Mole (pronounced mo-lay). Apparently it’s acceptable to eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner if my recent trip to Puebla, Mexico, is to be believed. Whether it’s served over chilaquiles for breakfast, or over chicken for lunch or dinner, mole poblano, the dark chocolatey-brown sauce, is most definitely ubiquitous on Poblano menus.
The history of mole sauce dates to the pre-Columbian era. Some believe that the Aztecs prepared a complex sauce known as “mulli,” which means “mixture/ concoction.” Indeed, anyone who knows anything about mole and its preparation will be familiar with what seems like an endless list of ingredients, essential to creating the complex flavours of the sauce. The origin of mole sauce as we know it today, however, is disputed, and generally involves one of a few versions of the legend. (Information taken from MexOnline and notes from Mesón Sacristía.)
One version states that 16th century nuns from the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla de los Angeles served a version of mole with turkey to the visiting Archbishop. Diana Kennedy, in her book The Cuisines of Mexico [Harper & Row:New York] 1972, (p.199-200) suggests another version. Pascual, a monk and head cook, was preparing a banquet for the visiting Archbishop. Turkeys were cooking in cazuelas over the fire. Pascual was scolding his assistants for their untidiness in the kitchen and gathered up all the spices they had been using, putting them together on a tray, when either a sudden gust of wind swept across the kitchen and they spilled over into the cazuelas, or Pascual stumbled with the tray over the cazuelas, thus resulting in a most unusual and unheard of combination of ingredients.
Whatever the origin, one thing is for certain: mole can be intimidating for, and is not generally seen as accessible by, the home cook (though I believe Doña Maria offers jarred versions of mole verde, poblano, pipián, adobo and rojo). When I saw that a mole cooking class at Mesón Sacristía de Compañía was on the agenda for this trip, I was intrigued. Doesn’t mole take hours, days to make properly? Well, Chef Alonso Hernández makes it easy and much more accessible to the home cook than many recipes I have seen. Hernández’ secret? A blender, of all things! Uh huh – what used to take hours now can be produced in about 60 minutes. Ancho, mulato, and pasilla chilis are blended with tomatoes, onions and garlic, as well as a “secret” blend of spices, almonds, raisins and, of course, Mexican chocolate. (Interestingly, the spices don’t make an appearance on the recipe that is handed out at the class. Fortunately, my camera captured the plate of spices so I *think* I might be able to make a decent rendition at home!) Hernández makes a salsa of burnt tortillas – yes, burnt! – and fresh plantains, which are blended with other components helping to lend the characteristic dark brown colour to the sauce.
Between 10 of us, under Hernández’ expert guidance (and thanks to the fabulously organized mise en place), we had the mole sauce made in about 30 minutes (of course it needed simmering for about another 45 minutes but the active time was much less than I had been expecting). So, yes, whilst it involved a lot of ingredients, this recipe was a lot less labour intensive that I had imagined. Of course, every Mexican cook has his or her own mole recipe, usually passed down through the generations. Hernández made a relatively small quantity of mole (probably serving 6-8 people), which is why his blender was able to lend a helping hand, but generally, because it takes so much time to prepare, it’s usually made in giant batches, too large for a home blender to handle. Mexican home chefs regularly take their mole ingredients, cooked and ready for blending, to a large neighbourhood “molino” (grinder). These grinders blend the ingredients to a smooth paste much more effectively for a large quantity than a home blender would.
Check out the step-by-step pictures:
Preparing the chiles by lightly frying them
Burning the tortillas and blending them with plantains to add to the sauce (that's Raul aka @hummingbird604 there!)
The mole sauce before blending, then carefully poured into clay pot to simmer
Making chalupas - fried tortillas with salsa verde or roja, topped with meat and cheese
Tasting plates: Chalupas, mole taster, mole poblano and cremita
Thank you so much, Chef Alonso, for demystifying mole for us. I actually think I might try this one when I am back home in August!
A version of Chef Alonso’s recipe (minus the secret spice blend) can be found here. Another mole recipe you may enjoy can be found at Pati’s Mexican Table.
Disclosure: My trip to Puebla, including transportation, accommodation and all meals, was sponsored by the Mexican Tourism Board. I was not required to post about this trip and was not compensated for doing so. All opinions are my own.
Follow my travels on Flickr this summer with my Summer 2012 set of photos – updated regularly!
Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time food blogger based in Toronto. Her blog, eat.live.travel.write, focuses on culinary adventures both near and far because she travels as often as she can!
by Mardi Michels