One-quarter cup almond meal
- One cup diced yellow or red onion
- Four large cloves garlic, sliced (Keep the garlic sliced thick or chopped large so that it does not burn easily during its long cooking time.)
- One cup chopped tomatillos
- One cup chopped ripe red tomato
- Two cups fresh chicken stock (I followed a recipe from The Professional Chef, published by the Culinary Institute of America; see notes after the recipe.)
- Herb and spice sachet of a two-inch stick of cinnamon (You want good Mexican cinnamon that you can easily crush; DO NOT use cassis.), two whole cloves, one large sprig fresh oregano and allspice berries, if you are using them whole
- One-half cup finely chopped dates
- One tablespoon unsulfured blackstrap molasses
- One-quarter cup strong black coffee
- Six ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped or grated (You will need dark bitter chocolate with at least 85 percent cacao. Do not use anything sweeter, but I would not recommend totally unsweetened chocolate. I was lucky enough to still have hickory-smoked chocolate from my friend Gary! Tips from Delicious Living Magazine on buying good dark chocolate that contains both flavor and health benefits are at the end of the post.)
- Two heaping tablespoons fresh or fresh-frozen lard
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Have your chicken stock cooked, strained and chilled (see below for instructions). Skim off excess fat before using.
- Begin the mole preparation by blackening the whole hot and sweet peppers on a cast iron surface—a griddle or a big skillet that has been lightly oiled with the teaspoon of olive oil. Using medium-high heat, keep turning your peppers until they are charred on all sides. Once they are blackened and soft, place them in a clean paper bag and close the opening tightly. The peppers will steam in about 15 minutes; then, you will be able to remove the blackened skin, leaving bold and sweet pepper flavor with just the right amount of heat. Once you have skinned the peppers, remove the seeds and chop them fairly fine. Depending on your pepper choices, you may choose to wear protective gloves for this step.
- Next, on the same cast iron surface, toast the cumin and coriander until fragrant. Remove the spices and add the pepitas, dry toasting until they are browned and begin to pop. Once cooled, put the pepitas and the whole toasted spices in a coffee grinder or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Place in a bowl with the almond meal and toss. If you used ground allspice instead of whole, add it to this mixture. Set the mixture aside.
- In your largest chef’s skillet, heat the quarter-cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic with a sprinkle of salt and allow them to cook until they are glossy and soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add the peppers that you blackened and skinned with another sprinkle of salt, and cook for about five minutes. You’ll begin to smell their spice and heat.
- Add the tomatillos and tomatoes next with one more generous sprinkle of salt so that the tomato flavor pops. Cook about 15 minutes until the contents of the skillet is somewhat reduced and saucy.
- Add in all the ground spices, pepitas, and almond meal and stir well to combine.
- Add the chicken stock, the spice and herb sachet, and the dates. Simmer steadily for about a half hour. The mixture should become really fragrant and start to reduce a bit. Then add in the blackstrap molasses and the coffee. Continue simmering 15-20 minutes more.
- Once the skillet mixture has come together, add in the shredded chocolate and the lard. Stir until the mixture creams out and becomes silky.
- You can use the mole now, but I cooked it ahead of the day I was using it and allowed it to settle in the frig for about 24 hours. The mole became thick, coming closer to the consistency of the famous paste I’d been reading about. However, mine did remain pourable.
Note that the prep time includes charring the peppers and toasting the spices and pumpkin seeds. Cook time refers to the time the sauce cooks in the skillet. See the instructions at the end of the post for making the chicken stock, which takes a half-day, and creating the two meat dishes: chicken mole and pork mole. I suggest storing your mole in two containers, holding about three cups each if you are planning on making my two dishes below.
So there you have my Green Gal version of mole. I know it is a lot of work, but it is worth it, I promise. And don’t stick to what I’ve done—be brave! Let your mole define you!
Homemade Chicken Stock
If you are looking for a good from-scratch chicken stock, try the following from the Culinary Institute of America. I’ve adjusted the quantities for home kitchen, but you will still end up with about a gallon of stock—enough for the mole sauce and both the meat dishes I prepared. What you don’t use, you can freeze or gift to your friends, Next time you’re in the mood for mole, you’ll already be that much ahead. Give it a go! You can also see my use of a Joy of Cooking chicken stock recipe from an earlier post for Chicken and Dumplings.
