Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mole is all about being sauce.

I learned from Chopped judge and acclaimed NYC chef Aaron Sanchez, as he scolded a contestant who had made essentially a spicy chocolate sauce and called it mole, that mole isn’t about chocolate. Most sources would agree that it’s not really about any one flavor, but rather a complex marriage of a host of different flavors, with none being dominant. “Mole” originates from the Aztec (or Nahuatl) word mulli or molli, which means “sauce”.

So it’s really more about being a sauce in general, THE sauce, than being a chocolate sauce. However restaurants in my area of the world would have you think differently, of course. This *is* the US. My palate is trained for a sweet, somewhat thin, chocolaty, cinnamony sauce…and hence trained for disappointment.

But I didn’t really know that when I embarked on my mole adventure this past weekend. (Okay, I did.) I’d been sitting on a simple recipe (as far as mole goes) by food writer Jeanne Thiel Kelley that I found on Epicurious a while back that got great reviews. And maaaaaybe I should have READ those reviews before I started. Because if I had, I would have seen that almost ALL of them recommended going easy on one particular ingredient…much easier than recommended…the culprit?

Orange. Though we still managed to enjoy what we could taste through the somewhat bitter traces of orange in the dish, I can’t wait to make this again and leave that nonsense out! I should have known that pureeing the final mixture of cooked ingredients and not taking the called for orange peel out would yield an overabundance of citrusy flavor to the sauce. I need to start trusting my instincts more…but I felt way out of my usual territory with this one.

So here is my adapted version of Kelley’s recipe – leaving out the orange peel completely. With 2 cups of OJ already included, I think it's overkill. I also used different peppers because even Whole Foods didn’t have the ones called for (pasilla and negro, both dried). Though I clearly did make some substitutions, I would highly recommend using Mexican chocolate, as called for – it has a fantastic warm grainy texture that is completely unique and special.

We had the mole with shredded chicken, in warm flour tortillas with cotija cheese and a sprinkling of chives. Yum. Minus the orange I think they would have been perfect.

Chicken Mole
adapted from Jeanne Thiel Kelley

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
5 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs
3 cups chicken broth or stock
2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
1 1/4 pounds sweet onions, sliced
1/2 cup sliced raw almonds
6 large garlic cloves, sliced
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground coriander
4 ounces dried ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded, torn into 1-inch pieces, rinsed.
1/4 cup raisins
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 3.1 ounce disk Mexican chocolate, chopped 
Warm flour tortillas
Cotija cheese (hard fresh cow's milk cheese from Mexico)
Fresh chives, chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat (preferably a dutch oven). Sprinkle chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and working in batches, saute in pot until lightly browned - about 3 minutes per side. Add more oil as needed. Transfer chicken to a large bowl.

Return chicken and any accumulated juices to pot. Add broth and orange juice, bring to just a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until chicken is tender and just cooked through, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy large saucepan (having 2 dutch ovens helps here!) over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until golden brown, about 18 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add almonds, garlic, cumin and coriander. Saute until nuts and garlic get some color, about 2 minutes. Add chilies and stir until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.

Transfer chicken to large bowl. Pour chicken cooking liquid into saucepan with onion mixture (reserve the pot). Add raisins and oregano to sauce pan. Cover and simmer until chilies are very soft, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and let stand until chocolate melts and mixture cools slightly, about 15 minutes.

Working in small batches, transfer sauce mixture to blender and puree until smooth. Return to reserved pot. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Coarsely shred chicken and return to sauce. Stir to coat. 

This can be made up to 3 days ahead - chill until cold, then cover tightly and keep cold. Rewarm over low heat before serving. Serve with warm tortilla, cotija cheese and chives.

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