Making Mole in San Diego


When I was in San Diego recently, I had an impromptu mole making lesson with a Mexican friend of a friend. We’re not talking about subterranean dwelling creatures here, we’re talking about mole-AY, which is basically a Mexican sauce. In Mexico, apparently, the term mole can mean any number of sauces but generally, and certainly outside of Mexico, it mostly refers to mole poblano, a dark reddish-brown sauce which is served with meat. The ingredients typically include chillies, chocolate (just a little bit, this isn’t a chocolate sauce as is often assumed), and…well after that people start to argue.

The making of mole is typically quite a long and complex process, and I’ve read lots of stories about the roasting of chillies, which are ground laboriously by hand as part of a preparation process that takes days. From what I can tell that’s fairly standard, but only for special occasions such as weddings, or festivals, when it is often served with turkey. There’s a lovely little anecdote in Diana Kennedy’s ‘The Essential Cuisines of Mexico’ where she says:

I can remember that just before Christmas, during my first years in Mexico, the traffic would be held up on the Paseo de Reforma while flocks of turkeys were being coaxed along by their owners. One by one they would be bought and for the rest of the week a constant gobbling was heard on the azoteas, flat roofs, of the apartment blocks and houses around us.

She also explains how, for celebrations like this, everyone in the area would be assigned a different task, one to toast the chillies, another to grind them, and so on.

Non-celebratory moles, however, are typically made with bought-in pastes, which people use as a base, then build on until they have something they feel fits the current purpose. Something else I have learned, is that there are countless variations on mole, which vary by region but mostly by household, as Enrique Olvera, chef at Pujol in Mexico City, points out in this piece for Lucky Peach.

The mole poblano I’m going to tell you about doesn’t fit with either the painstaking prep versions, or the ready-bought paste versions, but it is interesting. As a cook, there’s obviously nothing better than having someone teach you their version of a dish that is so famous, even if you do have a massive hangover and can barely stand up (that San Diego craft beer is dangerous).

So I thought you lot would be interested, because I was. It may not be the most ‘authentic’ or the best, or whatever, but it was very tasty, which is the most important thing. We couldn’t really communicate so well because I don’t really speak Spanish and like I said, I wasn’t on top form, but here are the interesting bits. It’s kinda like a quick n’ dirty mole, I have to say. You’ll see what I mean.

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We removed the seeds from the dried chillies (pasillo-ancho and California chillies).

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We fried the chillies in hot oil until they puffed up and blistered. This happened really quickly; I’d say it took around 30 seconds.

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Then, unexpectedly, not one, but two types of Ritz style crackers were produced. It took us ages to work out what was happening here, but it emerged that basically, they’re used as a way of transferring the chilli-flavoured oil to the blender with the chillies (and eventually all the other ingredients). If the oil was just poured directly into the blender, then it wouldn’t emulsify with the other ingredients, it would just split out into its own separate layer. At least, we think this is what was happening. I am under the impression that some recipes might use a tortilla to do this.

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Fried chillies and crackers.

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Even the chocolate was given its own little shimmy in the oil. It was Nestle ‘Abulita’ which is a brand of drinking chocolate.

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It all goes into a blender with tomatoes, garlic…etc and…Coca Cola. Yuh huh. I’m guessing this is replacing some of the raisins and spices that would usually be added separately. She also simmered chicken legs with garlic cloves and bouillon and used some of the liquid from that.

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Not entirely sure how to account for the beer…but we like beer. Beer is good. After this was blended, there was a huge amount of sieving to get a smooth mixture.

The lot is then added back to the pan with the chicken and served with Mexican rice – fry up uncooked rice in a decent amount of oil until it browns then add stock and sieved tomatoes and peas, carrots corn etc (from a tin or frozen).

Interesting, huh? I’m off now to make tomato soup with Lilt and Super Malt. Jokes!

With huge thanks to Angeles Magana for the lesson and recipe, and to Caroline for her help with remembering it.