- One large chicken, about 4 pounds. The original recipe calls for stewing hens—older chickens that would be too tough for other purposes. But I wanted to use the chicken to create my first mole dish, so I opted for a roasting hen that was pleasingly plump from The Family Garden. (Be sure to check out my visit to Jackie Mills’ farm that is part of my posts this month.)
- One gallon filtered water
- Sea salt, about one tablespoon (added a little at a time so your stock can be adjusted to taste)
- One medium onion, chopped
- Two carrots, chopped
- Four or five ribs of celery, plus any nice leaves, chopped
- One large ripe red tomato, chopped
- Herb sachet: parsley, bay leaf, black peppercorns, fresh thyme sprigs and one large garlic clove
- Wash the chicken well under cold water. Remove the heart, liver and neck, and include this in the stock, if you wish
- Immerse the chicken in the water, add some salt and bring to a steady simmer. Watch your pot and skim off any foam that accumulates on the surface of the water. Continue this process about two hours.
- Add all the vegetables and continue simmering for 30 minutes.
- Add the herb sachet and simmer 30 minutes more.
- Remove the chicken from the stock pot and place on a large platter to cool a bit. Remove all the vegetable matter and the sachet. Strain the stock and store in glass jars. You should have about six to eight good-sized jars of stock. Once they’ve cooled down a bit, store in the frig for up to one week. Freeze the stock you are not planning to use right away.
- Place the slightly cooled chicken in a covered dish and store the frig. Use within four or five days or freeze.
The hard parts of this Mexican extravaganza are now behind you! Making the following two dishes is a snap. So if you are celebrating, you can direct most of your attention to other matters.
Green Gal Chicken Mole
- One large roasting chicken, fully cooked and deboned, leftover from the stock
- Two and one-half to three cups mole
- One to two cups reserved chicken stock, depending how thick or thin you want your sauce
Place the deboned chicken, mole and stock in a large chef’s skillet or Dutch oven. Bring to full simmer; then, reduce to low heat and let the chicken get acquainted with the mole until dinner time. I would suggest at least an hour.
That’s it! Goes great with rice or pasta. Serves 8 to 10, easily.
A little note of thanks here to Blaine Bilyeu, without whom neither the mole nor this dish would be possible. My snowy white lard and tender pork shoulder roast are from Papa’s Pasture—the ONLY place we buy our pork. Also, I used my slow cooker to finish off this dish. It created a wonder finish, but you could cook this just as I did the chicken in the recipe above by simply simmering it in a large skillet, if you wish. My suggestion, however, is the slow cooker, if you can.
- One three- to four-pound pork shoulder roast, bone in or out—up to you and your butcher
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Three to four cups mole
- One cup chicken stock
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Salt and pepper the shoulder roast to taste. Place it on a roasting rack that is situated in a large roasting pan (might want to cover that pan with foil for easier cleanup).
- Roast until you get an internal temperature of about 180 degrees. This is slightly under what you would normally want, which would be 185, but you are going to finish this roast off in the slow cooker, so it’s best to be a bit underdone going in. Same is true if you are finishing the mole on the stovetop. Roasting time for my recipe was about two and a half hours.
- Once the roast has reached 180 degrees, take it out of the oven and wrap tightly in foil for about 30 minutes, allowing it to rest and the juices to redistribute. Then, carve it into cubes and place in the slow cooker.
- Add the mole and enough stock to get it to a consistency you want. Remember that the slow cooker will create liquid, so maybe go easy on the stock at first. You can check it later and always add more.
- Cook the mole on low for about five to six hours. This is also a great dish to serve with rice, pasta or polenta. Serves 8-10, as well.
And a final word from Delicious Living Magazine about chocolate, which is a must-use ingredient in every mole recipe I read about. DL offers you some sound advice on how chocolate is good for you and also not so good for you. The kind that is truly “healthy” has no fillers—like sugar, oils and dairy. It is at least 85 percent cacao and has been minimally processed. Just what you want for your mole, as well as your health.