Paula told me once that she pretty much wanted to marry me the first time I made her bulgogi chicken.
I’ve never even told her this—until now, but I think I knew she was the one the first time she made me chicken mole. (And that mole wasn’t even from scratch!)
There’s something about being cooked for… it’s intimate and infinitely better than being taken out to dinner (even though that’s nice, too). Not only does someone care enough to spend the time and energy preparing a meal for you, they are also nurturing you in a very real sense, by feeding you: food as a tangible expression of love.
And if the dinner is delicious? That’s just icing on the cake.
Paula has now made mole for me too many times to count. She always used to used the Doña María mole sauce from the grocery store, breaking it up in a saucepan and dissolving it in generous amounts of chicken broth before serving it over baked chicken or enchiladas.
Since the very first time she made it, though, each of these occasions was accompanied by the refrain “someday I want to make mole from scratch!” (Be warned: this is what happens when you—or someone you love—has a food blog!)
Several months ago, she even ordered a Mexican cookbook off Amazon: Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibañez. The cookbook is jam-packed with salsas, moles, pipianes, and adobos, and has no shortage of serving suggestions for all of the amazing sauces contained within. The gorgeous photos in this cookbook make us weak with hunger each time we page through it (so far: many times).
Our next step would be finding the right ingredients.
I finally took Paula’s inclination as an excuse to go wander around a Mexican grocery store; without having consulted a recipe in advance, I bought about nine kinds of dried chile peppers (only three of which made it into this particular mole).
We took on the mole-making just as I’d shopped for the chiles—somewhat spontaneously. As it turned out, just the very fact of having (almost) all of the ingredients for the cookbook’s Mole Poblano recipe under our roof at one time was enough impetus for us to finally take on mole from scratch!
Leaving out only the raisins, plantains, and anise seed, we had all the other ingredients—or good substitutes for them.
The cookbook called for mulato chiles—seemingly the one kind of chile pepper I had failed to buy. Luckily I’d picked up more than enough ancho chiles, so we substituted extra anchos to make up for that. We were also too gung-ho about cooking (slash lazy about leaving the house) to go out and buy tomatillos, but I always have tomatoes on the counter, so we substituted extra tomatoes instead.
I think it goes without saying that this was no romantic occasion of one of us cooking for the other; this was a team effort.
Time consuming as it was, we were both quick to agree that it was worth all the trouble. For one thing, this recipe (uses 8 cups of chicken stock and) makes over 10 (!) cups of mole sauce, so you can feed a crowd and still freeze enough to feed another crowd later on.
The sauce is velvety smooth, and is both redder (from the chiles) and more chocolatey than the storebought kind we were used to. It’s much spicier, too! (But you can adjust that with the amount of chile seeds in step #4 below. The storebought stuff isn’t really spicy at all.)
This is a weekend project that pays off big time with stacks of mole-filled tupperware in your freezer and the satisfaction of having made something crazy delicious from scratch.
With such spectacular results from cooking together, who needs to be cooked for?
Print this recipe. (PDF)
(Barely adapted from Truly Mexican.)
(Makes about 10 cups for 10-15 servings; freezes well)
~ 6 oz. tomatoes (2 large or 4-5 small)
~ 5 cloves garlic, peeled
~ 1½-inch thick, round onion slice
~ ⅔ cup olive oil, divided
~ 6 oz. dried ancho chiles (about 15), stems removed, deveined, and seeded (reserve seeds)
~ 2 oz. dried pasilla chiles (about 4), stems removed, deveined, and seeded (reserve seeds)
~ ½ oz. dried chipotles (2-3), stems removed, deveined, and seeded (reserve seeds)
~ 1 corn tortilla
~ 3½ Tbsp. green pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
~ ½ cup blanched almonds
~ 1 thick slice baguette
~ ¼ cup sesame seeds
~ 1 cinnamon stick
~ 6 whole cloves
~ ¼ tsp. coriander seeds
~ ¼ tsp. whole allspice (5-6 berries)
~ ¼ tsp. whole black peppercorns
~ 6-8 cups chicken broth or stock
~ 2 disks Abuelita chocolate (6 oz.)
~ 1 Tbsp. sugar
~ 1½ tsp. salt
~ chicken drumsticks
~ salt, pepper, and olive oil to season chicken
How to make it:
1. Slice an ‘X’ through the peel on the bottom of each tomato. Using an oven broiler, or an oven pre-heated to 500 degrees, roast the tomatoes upside-down (on tin foil or parchment) until they’ve charred and fully cooked (15-20 minutes for small tomatoes; up to 30 minutes for larger ones). Remove and discard the peels.
Meanwhile, heat a thick comal or skillet over low heat and toast the onion and garlic cloves until charred and cooked. (Turn the garlic several times for 8-10 minutes; flip the onion over once when the garlic is done and toast for an additional 8-10 minutes.)
2. Set a large bowl next to the stove to hold the fried chiles. In a large, deep skillet, heat ⅓ cup of olive oil until it begins to simmer. Use tongs to fry the chiles in small batches until they change color, then transfer them to the bowl: 30-45 seconds for ancho chiles, 45-60 seconds for pasilla chiles, and 1½ minutes for chipotles. (Discard any remaining oil.)
Add enough cold water to the large bowl to cover the fried chiles, and let soak for 30 minutes. Use tongs to char the corn tortilla directly over a burner, then crumble it into the water with the soaking chiles.
3. Prepare a medium bowl and a metal colander/sieve set over a small bowl. Heat the other ⅓ cup olive oil in the skillet until hot, then separately fry the pumpkin seeds for 1 minute; fry the almonds for 2 minutes if whole (1½ min. if slivered); and fry the bread for 3 minutes, turning it.
(To easily remove the pumpkin seeds and almonds from the oil, pour the contents of the skillet through the sieve, transfer the fried ingredients to the medium bowl, and transfer the oil from the small bowl back to the skillet.)
Transfer 2-4 Tbsp. of the remaining oil to a large stockpot and set aside.
4. Wipe the skillet clean and toast 2-3 Tbsp. of the reserved chile seeds in the skillet about 2 minutes or until fragrant (adjust amount to taste, based on spiciness preference). Transfer toasted chile seeds to the medium bowl. Toast the sesame seeds, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, allspice, and peppercorns in the skillet, stirring continuously for 1½ minutes; transfer to the medium bowl.
5. Drain the chiles and puree them in a blender with 1½ – 2 cups of the chicken stock. Heat the oil in the large stockpot over medium, then cook the chile puree until slightly thickened for about 10 minutes. (Stir frequently and use a splatter screen.) Meanwhile, combine about half of the ingredients from the medium bowl with some of the tomatoes, onions, and garlic and another 2 – 2½ cups stock in the blender, and blend until smooth. Add the mixture to the chile puree in the stockpot, and repeat with the other half of the ingredients.
6. Add the chocolate, sugar, and salt to the sauce, stirring it until the chocolate melts. Simmer, partially covered, and stirring occasionally for 45-60 minutes, adding more stock if necessary.
Meanwhile, if serving with baked chicken drumsticks: place chicken in an oven-safe skillet and season with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes.
7. Add the cooked chicken to the mole sauce to heat it through, or serve just-baked warm chicken drumsticks on a plate with the sauce ladled over them.
Serve with pinto beans, Spanish rice, and warmed corn tortillas. The sauce (without meat) can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, or will freeze well for up to a month; defrost in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water or broth.
Print this recipe! (PDF)
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