Since Jan discovered she is ¼ Cora—23&Me, long story—she has become interested in discovering what that means. She has taken an interest in learning Spanish and is taking Mexican food far more seriously. For her birthday, she asked for chicken mole.
Note: To go with the chicken mole, I am serving drunken beans, Mexican rice and a cabbage salad. Jan made a Ghost pepper chocolate mousse which was to die for. No really, it was so hot even Chris—who thinks nothing is too hot—said, “This is really hot!”
Mole simply means “sauce,” and includes a wide variety of ingredients and colors—Oaxaca is called “the land of the seven moles.” The best known mole outside of Mexico is mole poblano—a rich, dark brown sauce of chilies, chocolate, spices, nuts, seeds and fruit.
Some traditional mole poblano can take days to make and have more than 30 ingredients. I have made both a fairly traditional mole recipe (27 ingredients) and a simplified version (21). However, most of the recipes you will find online are simplified to the point of being wane imitations of the original.
I was watching a video of America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for mole poblano. They had cut the sauce ingredients list down to 14 and limited their chilies to just two. I am not sure people with a stated dislike of things being too spicy should be trusted with this recipe. Their recipe was definitely designed for the tastes of the Northeastern United States.
A second decision the ATK chef made was to eliminate the pepitas—toasted pumpkin seeds—an ingredient common to many authentic moles. She thought that they added a bitter taste. My response would be, “Yes, that is part of the sauce’s complex flavor!”
This is not to say that I cannot borrow a few ingredients and a technique or two from their recipe. By now, I have made enough moles to want to build my own. I am not sure I can call it a mole poblano, because I decide to use only one poblano chili.
Dried chilies can be difficult to buy, because the same chilies are labeled differently by some distributors. Dried poblanos may be called ancho, pasilla, or even mulato chile on the package. The easiest way to get the right chili is learn to identify the chilies by sight.
Note: Ancha and mulato chilies are both start as poblanos, but the first ripens to a red color and the second ripens to a brown color. While they are still green you cannot distinguish them by sight, but their flavors are distinctly different—especially after they have been dried.
The chef at ATK used a chipotle chile—these are smoked and dried jalapeños—which are most commonly sold rehydrated in vinegar and spices as “chipotle in adobo.” When I went to Chavez Market, I did not find them in their dried form. Fortunately for me, the chili supplier was restocking the shelves while I was looking. He suggested using a morita chile in place of the chipotle.
Note: To produce chipotle chilies—properly chipotle meco—fully ripe red jalapeños are smoked for days until they are completely dried. For morita chiles—properly chipotle morita —they start with a green jalapeño, which is then lightly smoked and dried, but not for as long as the chipotle chilies.
I was planning to make a mango and avocado salad to go with my chicken. When you cut up a mango, you always end up with the bits along the outer edges of the seed that turn into fruit scraps—not clean chunks of fruit. Most moles have some fruity elements, so in the ugly bits of mango went.
After Dinner Note: Everyone really liked this dish. On the whole, this was a really successful dinner.
Karl’s Chicken Mole
4 bone-in chicken breast halves
4 bone-in chicken thighs
½ cup tequila (Patrón Silver)
¼ cup lime juice
2 Tbs. raw agave syrup
2 tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. coriander seeds
¼ tsp. black peppercorn
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1 Tbs. pepitas
1 Tbs. pine nuts, toasted
1 Tbs. sesame seeds, toasted
1 large beef steak tomato
2 tsp. corn oil
½ cup yellow onion, diced
½ tsp. Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 bottle of Mexican lager OR 1 can (14.5 oz) low sodium chicken broth (vegetable broth for Vegan)
½ cup almond butter, creamy
¼ cup chopped mango
2 Tbs. currents, minced
2 wedges Mexican chocolate (¼ tablet about 2 oz.)
1 oz. dark chocolate (85%+)
1 tsp. sesame seeds, toasted
1. Remove the skin from the chicken pieces.
Tip: Do this the night before your dinner.
Note: For this dinner I bought two whole chickens. I cut free the breast and thighs for this meal. I froze the legs and wings for a meal later in the week. I cut up the rest of the carcasses—and the skins from the breasts and thighs—to use in making a chicken stock for the wonton soup I am serving when Jan’s brother finally shows up.
2. Put the tequila, lime juice, agave syrup, and salt in a sealable gallon bag.
Tip: Seal the bag and shake it until the salt has dissolved.
3. Put the breasts and thighs in the bag and press the air out.
4. Move the chicken around in the bag, so that the marinade reaches all surfaces of the chicken.
5. Place the bag in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Tip: Flip the bag every few hours to redistribute the marinade.
Note: The bones in the chicken can sometimes be shark and will punch holes in the plastic bag. The large bowl prevents your refrigerator from becoming contaminated with raw chicken juices.
6. Remove the stems, veins and seeds from the chilies.
Warning: Be very careful not to rub anywhere near your eyes when working with chilies. This is a mistake you will make only once.
Tip: If you are particularly sensitive to capsaicin, wear latex surgical gloves while handling the chilies. When you are removing the seeds from dried chilies, they tend to fly all over the place. Put a cutting plastic in a large lipped baking sheet and it will help you catch most of the mess.
Note: While you can make the mole sauce the day of your meal, it is beneficial to make it the day before, so that the flavors have time to meld properly.
7. Rip or chop the chilies coarsely.
8. Toast the chilies in a small dry pan until fragrant, 1-2 minutes over medium high heat,.
Tip: Stir the chilies constantly, so that they are equally toasted, but do not burn them. If any single piece burns discard it, it would ruin the mole.
