Citizens, mole sauce is one of the most famous recipes from Mexico, and certainly the most complex! The best mole sauces use up to 25 or more different ingredients, including nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and chocolate!
Three states in Mexico claim to be the origin of mole: Puebla, Oaxaca, and Tlaxcala. The states with the best known moles are Puebla and Oaxaca, but other regions in Mexico also make various types of mole sauces.
Moles come in various flavors and ingredients, with chili peppers as the common factor. However, the classic mole version is the variety called mole poblano, which is a dark red or brown sauce served over meat.
The dish has become a culinary symbol of Mexico’s mestizaje, or mixed indigenous and European heritage, both for the types of ingredients it contains, as well as the legends surrounding its origin.
Mole is a mixture of ingredients from North America, Europe and Africa, making it the first international dish created in the Americas.
Its base, however, is indigenous. Nahuatl speakers had a preparation they called mōlli ([ˈmoːlːi]), meaning “sauce”, or chīlmōlli ([t͡ʃiːlˈmoːlːi]) for chili sauce.
In the book General History of the Things of New Spain, Bernardino de Sahagún says that mollis were used in a number of dishes, including those for fish, game and vegetables.
While chili pepper sauces existed in pre-Hispanic Mexico, the complicated moles of today did not. They did not contain chocolate, which was used as a beverage, and in all of the writings of Sahagún, there is no mention at all of it being used to flavor food.
Most likely what occurred was a gradual modification of the original molli sauce, adding more and different ingredients depending on the location.
This diversified the resulting sauces into various types. Ingredients that have been added into moles include nuts (such as almonds, peanuts, or pine nuts), seeds (such as sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or squash seeds), cilantro, seedless grapes, plantains, garlic, onions, cinnamon, and chocolate. What remained the same was the use of chili peppers, especially ancho, pasilla, mulato and chipotle, and the consistency of the sauce.
The true story of how mole developed may never be truly known as the first recipes did not appear until after the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. The Nahuatl origin of the name probably defines its Mesoamerican origin.
These are the famous mole varieties of Oaxaca state:
Mole Amarillo uses Ancho, Costeño, and Chilcoxle or Guajillo chillies, green tomatoes and tomatillos, onions, garlic, cloves, cumin, black pepper, coriander, and hoja santa (Mexican aromatic heart-shaped leaf) or pitiona (Native Oaxaca vine).
Mole de Cacahuate
Mole de Cacahuete is less popular and made from ground, raw peanuts and chillies, typically served with poultry.
Mole Chichilo is also one of the less common moles, with an interesting ash flavour. It contains Chilguacle Negro, Mulatto, and Pasilla chillies, tomatillos and tomatoes, cloves, black pepper, and corn dough and avocado leaves, which add a hint of anise.
Mole Coloradito has a brick red colour and is the least complex. It uses Ancho and Padilla or Guajillo chillies, almonds, sesame seeds, tomatoes, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, and white sugar.
Mole Mancha Manteles
Mole Mancha Manteles is made from chicken stock and Ancho chillies, then reduced to a thick, gelatinous sauce and has a strong Ancho chilli flavour and is often used to dress plantains (cooking bananas) and pineapple.
Less popular, Mole Blanco is made from chilli powder, white raisins, white chocolate, sesame seeds, almonds, and white sesame seeds. It is important that the mole remains really white and it’s generally served with poultry.
Mole Poblano’s name comes from the Mexican state of Puebla, and it is a popular sauce in Mexican cuisine and is the mole that most people associate with mole. Mole Poblano is prepared with dried chillies (commonly Ancho, Pasilla, Mulato and Chipotle chillies), ground nuts (not groundnuts!) and seeds (almonds, indigenous peanuts, and sesame seeds), spices, Mexican chocolate (cacao ground with sugar and cinnamon and occasionally nuts), salt, and a variety of other ingredients including charred avocado leaves, onions, and garlic. Dried herbs such as ground oregano are also used. In order to provide a rich thickness to the sauce, breadcrumbs or crackers are added to the mix.
