Since its publication in 1974, the Junior League of El Paso‘s cookbook, Seasoned With Sun has gone through numerous printings and remains in print today. And with good reason. It’s a terrific source for authentic Mexican and Southwestern cooking, and full of recipes that reflect the Indian, Mexican, Spanish, and Anglo influences on regional cuisine. Although there’s a section of the cookbook devoted to traditional Mexican dishes, recipes with roots in Central and South American cooking such as empanadas, jicama en escabeche, and sopaipillas are scattered throughout the book alongside the usual suspects of the Junior League cookbook — ham puffs, Steak Diane, chicken Jerusalem, cheese balls.
For my cooking this week, I wanted to make two meals, one traditional Mexican, and one traditional Tex-Mex, and Seasoned With Sun gave me many, many options to choose from. Sadly, I did not have time to make chiles rellanos; however, there are many other Southwestern Junior Leagues, and somehow, I suspect at least one of them will include a recipe.
The reason I did not have time to make chiles rellanos is because I decided to make mole from scratch. Ironically, I chose mole instead of tamales because I thought the latter sounded “too hard.” Four hours and half a season of Mad Men into the mole-making process, my shoulders aching, my fingertips afire, and covered in ground chile and chocolate goo up to my elbows, I lamented my decision bitterly. Five hours in, I took to strong liquor.
And then I tasted the mole. And all was forgiven.
For those unfamiliar with mole, it’s a name that can refer to many different kinds of sauces used in Mexican cuisine, particularly in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla where they originated. Though there are many varieties, all are made from a mixture of ground chiles and spices, and sometimes, chocolate. Red moles – Mole Coloradito and Mole Rojo– are particularly delicious, though it’s hard to go wrong ordering a Mole Poblano, which is what I made. It’s a sauce that has a lot of subtle, complex flavors, which shouldn’t surprise you when you see the list of ingredients, as there are about a million of them. In Mexico, mole is traditionally served for special occasions. This is sensible, because you would never make anything this labor-intensive and time-consuming for people unless you liked them a whole lot.
Chicken or Turkey Mole
30 chiles mulattos
20 chiles anchos
10 chiles pasillas
1 tablespoon mixed seeds from chiles
1/2 cup almonds (not blanched)
1 corn tortilla
2 French rolls
1 onion, peeled
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Pinch anise seed
1 quarter Mexican chocolate (comes in rounds, marked in quarters)
4-6 cups hot turkey or chicken broth
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch cumin powder
Salt to taste
Pinch powdered cloves (optional)
Wash and dry the three kinds of chiles (all can be bought at Mexican food stores). Place chiles in a dry, heavy skillet and toast lightly. Remove seeds. Soak chiles in water to cover. Toast the tablespoon of chile seeds with the almonds in a dry skillet until brown. Fry the tortilla crisp in a little oil. Cut rolls in half and fry until brown. Grind all ingredients to the consistency of paste. Add a cup or more of broth to the ground chile (enough to strain the chile). Stir through sieve; add broth if needed. Sauce can be frozen in 2 cup amounts.
1 turkey or 2 3-pound chickens, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons bacon grease
2 cups mole (home prepared recipe or 1 jar commercial sauce)
1 1/2 cups broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash garlic powder
Dash ground cinnamon
1 rounded teaspoon peanut butter
1/8 round of Mexican chocolate
2 teaspoons sugar
1 heaping teaspoon raisins
Simmer the cut up turkey or chicken in water to cover until tender, adding salt to taste. Heat oil and add mole sauce. Fry a few minutes; add remaining ingredients and simmer 30 minutes. Add broth if it gets too thick. Place boned turkey or chicken into sauce and heat thoroughly. Serve with hot buttered tortillas.
When making a dish like mole, you will probably spend a certain amount of time in a state of anxious worry, obsessing over the very real possibility that five hours of cooking could end with a phone call to Papa John’s, and the fear that you will never again be able to eat cheese sticks without associating them with failure.
And by you, of course, I mean me.
I started to feel more confident when I got the paste ground up, and noticed that it smelled right. And once I’d gotten it strained through the colander, it looked right. And once I adjusted the seasonings a little bit, it tasted right.
By the time I got it plated, I was quite visibly strutting.
It was a little spicy, a little sweet, a little smoky and nutty and chocolaty — just a very good, very balanced recipe, and well worth the effort.
For breakfast this morning, we fried up a couple of tortillas and a couple of eggs, and served them with a scoop of chicken mole and a spoonful of salsa – a kind of mole, huevos rancheros, chilaquiles mash-up – which was absolutely delicious. We had the rest with rice for dinner tonight, and I even had a couple of cups of sauce left over, which I froze.
I did make a few recipe adjustments, most notably the fact that I only used one whole chicken, and found that I only needed about three cups of broth to mix with the chile paste before I forced it through the colander, and only needed to add about half a cup of broth to the mole while it simmered.
Also, it may take you less than five hours to make this, especially if you have a food processor that can grind more than two chiles at a time. But make no mistake, the grinding part of the recipe will take a long, long time, and your shoulders will be screaming by the time you’re finished. Also, if you find your fingers won’t stop burning hours after you’ve finished cooking, try soaking your hands in milk for a few minutes. It works wonders.