9. Remove the chilies from the pan to cool.
10. Put the chili pieces into a spice grinder, process them to a powder, and put them in a small bowl.
Tip: Turing the toasted chilies into a powder is the best way to get a smooth sauce.
Note: Many of the mole recipes I have looked at either rehydrate the chilies and then blend the wet chilies by themselves or add them to the sauce in large pieces and then try to grind everything into a fine sauce with a standing blender. There is usually an added step of sieving out the bits that did not get ground small enough.
11. Put the cumin and coriander in the small pan and toast them until fragrant, about 1 minute.
12. Put the cumin and coriander seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves, into a spice grinder and process to a powder.
Tip: Put the spices in the bowl with the ground chilies.
Note: You will eventually have three small reserve bowls: The chilies and spices; the ground nuts; and the tomatoes.
13. Toast the pepitas, pine nuts, and sesame seeds in the same dry small pan, grind them into a paste, and reserve them separately in a small bowl.
Tip: The pepitas, pine nuts, and sesame seeds all contain oil. Processing them into a smooth paste in a spice grinder is possible, but can get a bit sticky. Using a mortar and pestle is the traditional method.
Note: This recipe calls for using almond butter, as a way of avoiding the problem of making a smooth nut paste with these larger nuts.
14. Remove the seeds from the tomato and chop it into small pieces.
Tip: Place a fine mesh sieve over a separate small bowl and scrape the seeds into the sieve. Press the jelly through the sieve and into the bowl.
Note: Discard the seeds.
15. Put the tomatoes into the bowl with the jelly and reserve for later.
16. Add the corn oil to a Dutch oven, over medium high heat, and sauté the onion with the salt until they are well browned, about 8-10 minutes.
17. Sprinkle the powder chilies and spices over the onions and stir them in.
18. Pull the onions to the sides of the pot and add the garlic and tomato paste.
Tip: Put the garlic on one side of the open hole in the center of the pot and the tomato paste on the other side.
19. Sauté the garlic and tomato paste until the garlic is fragrant and the tomato paste has darkened., about 1-2 minutes.
Tip: The tomato paste will stick to the pan and create a dark vegetables fond. Do not let this burn.
20. Add the chopped tomato and all of its juice to the Dutch oven.
Tip: Use the liquid to deglaze the pot, scraping the bottom of the pot carefully to release all of the fond.
21. Stir the beer/broth, ground nuts and seeds, the almond butter, the mango and the currents into the onions and spices.
Tip: The ATK chef warns against overcooking beer, as the hops will turn bitter over a long cooking time. This dish is so heavily spiced that I do not think any bitterness would be noticeable.
Note: Do not add the chocolate at this time, overcooking chocolate may turn it bitter.
22. Simmer the mixture for 20-30 minutes.
23. Remove the pot from the heat and let the mixture cool for 20-30 minutes.
Tip: It is safer to blend a warm sauce, than a scalding hot sauce.
24. Puree the mixture in the blender until smooth.
Tip: You may add some beer/chicken broth, as needed, to make a smooth sauce, but you do not want to add too much. Depending on how much liquid you add, you may need to do this in batches.
Note: Having ground the chilies earlier, it is not necessary to push the blended sauce through a sieve—like many of the recipes call for doing. The only thing you are really blending in this recipe are the tomatoes and fruit.
25. Pour the sauce back into the Dutch oven.
26. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat and cover, and simmer for at least one hour.
Tip: Stir frequently, so that it does not stick to the bottom and scorch.
Note: Depending on how long you simmer your sauce, you may need to add more beer/chicken broth. The mole should be fairly thick, but not a dense paste.
27a. If you are making the sauce the day before, remove the pot from the heat and cover the pot and set it aside.
Tip: This is to let the flavors meld overnight.
Note: If you used chicken broth, transfer the sauce to a sealable container and refrigerate.
27b. If you are making the sauce the same day proceed to the next step.
Tip: Timing here should be about 2 hours before your planned serving time. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and set it on the counter to warm to room temperature.
Note: If you let the sauce sit overnight, re-warm the sauce, slowly, over a low heat.
28. Break the chocolates into small pieces and stir them into the sauce.
29. Continue cooking the sauce, over low heat, until the chocolate is melted and melded with the sauce, 10-20 minutes.
30. Preheat the oven to 400º F, with the rack in the middle position.
31. Pam a large casserole or 9 x 12 inch baking pan.
Tip: If using a baking pan lining it with aluminum foil makes cleanup easier.
Note: The last time I made mole, I simply poured it over the cooked chicken. The ATK recipe was to bake the chicken in the mole, so I thought I would try their technique.
32. Add a half cup of sauce to the pan and brush it around to cover the bottom of the pan.
33. Remove the chicken from the plastic bag and arrange the pieces in a single layer over the sauce.
Note: Discard the remaining marinade.
34. Spoon the remaining sauce over the chicken.
Tip: Make sure that each piece is completely coated with the mole.
35. Put the chicken, uncovered, in the 400º F oven.
Note: Insert a constant read thermometer into the thickest piece of chicken.
36. Bake the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 160º F, about 35-45 minutes.
37. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and spoon some of the mole in the pan over each piece.
38. Garnish the chicken mole with toasted sesame seeds and serve warm.
Tip: Pour the rest of the sauce in the pan into a sauce bowl and serve it on the side—to pour over the chicken or rice, if you have that as a side dish.