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A Mexican holiday feast wouldn't be complete without mole, the complex sweet and savory sauce that graces poultry dishes.
Mole has become a symbol of Mexican cooking, with regional variations. The most famous is mole poblano, which is made with chocolate.
There's a famous story about how mole was first made in the 17th century by nuns scrambling to come up with a sauce for an important guest.
But to medieval scholar, award-winning cookbook author and restaurateur Maricel Presilla, it's more than just a sauce, it's history in a pot.
The Famous Mole Poblano of Santa Rosa
Makes 5 cups finely strained, undiluted
For the Dried Chiles
5 ounces dried pasilla chiles (about 19 chiles)
5 ounces dried ancho chiles (about 12 chiles)
4 ounces dried mulato chiles (about 11 chiles)
1 chipotle chile
For the Spices
One 1-inch Ceylon cinnamon stick (canela)
¼ teaspoon whole cloves
½ teaspoon anise seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
For the nuts and seeds
1/3 cup whole almonds (about 1 1/2 ounces)
2 ½ tablespoons sesame seeds (about 1/4 ounce0
For the Bread Thickeners
1 slice from a baguette or 1 sandwich bread slice (about ¼ ounces)
half of a store-bought corn tortilla
For the Seasoning Vegetables
2 medium plum tomatoes (about 6 ounces)
1 small white onion (about 5 ounces), unpeeled
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
For the Fruit
½ cup dark raisins
2 cups freshly rendered lard or fruity extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces grated brown loaf sugar, Muscovado sugar or packed dark brown sugar (about ½ cup)
3 1/2 ounces chocolate, preferably a dark premium chocolate with at least 50% cacao content, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
Preparing the Chiles
Stem and seed the chiles, reserving two tablespoons of the chile seeds (except those of the chipotle). Heat the comal or griddle over medium heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Working in 4 or 5 batches, add the chiles and roast, pressing with a spatula, until fragrant, less than 1 minute on each side (I like to roast each type of chile together for more even roasting). As they are done, lift them out into a large bowl. (Leave the griddle on the burner over low heat.) Cover with 5 cups hot water and let sit until softened, 20 to 30 minutes, or place in a medium saucepan with 5 cups water, bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking or cooking liquid.
Place the reserved chile seeds on the griddle and roast, stirring occasionally, until very dark. Set aside.
Working in batches, place the chiles in a blender or food processor with 1 cup (or as needed) of the reserved liquid and process to a smooth puree. Place in a bowl and set aside.
Preparing the Spices
Place the cinnamon, cloves, anise seeds, peppercorns, and the coriander and cumin seeds on the griddle and roast, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove at once. Grind to a fine powder in a spice or coffee mill and set aside.
Preparing the Nuts and Seeds
Place the almonds and roast, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes. Do not scorch. Set aside. Add the sesame seeds to the griddle, and roast, stirring constantly, until they start to pop, about 1 minute. Remove at once. Place the nuts and seeds in a small food processor or spice grinder, add the reserved roasted chile seeds, and process to a coarse powder. Set aside.
Preparing the Bread Thickeners
Place the bread slice and tortilla half on the griddle and toast until the bread is golden on both sides and the tortilla is brittle, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
Preparing the Seasoning Vegetables
Working in batches, place the tomatoes, onion, and garlic on the griddle and roast, turning occasionally, until the tomatoes and onion are blackened and the garlic is dark and soft to the touch, about 7 minutes. Remove from the griddle. When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, peel the onion and garlic, remove the most charred bits of the tomato skins, and set aside.
Preparing the Fruit
Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover 1/2 cup of the reserved chile liquid. Set aside.
Grinding the Prepared Ingredients
Place the tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a food processor or blender with the ground spices, the nuts and seeds, the bread and tortilla, and the raisins and chile liquid (the liquid helps the action of the blades). Process to a fine paste. Scoop out into a bowl.
Frying the Mole
Now you are ready to assemble the mole. Heat the lard or olive oil over medium heat until fragrant and pour in the chile puree. It will splatter vigorously, so be careful. Simmer, stirring frequently for 20 minutes or until the fat begins to separate from the solids and sizzle. Stir in the vegetable puree and cook, stirring, to mix well, for about 25 minutes, until the fat again begins to separate from the solids and sizzle and the sauce thickens to the point where you can see the bottom of the pot as you move the spoon. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the chocolate and cook, stirring, until it is melted, about 2 minutes. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if needed. Season with the salt. Force the puree through a fine mesh sieve or chinois into a bowl, using a pestle or wooden spoon.
Dilute by stirring in an equal amount of good chicken broth until the mole is as heavy as tomato sauce. It isn't absolutely necessary, but the consistency will be much silkier if you again force the thickened mixture through a fine-mesh sieve by pushing with a wooden spoon.
Excerpted from the book GRAN COCINA LATINA: THE FOOD OF LATIN AMERICA by Maricel Presilla. Copyright © 2013 by Maricel Presilla. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton.
This segment aired on December 24, 2013.
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