Mole is a Spanish/Mexican sauce (pronounced MOH-leh) and what a sauce it is! It has a tawny red color with a really complex taste. Its hard to pick apart the flavors–kind of spicy, kind of savory, kind of toasty, and just…dark. The flavor is just really interesting, and perhaps most interesting of all (if you’ve never heard of it before) is that one of the key ingredients to this sauce is dark, bittersweet chocolate.
Yup, chocolate in a savory sauce…for meat. I know! What amazes me with this sauce is how well every single component meshed together as many of these ingredients don’t seem like traditional matches made in heaven (e.g. when’s the last time you had chocolate and garlic? yum?). This sauce is balanced and will not leave you picking out any one flavor after the fact. I encourage you to taste lots of your ingredients as you progress through this recipe to just try to taste what everything is bringing to the table (har har, oh what a pun!).
- 1.5 lbs of chicken
- Olive oil
- Creole seasoning
- 2 limes
- Chicken broth
- Mole sauce:
- 3 poblanos/ancho chilis
- 3 serrano peppers
- 2 jalapeños/chipotles
- 1 cup hot water
- 1/4 cup raisins (I prefer golden raisins)
- 1/4 cup almonds
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
- 2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 scallions
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 5-6 plum tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp oregano
- 1 Tbsp annato seeds
- 1 Tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cloves
- 1 tsp ground thyme
- 3 oz bittersweet chocolate
Many Mexican dishes tend to call for dried peppers which are then reconstituted by soaking in water. Specifically, two kinds will come up again and again: ancho and chipotle chilis. i happened to have no such dried peppers but several of their fresh pepper siblings, so I decided to go halfway.
If you’re not up on your peppers, an ancho is simply a dried poblano (pictured above) and a chipotle is a smoked (and also dried) jalapeño. So what did I do? I “kind of dried” my coarsely chopped poblanos and jalapeños on the grill. Just chop, set in a dry skillet, turn the grill on low, indirect heat for a few hours, and let the peppers sweat off a bit of moisture, change color, and become a little leathery. You could do this indoors in your oven, but your oven needs to stay open AND your house will really smell of peppers. Anyways, when it was finally time to actually start cooking dinner, I charred them one last time on direct high heat for about 3 minutes. Its a weird thing to imagine, but take a taste of your peppers before and after you’ve dried them. They’ve changed. They’re all grown up now.
So now, onto the rest of the sauce, since there’s a lot more left besides the peppers. First, set aside a bowl with 1 cup of hot water. Soak your raisins in this. The sweetness of the raisins will bring a really nice, bright flavor to the sauce, but they’re too difficult to work with dried.
Now, we’re going to get some really exciting aromatics going on. Add your almonds, sesame seeds, peppercorns, cloves, and broken up cinnamon stick to a dry skillet and toast on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. It might seem like nothing is happening, but toss them around a little bit and, all of the sudden, there will be a really intriguing perfume working it way through your kitchen. You’ll know that its done. Throw these in your food processor (the much finer chop from a spice grinder would be helpful if you have one).
Now, chop up your garlic cloves and serranos and fry them in olive oil for about 5 minutes. The serranos didn’t get the same treatment as the other peppers earlier because while they’re smaller, they are actually pretty meaty as far as peppers go, so drying is more trouble than its worth.
Add your choppoed tomatoes and scallions to the garlic and pepper, simmering over medium heat for an additional 10-15 minutes to get these all soft and broken down.
Finally, throw your cooked veggies into the food processor along with your bowl of raisins (and the water!), dried peppers, and all of the dry spices. Note that the annato, which might be new to you, isn’t a huge flavor component, but will help steer the color this sauce more towards red. And last but not least, the crowning touch: add the chocolate. Take a taste before you mix it in. Yup, nothing special. Its dark chocolate. Blend everything well in the food processor until the sauce is nicely integrated and now taste a dab on your finger. At this point, I was stunned–I expected a weird sauce where you could still pick out many of these strong flavors separately, but by now, its really not so obvious.
Slice up your chicken however you’d like to serve it. I just went with chicken breasts, but a juicier cut of dark meat would probably go better. I then lightly coated the chicken with creole seasoning and freshly squeezed lime juice, which was then immediately fried in olive oil for about 10 minutes.
Once the chicken has cooked through, its time to add the sauce. You may not need to use all of your mole sauce–since I only used about 1.5 lbs of chicken, I had somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 of my mole sauce leftover. You can easily jar/tupperware it up and save for cooking another day. Add equal amounts of mole sauce and chicken broth to the pan until the chicken is covered and let simmer on low-mediun/medium heat for 20-30 minutes more. I served with saffron rice. Enjoy!