The Mole Poblano Marathon

Mole Poblano is a traditional celebratory dish from Puebla or Oaxaca, and seems to be one of Mexico’s most famous dishes.  The legends vary on the origins, but it’s a very old dish, and originated long before we had modern kitchen equipment.  If it conjures up the image of a passel of people chopping, pounding, frying and simmering for days, that would not be unreasonable.  And now that I’ve made this dish, I can certainly understand why it is only served at very special holidays and festive occasions.  I found a few different takes on the legend here.  This is definitely Slow Food.

Before this past Saturday, I’d never had mole poblano before. When our dinner group’s main course recipe arrived this month, I discovered that I’d get the opportunity to prepare it, as well as taste it.  We were warned by the recipe provider that this was a significant preparation, and to plan ahead to get it done.   Given that I love a cooking challenge, and I had plenty of time to do the work, I hunted for ingredients.  Miraculously, I was able to find all of the needed ingredients here in town.  Let’s hear it for ethnic diversity! Are you ready for the list, and then the play by play of the cooking?  The recipe directions will be the main text from here on out, with my notes and comments in italics.

Ingredients:

  • 12 dried ancho chilies
  • 12 dried guajillo chilies
  • 6 dried pasilla chilies
  • 5 T sesame seeds
  • 1 t anise seeds
  • 1 t black peppercorns
  • ½ t whole cloves
  • 1 t dried thyme
  • ½ t dried marjoram or oregano
  • 3 dried bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1 stick cinnamon, broken into pieces
  • 2 cups canola oil
  • 7 ¼ cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup skin-on almonds
  • ½ cup raw shelled peanuts
  • 1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 2 slices white bread
  • 2 stale corn tortillas
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 large tomatillos, husked, rinsed, quartered
  • 1 large tomato, quartered
  • 1 whole skin-on boneless turkey breast, split into halves, 4 to 5 lbs.
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 C finely chopped Mexican chocolate
  • 4 T Sugar, plus more to taste
  • taco size flour tortillas, for serving  (1-3 per person)
  • cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Now that I’ve got your attention, you may have started to wonder how anyone came up with this particular recipe.  I’m still wondering.  Are you ready for the preparation?

Preparation:

Seed all 30 chilies, and tear the skins into pieces.

After 25 minutes of tearing and seeding, here's what I had.

Take 4 tablespoons of the chili seeds, and 4 tablespoons of sesame seeds and place in a dry skillet over medium high heat. Toast seeds, swirling pan, for a couple minutes.   Be careful not to burn the seeds.  Put toasted seeds into spice grinder.  Discard remaining chili seeds.  (Trust me, there was enough leftover capsaisin to heat a small house!)

The toasted seeds before grinding

Toast anise seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves; transfer to grinder along with thyme, marjoram, bay leaves.

Toasted spices before grinding

Grind to powder and transfer to a large bowl; set spice mixture aside.

Here's what the seeds and spices look like after grinding.

Heat 2 cups of canola oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  In small batches, add chilies and cook, turning until toasted, about 20 seconds. Using slotted spoon and reserving oil in skillet, transfer chilies to paper towels to drain.

Chilies frying, infusing oil

Draining Fried Chilies

Transfer fried chilies to a large bowl, add boiling water to cover.  Let chilies steep for 30 minutes.

Chili "Tea" Steeping

Strain chilies, reserving soaking liquid.  Working in batches, take a third of the chilies, 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid, and 1/4 cup of stock, and puree in blender or food processor.

batch of chilies and soaking liquid, ready for food processor

All of the chilies and stock and soaking liquid fit in one batch for me.

Set a sieve over a bowl and strain chili mixture, pushing it through the sieve with a rubber spatula; discard solids.  Reserve blender/food processor bowl, set chili puree aside.

Working the sieve

Chili Puree Results

Return the skillet with oil to medium heat.  Working with one ingredient at a time,  fry the almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and raisins until toasted as follows:

And now more frying of ingredients..

