Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Psuedo-Quick Mole

Mole is an incredibly complex, rich sauce used in Mexican cooking. There are many regional variants (Mexico's cuisine is just as regional and varied as Italy's) ranging from redish pepper-based to green tomatillo-based sauces. It's a labor of love and really takes up a good chunk of a day to get it right. Moles are used to braise beef, poultry and even fish. There's really no quick way to make mole from scratch, but I cut some corners on a batch of mole yesterday used to braise some grilled chicken for tamales. All this work on a Monday? It was a special request from my wife for her birthday. Who am I to refuse? Rick Bayless runs Topolobampo and Frontera Grill restaurants in Chicago, has hosted a great PBS series on Mexican cooking, and has authored quite a few killer books on Mexican cooking. My mole today was based on his "Apricot-Pine Nut Mole" from Mexico One Plate at a Time. My changes and shortcuts may offend purists, but my wife, mother-in-law, and four year-old daughter all loved it. So there. Jim's Shortcut Mole 6 tomatillos, husked and rinsed 1/4 c. sesame seeds 1/4 c. walnut pieces 2/3 c. dried apricots, coarsely chopped 4 dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded 4 dried passata chilies, stemmed and seeded 4 dried mulato chillies, stemmed and seeded 4 garlic cloves, peeled 2 sticks cinnamon 10 black peppercorns 3 star anise 5 whole cloves 1 oz. dark chocolate, broken into small pieces 4 c. chicken broth
  • Pierce the tomatillos several times with a knife, place in a pan and broil for 5 to 10 minutes, turning once, until soft and blackened in spots. Set aside, reserving all juices.
  • In a heavy, dry skillet, toast the sesame seeds until browned. Sautee the walnut pieces until browned, then add to sesame seeds. Chop both in a spice grinder and add to the tomatillos.
  • Add the apricots to the tomatillos.
  • Break the dried peppers into flat pieces. A few pieces at a time, toast in the dry skillet, flipping constantly with tongs, until their insides change to a lighter color. [Bayless's method for this recipe has one deep fry the pepper pieces in lard while other moles of his use dry frying. I've done dry frying for most all my moles with no seeming harm.] Don't let the pieces start to smoke. A bit of smoke is fine, but heavy smoke indicates the peppers are over-cooking and will lend bitterness to the mole. Put the pieces in a large bowl and cover with hot water. Put a dish or plate on top of the pieces to keep them submerged. Let soak 30 minutes.
  • Sautee the cinnamon, anise, peppercorns and cloves until aromatic and just starting to smoke. Grind in a spice grinder and add to the tomatillos. Add the broken chocolate pieces to the tomatillos.
  • Add a little olive oil to the pan, then sautee the garlic until golden brown. Add to the tomatillos.
  • After the 30 minute rehydration, use tongs to transfer the pepper pieces into a blender. Taste the soaking liquid. If it's not bitter, add 2 1/2 cups to the blender. If it is bitter, discard it and add 2 1/2 cups water to the blender. Puree the peppers until they're very smooth. Pass through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl.
  • Without washing the blender jar, puree the tomatillos (and everything you tossed in with them) in the blender until fairly smooth. Add some of the broth if needed to help buzz things up. Pass through the strainer into the same bowl you had the tomatillos originally.
  • Here's where my massive deviations from Bayless's recipe start. Bayless has you sear the chili puree in a hot pot with a bit of oil, cooking and reducing the puree until it's the consistency of tomato paste. The tomatillo puree is added and likewise seared and reduced down to tomato paste consistency. This process takes about 20 - 30 minutes and adds a great amount of depth to the mole. It's absolutely worthwhile, but I was running short on time, so I skipped the searing and just proceeded on.
  • Add 1/2 of the pepper puree to a pressure cooker. Stir in the tomatillo puree and the chicken broth and mix well. Add in the meat of your choice (see note below), cover and seal the pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 45 minutes.
  • Remove the cooker from the heat, cool off in the sink. Serve the meat according whatever other recipe you're following. Leftover mole is wonderful as a side sauce. It freezes well and will store in the fridge for a week or so.
  • I braised some grilled chicken in the mole as a filling for tamales. (Tamales are another long process which I'll post on some other day.)
  • You may have noticed I used only 1/2 the pepper puree. Bayless's stock recipe is a bit hot for my wife and daughter, so I cut the amount of hot stuff in half. The remaining puree freezes very well and is a terrific resource for other cooking. Use a bit of the puree in the next batch of chili you make. You'll find it lends amazing depth!
  • Pressure cookers are great stuff. I use a Fagor similar to this one and love it. You can get results in 45 minutes which taste like you braised something all day.

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