For those who may not be aware, the word molé (kind of pronounced mo-lay) means ‘sauce’ in the Mexican language. It’s a fairly generic term that covers all kinds of sauces, but outside of Mexico it tends to refer specifically to a dark chocolate brown chilli sauce, the molé poblano (poblano is a type of chilli). I’d say that the most common type of molé outside of Mexico is actually guacamole, ‘guaca’ meaning avocado. Traditionally, these sauces contain 20-30 ingredients, and can take days to prepare. They are considered a celebration food, so the effort is worth it.
One such celebration where molé is usually served is Dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead. This is a time where people remember and honour their dead and is usually held over two days, November 1-2. Since I first came across this holiday, I’ve found a real fascination and attraction to it. I’ve never been lucky enough to experience it first hand, but it appears to be such a colourful, happy celebration – the brightly painted sugar skulls, garlands of flowers, parades of skeletons in the streets, mariachi bands patrolling the cemeteries. In the western world, we treat death as taboo and with such bland seriousness. I find the Mexican attitude a lot…healthier? By celebrating the people who have passed on and accepting death as inevitable, there is a better appreciation for life.
Last year, I decided to cook up my own molé for Dia de los Muertos, using beer of course. Seeing as I am not Mexican, I’m wasn't too concerned about sticking to a traditional recipe. This was helpful because (a) traditional Mexican ingredients can be quite hard to find here, and (b) I had moved house a week prior to November 1st. There was no luxury of cooking for days. I’m surprised I managed to make anything more complicated than an Old El Paso kit. Traditional recipes also tend to use a lot of lard, which I’m not such a fan of. So, while not exactly traditional, this dish is still super tasty and barely takes hours, rather than days.
The beer of choice is the Holgate Temptress Chocolate Porter. It’s not uncommon for dark beers to be part of a Mole recipe, and this one has the added bonus of being a chocolate porter, enhancing the chocolate that is already added in the cooking.
Well she was just 17…
3 tablespoons oil (whatever mild-flavoured oil you have – I used light olive oil)
8 chicken thighs, or 4 legs, or an entire chicken cut into pieces, or use turkey if you have a big enough pot (turkey is more traditional, but they are bloody big birds)
1 onion, diced
1 capsicum, seeded and diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced – you can use canned or dried if you don’t have access to fresh…which I don’t, so I used canned for this recipe.
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 teaspoons chilli powder (hotness dependant on your pain threshold)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup raisins
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup of Holgate Temptress chocolate porter (or another dark beer - bonus points if it contains chocolate)
2 teaspoons of peanut butter
1 teaspoon of salt
60 g of dark chocolate – the darker, the better
warm corn tortillas
fresh coriander, chopped
…and you know what I mean*
Place a large frypan on medium heat and heat half of the oil. Add your chicken (or turkey) pieces and brown on all sides. Once that has been done, remove to a plate, cover with foil and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to the same frypan and turn the heat down slightly. Sauté the onion, capsicum, poblano chilli and garlic until soft and slightly caramelized. Stir in the spices - chilli powder, cumin and cinnamon - and cook until fragrant (about 2-3 minutes should do it).
Add the tomatoes, raisins, chipotle, stock, beer, peanut butter and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring often.
Transfer the sauce into a blender or food processor and add the chocolate. The heat from the sauce should melt the chocolate, allowing it to blend in. Process until you have a consistently smooth sauce.
Now, back to your chicken. Place the pieces into a deep, heavy cooking pot and pour the blended sauce over them. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
Serve with warm corn tortillas, sour cream and fresh cilantro. You could also serve with rice, fresh salsa or sautéed greens.
The beer we drank with this was the excellent Mikeller Texas Ranger, which happens to be one of my fantasy beers. It’s a chipotle spiced porter, so the flavour profile of smoky, chilli heat with roasty, chocolate matches the mole pretty darn well.
* On a side note, in the Australian vernacular, the word ‘mole’ (pronounced MOLE) has a completely different meaning. I used to attend a pub bingo night where one of my favourite calls was for #17 – ‘Well she was just 17 and you know what I mean! What do I mean? She was a MOLE!’ By amazing co-incidence, there are 17 ingredients in this particular recipe.