In a slightly belated celebration of Cinco de Mayo, I decided to kick-off my Mexican culinary odyssey with the intimidating Mole Poblano. This dish hails from the city of Puebla where the battle we celebrate on Cinco de Mayo was fought so I thought it would be appropriate. When I order mole in restaurants, I love it about 40% of the time and hate it about 60% - there doesn't seem to be much middle ground. So I was hoping to up my odds by learning to make it at home.
I started with a recipe from Rick Bayless' Authentic Mexican. Unfortunately, the bourgeois grocery stores in our neighborhood had a relatively limited supply of dried chiles. I'm sure the south side of town has many more options. So we had to limit it to just ancho and guajilla chiles. Not a problem, though, because there were still 24 more ingredients!!
Wisely, the first step in the recipe is to set out your mise en place (this is just French* for "things in place", but it does sound fancy doesn't it?).
While the chiles soak in hot water, all the other ingredients get fried. The raisins puff back up till they look like grapes again and then deflate as soon as they are off the heat - who knew?
The chiles get pureed and then that gets fried. Do yourself a favor and remember to turn on the exhaust hood before you do this.
Everything else gets pureed down as well and it all goes into a big pot with some chicken stock. This fantastic mix slowly simmers away for an agonizing hour while perfuming your whole house.
When you can't stand it any more, smother some chicken breasts in the mole and bake for 20-30 minutes until just done.
When it emerges, the mole will be darker and thicker. Slice up the chicken, wrap in some warmed tortillas, spoon on more sauce, and snarf.
Surprisingly, since the sauce starts with no fewer than 27 chiles, the final sauce was spicy but not overly hot. The only thing missing from the sauce is a little acid to round out the flavors. If you can take the heat, the vinegary hit of hot sauce is a nice finishing touch. If you planned ahead better than we did, some sliced avocado or queso fresco would be good but not essential.
*Is it inappropriate to use French cooking terms in a post celebrating a holiday that represents Mexico winning a battle over France?