Mole? No Poblano!


This isn’t the first time Mexican cuisine has inspired a post, but it is the initial effort creating a mole (in culinary use pronounced, “MO-lay”) braising sauce.  Everything turned out well, very flavorfully in fact, but it wasn’t as spicy as anticipated.

Some misdirection was in the notion (though I definitely know better) that, “all Mexican food is spicy,” but part of it too was that garlic and three different varieties of chilies went into this.  Certainly those would’ve punched up the heat, don’t you think?

Not so much.

Oh, make no mistake, this recipe creates a mole poblano sauce that’s deeply and intriguingly flavored.  However, with so many ingredients at play here, the spiciness is absorbed into the overall medley.  It contributes taste but it doesn’t overpower.

Traditionally, mole sauces required considerable preparation.  Not only a market’s worth of ingredients, but elaborate steps to extract maximum flavors from each.  It took days to do this.  For that reason, moles were reserved for very special occasions, when weddings, christenings and the like were celebrated.

Fortunately for us, the geniuses at America’s Test Kitchen found a way to make the dish more accessible and more practical, while maintaining its authenticity.  They reported their conclusions in the September/October 2016 issue of Cook’s Illustrated, which is where I found this recipe.  (Great magazine, by the way.  It’s only one of my six subscriptions,  but if forced to choose one…)

Anyway, I served the chicken mole with warm corn tortillas, fresh guacamole and scallion ribbons.  Diners cut away pieces of chicken and wrapped them in the tortillas along with the other garnishes, and maybe an extra splash of mole sauce.  A bit messy, but wonderfully satisfying!

*****

Chicken Mole Poblano

  • 3 ounces dried ancho chilies (6 to 8 peppers) (*1)
  • 3 and 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup raisins (*2)
  • 1 onion, cut into 1-inch pieces (*3)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon canned chipotle in adobo sauce
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 slice hearty white bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, optional (*4)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (*5)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped coarsely
  • 4 pounds bone-in chicken pieces

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Place anchos on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant and pliable, about five minutes.  Transfer to a medium-sized bowl and let cool for five minutes.  Remove stems, seeds and ribs and discard.  Tear the anchos into 1/2-inch pieces and return them to the bowl.

Add two cups of the broth and the raisins to the bowl and cover.  Microwave for two minutes (*6), until steaming.  Drain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer, reserving the liquid.

Put onion, two tablespoons of the oil, tomato paste, garlic, chipotle, and ancho-raisin mixture in a food processor and chop until smooth, about three minutes.  Add the almonds, bread, two tablespoons of the sesame seeds, salt, cayenne, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, pepper and 1/4 cup of the reserved ancho soaking liquid and process until a smooth paste forms, about three minutes.

Heat remaining two tablespoons of the oil in a large stockpot, until shimmering.  Add the paste and cook, stirring frequently, for about three minutes.  Stir in the chocolate until incorporated.  If you turned off the oven after toasting the anchos, reheat it to 325 degrees.  Transfer pot to the oven and cook for thirty minutes, stirring twice. (*7)

Remove the pot from the oven and place over a medium-high stovetop.  Whisk in the remaining reserved soaking liquid and remaining 1 and 1/2 cups of the broth.  Place the chicken in an even layer in the pot, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring halfway through the cooking. (*8)  Transfer chicken to a serving dish, garnish with the remaining sesame seeds and serve.

NOTES:

1 – If you can’t find dried anchos you could use fresh, but the flavor wouldn’t be quite the same.

2 – I substituted dried cranberries for the raisins.  I used to love raisins as a kid, but now they’re among my least-favorite things!

3 – Or a large shallot, of course.

4 – As the overall dish isn’t particularly spicy, don’t be afraid to add the cayenne.

5 – I came across some Mexican oregano.  At least that’s what the guy on the street who sold it told me it was.  It’s similar to the oregano with which we’re familiar, but with slightly more herbal notes.

6 – Actually, it took more like two minutes and forty-five seconds to reach this point, but that just could’ve been my microwave.

7 –  Not surprisingly, the paste will darken a bit as you cook it; don’t worry, it’s supposed to do that.

8 – Unless you have a gigantic stockpot, four pounds of chicken doesn’t quite fit on one layer.  Just arrange it as best you can and shift the pieces as the chicken cooks.  Also, it’ll take a bit more than thirty minutes to cook; just remove the pieces to the serving platter as they finish.  If you’re using a mixture of chicken parts, the thighs will cook fastest, then the drumsticks and finally the breasts.

 

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