  • 1 minute for almonds
  • 45 seconds for peanuts
  • 20 seconds for pumpkin seeds
  • 15 seconds for raisins

Transfer each fried batch to paper towels to drain.

After the frying, fishing out, now draining

Return the skillet to medium heat. Fry the bread, turning once, until golden brown, about 3 minutes; transfer to paper towels.  Repeat with tortillas.

More frying, until crispy and brown

More frying, until crispy and brown

Break bread and tortillas into small pieces, and add to reserved ground spice mixture.  Add drained nuts, seeds and raisins to spice mixture as well.

Set a fine strainer over a large Dutch oven and strain all but 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil into Dutch oven, set aside.

well-flavored oil strained into Dutch oven

Return skillet to medium-high heat.  Add garlic and onions, cook, stirring, until brown, 10-12 minutes.

And now, some aromatics

Using a slotted spoon, transfer onion mixture to bowl containing spice mixture.  Return skillet to medium-high heat.  Add tomatoes and tomatillos; cook, stirring until soft, 10-12 minutes.

And now for more vegetables..

Transfer to bowl with spice mixture, along with 2.5 cups of stock.

Current contents of the spice mixture bowl

Puree spice mixture in reserved blender or food processor bowl.  Press through a strainer into a clean bowl.

You can imagine how this was created, and no, it wasn't instantly

Set puree aside.

Results of spice mixture, pureed and sieved

Note: This is the point at which I stopped for the night, ready to resume the following afternoon. Dinner was scheduled for 7 PM.  I began again at 3:30 PM on the following day:

Heat the reserved Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season turkey breasts with salt.   Brown each breast, turning once, for 12 minutes.

Browning the big proteins

Transfer turkey to a plate. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the oil in the Dutch oven set over medium high heat.  Add the chili puree.

Remember this that we set aside?

Cook; stirring until thick, 10-12 minutes.

Stirring, stirring, thickening, thickening

Add spice puree,

Remember this reserved stuff?

reduce heat, and cook, stirring, for 30 minutes.

And now, the CHOCOLATE!

Add 4 cups of stock, along with the Mexican Chocolate;  simmer, partially covered, but stirring often, for 1 hour.

And one hour later, the sauce looks like this.

Season mole sauce with salt and sugar, remove from heat.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Nestle turkey in mole sauce.  Bake, covered, until an instant read thermometer inserted in the turkey registers 150 degrees F, about 1 hour.

And after that next hour, here's what we have.

Transfer pot to a rack, let rest 20 minutes.  Slice turkey.

Carved turkey breast pieces

Serve with sauce, remaining sesame seeds, and warmed tortillas.

You get the tortillas, I've got the mole poblano!

Final thoughts on Mole Poblano, and the process of its preparation:

For those who have accused me of being impatient, I am using this post as evidence to demonstrate that I do have some patience.  Heck, it’s taken over an hour to write the post about it.  I won’t say I’ll never make mole poblano again, but I will say it will be for a special occasion!  I am also VERY thankful I live in the age of food processors and stoves that have controllable heat.

This was absolutely delicious, and there was plenty of leftover sauce, so I’ve frozen it, to cook more poultry in at a later date.  It did NOT take more than 30 minutes or so for the platter shown above to be empty.

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4 Responses to The Mole Poblano Marathon

  1. That looks spectacular! All I need now is the inspiration to attempt it myself.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Just make sure you can do it when you’re not in a hurry to eat, or if you can get a small army to help you. 🙂

  3. Mark Groshek says:

    Now when I make mole, I always at least double the recipe to have plenty in the freezer for future meals! Last November we visited a cooking school in Tepoztlan Mexico (La Villa Bonita–well worth it!) where we learned to make a mole in 3-4 hours. Dispensed with a lot of the frying–toasting chilis over a flame brings out a lot of the same flavors.
    Love your posts! You are giving me culinary ideas–thanks!

  4. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for sharing that, too! I would love to dispense with a lot of the frying. We still have some of the sauce in the freezer for a future event.

What do YOU think?