Mole Rojo is lighter red and spicier than Coloradito. It uses Ancho and Guajillo chillies, onion, tomatoes, pecans, peanuts, sesame, garlic, oregano, and chocolate.
Mole Verde achieves its distinctive green colour from the toasted pumpkin seeds that form the sauce’s base as well as using ingredients such as Romaine lettuce, coriander, epazote (Mexican herb), and tomatillos (green tomatoes)
Last but definitely not least of Oaxaca’s moles is mole negro, which is darker than mole poblano and just as thick and rich. It also includes chocolate, as well as chili peppers, onions, garlic and more, but what makes it distinct is the toasting of several ingredients to achieve a black color to the sauce. It is by far the most complex and difficult to make of all the mole sauces.
My version is unspeakably authentic with *34* different ingredients, Citizens – gird your culinary loins over a few days and try this most complex of recipes!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
For Chicken stock:
2 large (3 ½ – to 4-pound) chickens, cut into quarters
1 medium onion, unpeeled and halved with two cloves stuck in each half
5 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
For the Mole sauce:
11 medium (about 5 1/2 ounces) dried mulato chiles – buy from here
6 medium (about 2 ounces) dried chilhuacle negro chiles – buy from here
6 medium (about 2 ounces) dried pasilla chiles
1 dried chipotle chile (preferably the tan-brown chipotle meco)
1 corn tortilla, torn into small pieces
2 ¼-inch-thick slices of white onion
10 garlic cloves, unpeeled
About 2 cups rich-tasting lard or vegetable oil (for frying the chiles)
½ cup sesame seeds, plus a few extra for garnish
¼ cup pecan halves
¼ cup unskinned or Spanish peanuts
¼ cup unskinned almonds
About 10 cups chicken broth
1 pound (2 medium-large or 6 to 8 plum) tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ cup dark raisins
4 ounces (2 to 3 medium) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 slices stale challah or egg bread
2 whole cloves
6 black peppercorns
4 whole allspice
¼ stick cinnamon, preferably Ceylonese Cassia
1 teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 Hoja Santa leaf, minced (optional but strongly recommended if you can find it – buy it here
½ teaspoon ginger powder
3 points of star anise
¼ whole nutmeg
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ ripe banana
2 large tablets mexican chocolate – buy it here
3 avocado leaves – buy them here
Salt, about 1 tablespoon depending on the saltiness of the broth
1 ½ tbsp grated piloncillo sugar, plus more as needed – buy it from Amazon
This is a 2-3 day process, plan accordingly!
A day before making your mole, you will need to make a rich chicken stock. Place the chickens in a deep heavy pot, then cover pieces with cold water and stock ingredients. Bring to a boil, skim, reduce heatr to medium and cook for about 1 ½ hours.
Ensure you have at least 12 cups of good rich broth. Remove chicken pieces and put into a separate pan – let cool, then cover and refrigerate for the next day. Do not overcook the chicken you want tender, not chicken falling off the bone. When broth cools strain and refrigerate.
The next day skim off the fat from the top and reserve. Put stock on back burner until ready to use.
For the Mole:
Pull out the stems (and attached seed pods) from the chiles, tear them open and shake or scrape out the seeds, collecting them as you go.
Set an ungreased skillet or griddle over medium heat, lay on a piece of aluminum foil, and lay the onion slices and garlic cloves on that. Roast until soft and very dark (about 5 minutes on each side of the onion slices – peel it off the foil to turn it; about 15 minutes for the garlic – turn it frequently as it roasts). Cool the garlic a bit, peel it and combine with the onion in a large bowl.
While the onion and garlic are roasting, turn on the oven to 350 degrees (for toasting nuts), return the skillet to medium heat, measure in a scant 2 cups of the lard or oil (you’ll need about ½-inch depth), and, when hot, begin frying the chiles a couple at a time: They’ll unfurl quickly, then release their aroma and piquancy (keep that exhaust on and window open) and, after about 30 seconds, have lightened in color and be well toasted (they should be crisp when cool, but not burnt smelling).
