Putting the ‘New’ in a Mexican Classic

Putting the ‘New’ in a Mexican Classic

Steve "Mo" Fye shares his simple recipe for delicious mole

Mole (pronounced MO-lay) is a culinary term that means something different to nearly every cook.

The dish is similar to curry in that it is a blend of herbs, spices and other ingredients to make a sauce for veggies or proteins.

There are several myths and anecdotes about the invention of this sauce. Most involve a surprise visit by a church official and the accidental creation of a sauce from random ingredients – or someone spilling most of the pantry into a pot. Most food historians agree that the name comes from “milli” or “molli,” which mean “blend” or “sauce.”

The one ingredient most food researchers agree that a mole must include is some kind of hot pepper. Guajillo, ancho and pasilla chiles are often used in Mexico.

Here in New Mexico, we have our red chile. I’m not saying New Mexico chile is the best in the world, but I am intimating that. Since we can get pureed chile out of any grocery freezer, why add more work for an uncertain change in quality?

The most familiar mole is mole poblano. Typical ingredients are hot peppers and chocolate or cocoa, plus a thickening agent of breadcrumbs, wheat-flour, corn or ground nuts or seeds.

Aromatics such as onions or garlic, and spices and herbs fill out the recipe. Some recipes call for as many as 30 or more ingredients.

I have been making mole for decades and the recipe changes every time I make it, depending on what I have on hand, what is cheap and available and which protein I want to flavor.

No matter what recipe you use to make a mole, the technique is about the same. Begin with aromatics. I use garlic and sweet onion.

Some cooks will insist the aromatics should be sweated (cooked at a low temperature in a skillet) in pure lard. I typically use chicken fat, since I always have some handy. Any fat or oil will work. Dice or mince the aromatics and let them cook over a low flame until translucent. A pinch of salt will help release flavor and aroma.

Next is the heat. I use New Mexico red chile puree for convenience sake. If using more traditional dried peppers, first hydrate the peppers and make a puree in a blender or food processor.

Mix the softened aromatics and the puree in your largest sauce pot. Many modern mole poblano recipes call for chocolate or cocoa, but some historians question the authenticity.

Do what you want. I like Ibarra brand chocolate in my mole, and I use it with a heavy hand. Any unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate or baking cocoa (plus a bit of honey) will work. It adds a depth and complexity that few other ingredients can offer.

Now to make this sauce your own. You can use my rough recipe for a great mole as a basis for a personalized sauce that works with nearly any protein or vegetable.

Mo’s New Mexico Mole Poblano

2 tablespoons fat or oil (lard, chicken or bacon fat or Canola oil)

1/4 cup minced onion

3 tablespoons (1/2 head) minced garlic

1 quart NM red chile puree

3 to 4 ounces of Mexican chocolate, finely chopped OR 2 ounces of cocoa powder and some honey to taste.

1 cup pureed tomatillos, green tomatoes or bell pepper

Bring to a slow simmer on low heat.

Here’s where you get to make it your own, but this is what I like to add:

4 ounces roasted, salted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) ground fine

2 ounces blanched slivered or sliced almonds (toast in a skillet before grinding)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground clove

2 teaspoons fine ground black pepper

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon lime zest

Chicken, beef or vegetable stock to adjust consistency

Salt to taste

Let the sauce simmer for as long as you have time. Puree in a blender or food processor (in batches) and return to the pot. Adjust the consistency with the stock.

Add any other flavoring you wish and bring back to a slow simmer.

At this point, you can cool the sauce and refrigerate it for a few days for later use. Alternatively, freeze it for up to two months.

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Steve “Mo” Fye is an Instructional Tech in the Culinary Arts program at Central New Mexico Community College and has been known to giggle after making a low-fat, gluten-free, low-cholesterol dish and eating it with a sauce he knows will blow his diet for days.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.