One of the sauces that’s long been on my To-Do list is Mexican mole sauce. It hadn’t been top of mind though until I came back from Mexico City with a couple of chocolate bars that turned out to be the key ingredient to a traditional Oaxacan mole sauce.
How to make Mexican mole from scratch
One of the reasons I’ve never tried to make a mole sauce is that I knew it would be long process if done the classic way. This means toasting dried peppers, grinding, stirring, some blending, then probably more stirring – with a lot of long simmers in between. Though I have to say that it’s definitely worth it. Just like making beef burgundy from scratch, it requires going the long route to get the most out of this dish.
What I made was a pretty decent version of a traditional mole poblano sauce. Oddly, it doesn’t involve any poblano peppers. When doing some research beforehand, I found that I’m not the only one confused by this. What I did use were three varieties of dried chiles: ancho, pasillo and chipotle.
The chocolate here is interesting. I mentioned that I was on a business trip in Mexico City and wanted to pick up some authentic chocolate from Oaxaca. When I got home, my wife and I immediately opened them up, and were immediately disappointed. It wasn’t anything like we expected. Gritty, oddly sweet and a little bit waxy. Later I find out that Oaxacan chocolate bars are intended for either making hot chocolate….or mole sauce. Thus, mole poblano went on the menu for that weekend.
The corn tortillas are used to thicken the sauce and give it body. This is very similar to what a cornstarch slurry does in my Crispy Lemon Tofu dish. For nuts and seeds, I used a combination of almonds and sunflower seeds. Like the chile peppers, both the almonds and the sunflower seeds need to be toasted beforehand to bring out their full flavors.
I put the pumpkin seeds, almonds and the ancho, pasillo and chipotle peppers on a silpat-lined sheet pan and toasted them under the broiler for about 5 minutes. Be super careful, you can from 0 to Burnt really fast if you’re not moving them around and watching closely. Keep a pair of tongs in one hand to turn over the peppers regularly as well.
Note: this will create smoke. You should have your exhaust fan running and open a few windows. Even if you don’t burn the peppers, they are going to smoke a bit. Your house will smell like a chili factory when you’re done. Be aware that the smoke may feel like burning if you have small children running around.
Rather than grind the peppers in a spice grinder, I reconstitute them in hot water and use them whole in the sauce. They’ll eventually be ground up when you run the sauce through the blender. Two advantages to doing this: 1. You can remove all of the internal seeds and veins from the chiles that create the heat and 2. You can use the chili water to make stock (I use Better than Bouillon brand reduced sodium chicken base. )
This all depends on how spicy you like your food. If you want it hot, by all means leave in those little white pepper seeds and use the chili water.
A couple of areas where I deviated from the traditional preparation: Many recipes will fry the peppers in oil after toasting. I skipped that. Instead of roasting peanuts, I used peanut butter.
What to Serve with a Mole Sauce
The classic mole poblano sauce is served with chicken, though here in my dish it’s served with tilapia. I try to get fish into as many dishes as possible since I eat plenty of chicken or turkey throughout the week. You’ve probably noticed tilapia popping up a lot here….it’s my go-to for making fish tacos and I’m regularly making a breading for tiliapia with some sort of nut….such as an almond crusted tilapia.
For plating the dish, I’ve served the mole with a mix of brown rice and wild rice. No particular reason, I just had both on hand. In the end, it actually made for a nice presentation with the wild rice mixed in. I use a Zojirushi Rice Cooker for all things rice. It’s super easy that way and it’s one less thing you have to mind on the rangetop.
When you’re ready to serve, start with the sauce. Ladle a small amount of it on the plate and give the plate a swirl so that it covers the bottom. Then add the rice, then add the fish.
I also saved a handful of the toasted sunflower seeds to garnish the dish as well.
The fish is merely lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. I didn’t want to do anything to detract from the amazing flavor of the mole sauce. I’ve left the fish part out of the recipe below though. All I did was cook it in a saute pan for 4 minutes per side after the sauce was done.
If you live in Chicago, and are curious about mole before jumping into the recipe head first, there are a lot of great restaurants to find a mole. The king of all things mole is Topolobampo. It will also leave a dent on your credit card. More casual is Mixteco in the Ravenswood neighborhood.
This makes a pretty big batch, which is great because you can save some in the freezer.
- 2-4 cups Cooked Rice Varies
- 1 Medium White Onion
- 4 Cloves Garlic
- 1 Red Bell Pepper
- 2 Tablespoons Corn Oil or your favorite cooking oil
- 9 Dried Chiles - 3 Ancho, 3 pasillo, 3 chipotle
- 1 Teaspoon Cumin Seed toasted and ground
- 1/4 cup Almonds
- 1 Tablespoon Sunflower Seeds
- 1 Tablespoon Peanut Butter
- 1 Tablespoon Raisins
- 1 15 Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes drained and rinsed
- 2 Corn Tortillas torn into small pieces
- 2 Cups Chicken Stock
- 1 Whole Cinnamon Stick
- 3 Ounces Mexican Chocolate grated or chopped
- Spread the nuts, seeds and peppers on a pan and toast under a broiler until colors have changed and a noticeable toasted (not burnt) smell has emerged
- Put the chile peppers in a large mixing bowl. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and carefully pour over the peppers. Allow 15 minutes for them to rehydrate
- In a separate bowl, rehydrate the raisins with hot water. You can also use the chili water if you want to kick up the heat
- Remove the peppers and reserve the soaking water. Under cool running water, rinse off the peppers and remove the stems, seeds and veins. Use a colander in your sink to catch the peppers as they can be slippery
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy dutch oven and cook the onions, red pepper and garlic over medium until the onions turn translucent (5 - 7 minutes)
- Add the cumin and chile peppers and cook over medium for another 5 minutes
- Add the nuts, seeds, peanut butter and raisins, tomatoes and tortilla. Stir really well and cook for another 5 minutes
- Add the broth and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer
- Gradually add the chocolate and make sure it melts fully into the sauce
- Simmer the mole sauce for 30 minutes and then let cool for 15 minutes. Find, and remove, the cinnamon stick. In batches, process on high in a blender until smooth and return to the pot
- Check your seasonings here and the consistency. If it's too thick or too spicy, add more water or stock. Keep the sauce warm until you're ready to plate it.