Drain them well, gather them into a large bowl, cover with hot tap water, and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure even soaking. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid.
In a cast iron pan if available or a heavy large fry pan heat 1 tablespoon lard or oil and fry raisins until they puff up and brown a bit – do not scorch or burn the raisins! Remove the raisins and set aside.
Add a little more lard or oil and the reserved chicken fat from the stock and gently fry the almonds, pecans, and the peanuts for five minutes on a medium to low flame. Be careful not to burn.
All this takes time, you cannot hurry because burning or scorching any of these nuts will cause your sauce to be bitter. Nuts should be a golden brown. Remove nuts and set aside.
Next in the same frying pan add a little more lard or oil and fry your torn bread pieces lightly then put bread in the oven for about ten minutes to toast a bit. After 10 minutes remove bread from oven. Next in that same frying pan, cut your ripe banana into small pieces and fry in oil or lard until golden. Remove the banana to a seperate pan.
Last fry the tortilla and the reserved chile seeds in a little bit more oil or lard until crispy and dark brown, again being careful not to burn. Remove fried tortilla and seeds to bread pan.
Heat another heavy fry pan – do not use oil or lard. Keep heat down on medium low.
Add your spices to toast sesame seeds, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, cumin seeds, nutmeg, black peppercorns and allspice and toast slowly. Toast until they are fragrant, do not burn or scorch. Put into a spice grinder or coffee grinder and pulse until totally ground to a powder.
Next add your leaf and powdered spices to the just-ground spices – the Hoja Santa, ginger, oregano, thyme and marjoram. Add all of them to the blender (reserving a few sesame seeds for garnish), along with 1 ½ cups of the chicken broth and blend to as smooth a puree as you can. Transfer to a small bowl.
Without rinsing the blender, combine the tomatoes and tomatillos with another ½ cup of the broth and puree. Pour into another bowl. Again, without rinsing the blender, combine the raisins, roasted onion and garlic with the toasted bread, chile seeds, tortilla and 1 cup of broth. Blend to a smooth puree and pour into a small bowl.
Finally, without rinsing the blender, scoop in half of the chiles, measure in ½ cup of the soaking liquid, blend to a smooth puree, then pour into another bowl. Repeat with the remaining chiles and another ½ cup of the soaking liquid.
From four purees to mole. In a very large (8- to 9-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), heat 3 tablespoons of the lard or oil and set over medium-high heat.
When very hot, add the tomato puree and stir and scrape (a flat-sided wooden spatula works well here) for 15 to 20 minutes until reduced, thick as tomato paste, and very dark (it’ll be the color of a cinnamon stick and may be sticking to the pot in places).
Add the nut puree and continue the stirring and scraping until reduced, thick and dark again (this time it’ll be the color of black olive paste), about 8 minutes. Then, as you guessed it, add the banana-spice puree and stir and scrape for another 7 or 8 minutes as the whole thing simmers back down to a thick mass about the same color it was before you added this one.
Add the chile puree, stir well and let reduce over medium-low heat until very thick and almost black, about 30 minutes, stirring regularly (but, thankfully, not constantly). Stir in the remaining 7 cups of broth, the chocolate, piloncillo and avocado leaves (if you have them), partially cover and simmer gently for about an hour, for all the flavors to come together. Season with salt and more piloncillo sugar as needed (remembering that this is quite a sweet mole and that sugar helps balance the dark, toasty flavors). Remove the avocado leaves.
In batches in a loosely-covered blender, puree the sauce until as smooth as possible, then pass through a medium-mesh strainer into a large bowl.
Return the mole to the same pot and heat it to a simmer. Place the cooked chicken into the sauce, partially cover and simmer 15 minutes. Ideally, let this sit overnight in the fridge to allow the flavors to develop and blend.
If sitting overnight, reheat to a good summer.
With a slotted spoon, fish out the chicken pieces and transfer them to a large warm platter. Spoon a generous amount of the mole over and around them, sprinkle with the reserved sesame seeds and serve with pride to your *very* lucky guests.