Mole de Navidad
We have a holiday tradition of making tamales, black-as-the-night tamales, based on a luscious mole (pronounced mo-lay) poblano and pork. Although this year we’ll be making the tamales in January, as part of Shel and Eric’s joint birthday celebration, I’ve already made the mole and frozen it. It’s a huge production – it used to take me an entire day, but now that I’ve done it several times I can do it in about 5-6 hours, depending on how much I hustle.
You start by gathering a relatively daunting list of ingredients, including a nice assortment of dried chiles.
You stem and seed them, then fry them lightly in lard or canola oil. Home-rendered lard makes the best mole, but canola oil works well too. I stay away from those blocks of preserved lard sold in the grocery store, but I’m guessing that’s actually what most Mexican-Americans would use. You simmer the chiles in chicken broth, then purée them to a thick paste.
Next you fry up a colorful mixture of nuts and seeds, then purée them and add them to the simmering chiles.
You fry up a plantain,
and a heap of tomatillos and tomatoes,
then simmer it all together with raisins. You purée this mixture (your food processor really gets a workout making mole, and I can only shudder to think about Mexican women in the past, making this by pounding it all by hand in a molcajete), and add it to the simmering pot, which is beginning to smell really good.
Next you lightly char a bunch of white onion and garlic and, you guessed it, purée it too and add it to the pot. Now you toast and grind your spices, cloves, pepper, allspice, anise, cumin, cinnamon, Mexican oregano, and thyme (a heavenly combination) and into the pot they go. Fry up some bread and tortillas, purée them in broth, and add them. The last step is adding Mexican chocolate and piloncillo or brown sugar, and letting it all simmer to perfection. I have to say that at every step the sauce splatters like crazy, so invest in a roll of paper towels and be prepared to wipe your stove top and backsplash more times than you would think possible for one dish.
Actually, here’s the real last step, the hardest of all. You need to put the mole through a chinois, or possibly a food mill would work, to turn it into a velvety smooth sauce. It’s amazing how, even though you’ve puréed each ingredient to a faretheewell, there’s still a whole lot of solid debris to be removed. Don’t be tempted to omit this step, however, as the texture is crucial.
Now you’ve got a beautiful sauce, traditionally served with turkey or chicken, but also fabulous in tamales or even eaten straight from a spoon. You’ll have a lot of it, so you’ll get to experiment with all sorts of uses, and no worries, the sauce freezes perfectly so you can have it on hand to whip out for a special impromptu meal.
I use this recipe for the sauce, but since I don’t make the turkey I use chicken broth as the liquid. It’s takes about 3 quarts of broth, although it’s good to have 4 quarts available, because you might need more. I’ve never been tempted to tinker with this recipe because it’s so perfect just as is, and its very length and level of detail makes for a truly satisfying winter’s day in the kitchen.
If you’ve only eaten restaurant mole this one will astound you with its depth and complexity. And if you’ve only eaten mole from a jar, this will be a genuine revelation.