Oh Mole Night!
It has become somewhat of a Christmas Eve tradition in our house to serve a big pan of lasagna for dinner. That is, if the last three or four years count as a tradition. Whatever family members are in town that evening come over for a big square of gooey, cheesy, layered pasta, salad and garlic bread. Then if we are not too comatose, we might exchange a night-before-Christmas gift before heading off to bed to count down the minutes until Santa’s arrival .
This year however, unbeknownst to my family, I’m breaking with tradition by moving to another country. For dinner, that is. This year I’m heading to Mexico, rounding up all of the complex flavors of traditional mole Poblano.
Mole is the generic name for a number of sauces used in Mexican cuisine, as well as for the resulting dishes made with these sauces. The base of the sauce is pure chile, but the variations from that point are endless – nuts, peanuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, cilantro, seedless grapes, plantains, garlic, onion, cinnamon and chocolate have all made it into the pot in some combination. Mole can be as thin and delicate as a cup of chicken stock, or dark, rich and complex, containing up to two dozen ingredients. Made with a base of two or more types of dried red chiles, mole Poblano is perhaps the most well-known mole sauce, as well as the classic variety. The rich, thick, dark-brown sauce is commonly served over braised chicken or turkey, as I’m sharing here, but I’ve also seen it layered in and over enchiladas and as a sauce for a thick, grilled, chile-rubbed ribeye. Mole Poblano is one of the most representative dishes of Mexico, especially for major celebrations and festivals, including Christmas, making the dish a perfect way to start a new tradition.
We can always have lasagna on New Year’s Eve, right?
- 4 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 4 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 4 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- ¼ cup whole almonds (skin on)
- ¼ cup raw shelled peanuts
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon anise seed
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican, broken into pieces
- 2 bay leaves, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 slices white bread, torn into pieces
- 2 stale corn tortillas, torn into pieces
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 large tomatillos, husked, rinsed and chopped
- 4 Roma tomatoes, quartered
- 3 cups chicken stock
- ½ cup chopped Mexican chocolate
- ¼ cup sugar
- Coarse salt, to taste
- Tear the chiles into large pieces and toast them in a large, dry skillet over medium heat until they darken a bit, about 2 minutes. Put chiles in a bowl with the raisins and cover with hot water – soak until softened, about 30 minutes. Strain chiles, reserving the soaking liquid. Strain soaking liquid and set aside.
- Meanwhile, add the almonds to the same skillet along with peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peppercorns, cloves, anise and coriander seeds. Toast them until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder along with the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, oregano and thyme and pulse, in batches if necessary, into a powder. Transfer powder into a large bowl add bread and tortillas and set aside.
- Add oil to the skillet and place over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until golden brown and softened, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to the bowl with the bread mixture. Add tomatillos and tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Transfer to the bowl along with strained chiles and raisins, 1½ cups of the chile soaking liquid and 1 cup chicken stock.
- Set a fine strainer over a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Puree bread mixture in batches in a blender (adding additional soaking liquid if necessary) and pass through the strainer into the soup pot, discarding any solids. Stir in remaining chicken stock, chocolate and sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 1 hour (The mixture will darken as the sauce cooks and the chocolate melts). Season with salt.
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- 1 large chicken, cut into 10 pieces
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 cups Mole Poblano sauce (see recipe below)
- 1 cup chicken stock
- ¾ cup red-wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons honey
- ½ large onion, thinly sliced
- 4 radishes, thinly sliced
- Lime wedges, Mexican crema, chopped fresh cilantro, steamed long-grain rice and steamed corn tortillas, for serving
- Heat oven to 350°. Squirt lime over chicken pieces and season well with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large oven-proof skillet and brown chicken on all sides. Transfer chicken to a plate and pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pan. Add mole sauce to the skillet, stirring to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in chicken stock and nestle chicken pieces back into the sauce, along with any juices from the plate. Bake, uncovered, until chicken is cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.
- Meanwhile, heat vinegar and honey in a small saucepan. Place onion and radish in a bowl and pour the hot vinegar mixture over them. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator while chicken is cooking (This can also be done a day or two in advance – these quick pickles get better with age.).
- Serve chicken and sauce over rice, garnished with pickled onions and radish and additional garnishes.