Thursday, November 20, 2008
Since turkey day is upon us, I thought this would be a good time to consider preparing it similar to the way that people were likely preparing it on this continent long before any Europeans even new this bird existed. Unfortunately, mole is another one of those recipes that people tend to shy away from doing at home. It's not nearly as hard to prepare as most recipes make it sound. Moles often have twenty or more ingredients and each ingredient has to be roasted, toasted, fried, charred (sometimes burnt), ground, re hydrated or any combination of these things. Still, as long as you have some dried chiles around, most people have a well enough stocked pantry to make a good version, from scratch, all their own.
It helps to break down the sauce into groups of ingredients and pick one or more ingredients from each group.
Clockwise- ancho, mulato, pasilla, pulla and guajillo.
Dried chiles make up the bulk of a good mole even though they aren't usually very spicy. You can make a good sauce with just one type of chile but using several will give you a more complex end result. I almost always use guajillo and/or ancho as the primary chiles. Mulato and/or pasilla, with their extra deep flavors, add a nice second dimension and I used some pullas, guajillos slightly hotter cousin. There is no reason to follow these guidelines. If all you have is a pile of cascabels, then use those. Once the chiles are stemmed and seeded they should be either fried in oil or toasted. This time I toasted them.
Once they are all toasted, re hydrate them in a bowl of hot tap water. After 15 minutes, throw them in your blender and puree.
Dried fruits, seeds and nuts.
If all you have are roasted peanuts and raisins (most people do) you will be fine. I love sesame seeds (and I have pounds of them) so I always use some of those. They also make a nice garnish for serving. This time I also used cashews and some dried cherries from Michigan which added a nice fruity note. Pumpkin seeds are a very common addition. If the nuts and seeds aren't already roasted, toast or fry them. Add the seeds and fruits to your blender and puree them. I always add the nuts last. My Vita-Mix is a motherfucker of a machine but once the fats from the nuts begin to emulsify with the water, even it gets a little pissed at me.
Cumin and coriander are always a good idea as are black peppercorns. I consider a stick of Ceylon cinnamon crucial but that's just me. Other sweet spices add a nice touch so I use a little clove and allspice. On the herbal side I used bay leaves, Mexican oregano, savory (thyme would be more common) and an avocado leaf. Avocado leaves have a slightly anise-like flavor so if you don't have them, you may want to add some fennel seeds, anise seeds, a star anise or none of the above. Since I dry toasted the chiles and other ingredients, I decided to fry the spices in a little oil. If you have a good blender, you should be able to add them directly to the puree. If your not sure they will blend well enough, dry toast them and grind them separately first.
Aromatics and veggies.
Onions and garlic are a given. You can roast the garlic (individual cloves, still in their paper, heated in a dry skillet) or not. The onion can be added raw or cooked. Sometimes the onion will be cooked, cut side down, in a pan until it burns. Tomatoes and/or tomatillos are often used and you may want to try a banana or plantain (fried would be nice) or mango or pineapple. be creative. I cooked the garlic and onion along with the last couple of pathetic tomatoes and tomatillos from my garden in a little oil until everything started to burn a little.
Add the veggies to your puree.
Most recipes will use some stale tortillas or bread to thicken and bind the puree. You may or may not choose to toast or fry them first. I added a couple of leftover tostada shells. Now you want to add the nuts and get the puree as fine as you can. You will need to decide if you want to strain it or not. I prefer to strain it (through a chinois) in order to get a silky smooth result but if you have a really good blender and want to save some time you can skip this step.
The strained sauce.
Now it's time to fry the sauce. Many people have never used this technique that is common for dried chile sauces in Mexico. Frying the sauce takes away the brassy-bitter edge and makes it sweeter while adding to the overall depth of flavor. Heat a cast iron kettle until it is screaming hot. Add a little lard or oil and immediately add all of the puree at once.
This can be messy but it's important. You want to keep stirring and reducing it until it's several shades darker. Then add some water or stock, lower the flame and simmer with the lid cracked so it can reduce further.
Chocolate is easily the most famous ingredient in moles. It is what make them sound so exotic (You will often see recipes titled "chicken in chocolate-chili sauce"). It is important but more of a secondary flavor or seasoning. Mexican chocolate is the right thing for the job but chocolate in other forms will also work. In this case I used an extremely dark baking chocolate mainly because I forgot to check and see if I had any Mexican chocolate in the house. Now is the time to melt it into the sauce.
All that is left is to season it with salt and sugar. Salting to taste is easy but don't over sweeten it. Most commercial moles are over sweetened to cater to those who aren't used to the extremely complex bitter notes in a good mole. I use Mexican piloncillo sugar which is just unrefined dehydrated cane juice. Jaggary is also a nice idea as is any raw sugar but if you don't have any of those, brown sugar or regular white sugar will work.
The turkey is simply braised in the sauce. I was making a ton so I could share it at my civic club meeting and at the market the next day. I split two 13 lb. turkeys and browned them in two cast iron skillets. When browned well, I turned them over and covered them with a generous amount of the sauce.
Cover and cook in a slow oven (325˚or lower if you have more time) until it pulls from the bone easily. For serving to a crowd, I separated all of the meat (and skin) from the bones and served it over rice and on corn tortillas.
When you think your sick of eating leftover turkey, heat some up in your homemade Mole. It will be transformed into something completely different.