I can finally cross an item off my mental bucket list of time consuming recipes that I want to try at least once: Oaxacan mole negro, a thick, complex black mole with a somewhat dauntingly long ingredient list. After some research, I decided to go with a mole that Rick Bayless made for a Mexico state dinner at the White House – hey, if it’s good enough for the White House, I’m definitely giving it a shot.
The recipe essentially has you make four different purees from the various ingredients before cooking them in a large Dutch oven, sauteing each puree one at a time to build layers of flavour. The mole took me about 4.5 hours from start to finish, but you can make the mole ahead of time and keep in the fridge for several days. It’s ideal for a large dinner party (I made it for a weekend taco brunch) where all you have to do once guests arrive is to reheat the mole, warm up tortillas and set out various taco toppings.
This makes a large amount of mole, so be prepared to freeze some of it (it freezes well) or have more people help you eat it! Even though I had 12 willing and hungry friends at brunch, I still ended up with leftovers. That may have been because I also made carnitas and butternut squash tacos – I take feeding my friends very seriously. I wouldn’t recommend halving the recipe though. If you’re going to go to the trouble of making mole, make enough to last you a while. You won’t regret it.
For the sauce:
- 6 ounces dried mulato chiles
- 2.5 ounces dried pasilla chiles
- 1 ounce dried guajillo chiles
- 1 dried chipotle chile
- 1 corn tortilla, torn into small pieces
- 1/2 small onion, cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 1/2 – 1 cup of oil for frying chiles
- 1/2 cup white or black sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup pecans
- 1/4 cup unskinned peanuts
- 1/4 cup unskinned almonds
- 10 cups chicken broth
- 1 lb tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 4 ounces tomatilloes, husked and roughly chopped
- 2 slices stale bread, toasted until very dark
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp Mexican oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 ripe banana
- 3 ounces chopped Mexican chocolate
- 3 avocado leaves (optional)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
For the tacos and toppings:
- cooked and shredded chicken
- thinly sliced radishes
- queso fresco
- chopped cilantro
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Tear the chilies open and remove the stems. Scrape out the seeds and reserve them. Set the chiles aside.
Scrape the seeds into an ungreased skillet along with the torn up tortilla. Turn the exhaust fan on to high and open as many windows as you can. Toast the seeds and the tortilla, shaking the pan frequently until they are thoroughly burned to a charcoal black, about 15 minutes. This is what gives the mole its dark colour. Scrape the contents of then pan into a fine mesh strainer, rinse under cold running water and set aside.
Line a griddle pan with aluminium foil and set it over medium heat. Lay the onion slices and garlic on the foil and roast until soft and dark (about 5 minutes per side for the onion slices and 15 minutes for the garlic). Turn frequently as they roast. Transfer to a bowl.
Toast the seeds and nuts. Spread the sesame seeds onto one baking pan, spread the pecans, almonds and peanuts onto another baking pan and toast in the oven until dark. This will take about 12 minutes for the sesame seeds and about 15 for the nuts.
While the nuts are toasting, fry the chilies (keep the exhaust fan on and windows open). Set a skillet over medium heat and measure in about 1/2 cup of oil. When the oil is hot, fry the chilies a couple at a time until they unfurl and begin to smell piquant. This is very quick, about 30 seconds per chili. They will have lightened in colour and be crisp but not burnt. As you are frying the chilies, add more oil if you notice that the pan is getting dry. Drain the chilies well and transfer them to a large bowl. Cover them with hot water and let them soak for about 30 minutes.
For the nut/seed puree: Transfer the chili seeds, sesame seeds and nuts to a blender. Add 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth and blend to a smooth puree. Transfer to a small bowl.
For the tomato puree: Without rinsing the blender, add the tomatoes and tomatillos to it along with another 1/2 cup of broth. Blend until smooth and pour into a bowl.
For the banana/spice puree: Without rinsing the blender, add in the roasted onion and garlic, banana, toasted bread, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, thyme and 3/4 cup and blend to a puree. Pour into a small bowl.
For the chili puree: Finally, without rinsing the blender, scoop in half the chilies, 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid and blend to a smooth puree. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining half of the chilies and another 1/2 cup of soaking liquid.
Combining all the purees and making the mole: In a large (6-8 quart) Dutch oven, heat 3 tbsp of oil over medium-high heat. When very hot, add the tomato puree and stir and scrape for 15 to 20 minutes until reduced, thick as tomato paste, and very dark. Add the nut puree and continue the stirring and scraping until reduced, thick and dark again (the color of black olive paste), about 8 minutes. Then, add the banana-spice puree and stir and scrape for another 7 or 8 minutes as the whole thing simmers back down to a thick mass about the same color it was before you added this one.
Add the chile puree, stir well and let reduce over medium-low heat until very thick and almost black, about 30 minutes, stirring regularly (but not constantly). Stir in the remaining 7 cups of broth, the chocolate and avocado leaves (if you have them), partially cover and simmer gently for about an hour, for all the flavors to come together. Season with salt and sugar (remembering that this is quite a sweet mole and that sugar helps balance the dark, toasty flavors). Remove the avocado leaves.
Using an immersion blender, blend the mole to as smooth a puree as possible, or blend in batches in a standalone blender if you do not have an immersion blender. At this point, you can then strain the sauce through a strainer if you want a finer consistency, or leave it as is.
To make the taco filling, simply pour the sauce over cooked, shredded chicken and mix in the sauce thoroughly. As a rough guide, I used about 3 lbs of cooked chicken with 2/3rds of the sauce, but you can adjust this to your liking. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
Makes 10 cups of sauce.