Mole, before I forget

It’s pronounced "molay," not like the animal.

I made this dish for cjot‘s birthday a couple of weeks ago and meant to post it, but then I got really busy helping

with Vcon and didn’t do it. Mole is Spanish for "sauce" but in US Mexican restaurants it usually refers to a sauce like Mole Poblano, which is a chile and chocolate sauce.

Mole involves a million ingredients and a really long cooking time, so it might be tempting to buy the canned or jarred mole that you can get in the Mexican food section of your local grocery. But that’s for wimps, I say! Wimps!

You can google "mole" and get many recipes. You don’t have to follow any of them slavishly, it’s not that kind of a dish. But it doesn’t really taste like mole if you don’t have chocolate, poblano peppers, and almonds or peanuts. So those are kind of the core. Poblanos are the peppers that look like really dark, slightly small bell peppers. They are mild to moderate in heat. Some recipes call for dried peppers — I don’t know if dried is supposed to be "preferred" or if the recpies are just written by people who assume you can’t get fresh. I tried making mole with dried peppers once and didn’t like the experience that much, so I always go for fresh.

Fresh peppers are probably the hardest part to come by, so figure out a grocery store or a farmer’s market where you can get some. When I made the mole a couple of weeks ago, Pike Place Market had a vendor that specialized in peppers, so there were all these amazing beautiful peppers there. I bought about a pound, about half poblanos and half everything else. In my opinion, the more types of peppers the better, as long as poblanos still dominate. The end result shouldn’t be too not, so if you buy a habanero or something, be careful.

I bought a roma tomato and a big apple, and would have bought onions and garlic if there wasn’t already onions and garlic available. I also bought an heirloom tomato, one of those big blackish looking ones, which I love so much that I basically wait around all winter for them to become available again. They are pricy, you might spend as much as five dollars on a single big one, but they are soooooo good.

I tracked down a plantain. Plantains are big starchy bananas that don’t actually taste good on their own but they’re really good in mole.

I bought fresh corn and flour tortillas from the Mexican grocery near the market. If you are feeling really ambitious you can make your own tortillas, but I left my tortilla press in Bellingham, so that wasn’t an option.

I bought almond butter. We already had peanut butter.

I also bought some things for garnish: avocado, limes, red cabbage, lettuce mix, cotija cheese. Cotija is a sharp, crumbly cheese kind of like Mexican feta.

I bought chicken, about a pound of boneless skinless breast meat. The base sauce recipe is vegan and could go on tofu if you wanted. Turkey is also traditional.

So I put on vinyl gloves and coarsely chopped up all the peppers, removing stems and seeds. Hot peppers can sting and irritate the skin, not to mention the eyes. I put the peppers in a pot with a little bit of boiling water at the bottom and a lid. I also threw in a bay leave, a couple of whole cloves of garlic, an apple, a tomato, and about half the chocolate. The peppers need to be thoroughly goo-ified so they can turn into sauce. So they’ll be boiling for a while.

Oh, how much chocolate, and what kind? Baking chocolate is my pick. I used fancy Belgian baking chocolate because I like to eat it, so I already had some. (Yes, I know I’m insane. I like completely unsweetened chocolate.) You can also use cocoa powder. Wikipedia says you can use Mexican chocolate, but I wouldn’t. Mexican chocolate is sold to make Mexican hot chocolate and it already has sugar and cinnamon added. You really can’t trust Wikipedia with cuisine information.

How much? I think I used an ounce, maybe less.

While the peppers were boiling, I fired up the cast iron skillet. This part must be done in a mature, properly seasoned, genuine made-in-America cast iron skillet. You can use something else, but I take no responsibility for what happens next. It’s your choice.

While the skillet was heating up, I chopped another couple of garlic cloves into little tiny pieces, and, since Paul wasn’t there, chopped about a third of an onion into little tiny pieces. I also sliced the plantain.

So, the skillet was hot, and I put about a tablespoon of butter into it. I carmelized the onions, then added the garlic and cooked that for a while. Then I added the plantains. I fried the slices on both sides, then smashed them a bit with a fork and kept frying.

At that point I added the rest of the chocolate and about a tablespoon of peanut butter and about a tablespoon of almond butter. I forgot to buy sesame seed butter, also known as tahini, a staple of Middle Eastern cooking. I forgot to buy raisins.

Now we get to the spices. I ground up a couple of whole cloves, a few peppercorns, some coriander, some cumin seeds, and some allspice. Can I tell you how much of each one? No, not exactly. The ground up mixture came to, maybe, two tablespoons? I added half the spices to the boiling peppers and the other half to the pan. I also shook powdered cinnamon both places, and added a little salt to both. Maybe a quarter teaspoon each? I measured by pouring it into my hand.

I left those items cooking while I prepped the cold garnishes: slices of heirloom tomato, red cabbage shreds, lime wedges, greens mix, cotija cheese, and guacamole. I should have bought a second avocado, maybe a third. Because at this point I was realizing that, since you can’t make mole in small quantities, I should invite more people over, and was cooking for five instead of three.

Guacamole properly contains: avocado smashed up with a fork, lemon juice, salt, and black or red pepper. Nothing else. All other ingredients are an adulteration, a blasphemy, to the pure goodness that is the avocado.

Then it was time to combine the two halves of the sauce. I used a potato masher to mush the peppers down, then scraped the pan ingredients into the pot, stirred it all up, and left it simmering on low.

Next, I attacked the chicken. I sliced it into short fajita-like strips, squeezed lemon juice over the meat, and let it sit basking in lemon juice while I did the hard part.

The hard part. Well, you see, mole is a sauce, and it should be a smooth, thick sauce. But the version simmering in the pot still had the pepper skins in it.

Pepper skin is a very thin membrane on the outside of the pepper, which should peel away easily if you roast the peppers first — some mole recipes call for pepper-roasting, which I have tried, but with poor results. I burn my fingers on the hot peppers and can never get all the skin off anyway. But if I boil or steam the peppers they seem to come away from the skin quite readily. So at this point what I had was pepper mush and also pepper skins, no longer fully attached to each other.

So, to remove the pepper skins, I pressed the mixture through a sieve. The pepper skins and other things went into a separate container, just in case something could be made from them (I really don’t know what), and the smooth, thick remaining sauce went back into the pot on low.

This made about three cups of sauce. Which is plenty.

I probably could have blenderized it, too. I don’t know if the pepper skins would have affected the flavor much.

I can always tell I’m getting it right when I go to wash out the pot, try some of the sauce, and decide to scrape out the pan and eat all the sauce before I fill it with water.

Next, I cooked the chicken in the pan with a little bit of the mole sauce.

Serve by combining all the bits as desired inside a tortilla.


  1. Damn, that sounds delicious. Think I’ll have the mole enchiladas at Mi Charrito for lunch today.

  2. This was really amazing. I’m glad to see the process written down, though I doubt I’ll be making it myself anytime soon. Thanks again, it was delicious!

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