The “mole” in this recipe isn’t referring to a unit of measurement in chemistry and certainly not to a furry little animal that might try to dig up your lawn (speaking of the little critters, did you know moles have extra thumbs….and a couple of other interesting characteristics?). Mole (pronounced mo’-leh) is a delicious Mexican sauce most commonly made with some kind of broth, different kinds of chiles, peanuts or other nuts or seeds, fruit such as plantains and raisins, tomatoes or tomatillos, toasted bread or tortillas, and chocolate. You might have heard of mole poblano from Puebla or the famous seven moles of Oaxaca, but that is just the beginning. Locales from Mexico City to Nayarit have their own special moles, and they are all delicious.
This mole is my recreation of a dish I had once when I was traveling with Janessa. I have such fond memories of that trip – maybe because she was a cute fourteen-year-old and I was in my thirties, and everywhere we went, people asked if we were sisters (nothing like that has happened to me for a while now!). One evening in Guanajuato I had mole hidalgüense (the name means it is from Hidalgo, a couple of states to the east), and it was so good I asked how to make it. The cocinero came out and rattled off the ingredients and briefly recounted his method while I scribbled down as much as I could. His quantities were vague, but I think this recipe matches my memory of the taste pretty closely.
The recipe has quite a few ingredients and several steps, but nothing that requires constant attention so it is not too labor-intensive. The recipe makes a big batch of mole, since I like to simmer the chicken in the sauce rather than simply pouring a little on top. For a smaller quantity of sauce you could cut the recipe in half, or freeze the leftover sauce and it is wonderful to have on hand as a base for a hearty soup or stew or as a sauce for enchiladas (thin the sauce with a little broth or water, and I guess technically we should call them enmoladas rather than enchiladas). And if you want to try your hand at easy tamales, shred up some of the chicken in the sauce and you are almost halfway there.
I’ve included a range of quantities for some ingredients. I use the lesser amount for a mild mole when I am cooking for others and add more chiles for a medium-hot flavor when it is just us. Don’t be too timid – the sauce might taste spicy at first, but by the time it simmers with the chicken for a while, it will mellow out a lot. If you want the mole to be really spicy, the best way to bump up the heat is with more chipotles in adobo.
Chicken and Pecan Mole
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2-3 dried guajillo chiles with stems, seeds, and veins removed
- 1-2 dried ancho chiles with stems, seeds, and veins removed
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1-2 cloves peeled garlic, halved
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 4 cups hot water
- 1 small sweet potato, peeled and sliced, or half of a large one
- 1 small can sliced pineapple with juice (the Mexican cocinero probably used fresh pineapple)
- 1 cup pecan bits or halves
- 2-3 pounds chicken pieces (I use skinless, boneless breast and thigh portions cut into large chunks, but it is more traditional to use chicken pieces with bones in)
- 1-3 canned chipotles in adobo (or more to taste)
- 1-2 ounces 70% chocolate, melted (the cocinero probably used a disc of the kind of chocolate they use for hot chocolate)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- A little brown sugar, honey, or agave nectar if needed (it depends on the chiles and chocolate – you don’t want a noticeably sweet flavor, but a little sweetener might be needed if the mole has a bitter edge)
Sprinkle the flour over a piece of foil on a baking sheet and toast it in a 300 F. oven for about 10-15 minutes, until it smells like well-done bread (my dad says toasting the flour is the most important step in making mole). Set the flour aside.
Heat the guajillo and ancho chiles in a large heavy dry pan, turning frequently with tongs until they soften some (use a pan that will be big enough to simmer the chicken in). Set the chiles aside, then add the oil to the same pan and cook the onions until they are translucent and beginning to brown. Add the garlic, salt, oregano, and cumin. Continue stirring occasionally and cook for a few more minutes until the oregano and cumin are nice and fragrant.
Slowly pour in the hot water, then add the guajillo and ancho chiles, sweet potato and pineapple slices with juice, and pecans. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the chiles and sweet potatoes are quite soft. Using a large slotted spoon, scoop everything out of the broth into a blender (it’s OK if you miss a few chunks of onions or pecans). Add the chipotles in adobo and just enough of the liquid to allow processing and blend to a puree (it will still have some texture from the pecans and that is normal).
Add the chicken pieces to the remaining broth in the pan and add more water if needed to cover. Simmer until the chicken is starting to get tender, then remove it from the broth and strain the broth. Pour most of the broth back into the pan and add the pureed mixture, then add the extra broth if needed to get a consistency like thin gravy.
Melt the two tablespoons butter in a small pan and use a small fine sieve to sift in the toasted flour. Cook for a few minutes and then blend it into the mole mixture. Stir in the chocolate and let the sauce simmer for a few minutes. At this point I check the seasonings by dipping a little piece of chicken in the sauce and tasting, since it is easier to blend in salt, sweetener, or more adobo before you have all of the chicken in the pan. Then go ahead and add the chicken and simmer with a lid on for another 40-50 minutes, stirring occasionally, or you can transfer to a covered casserole dish and bake at 300 for an hour, or if you are cooking ahead of time, refrigerate and finish cooking in the oven later (or use a slow cooker and it will be fine all day on low or ready to serve after about four hours on high). Taste again before serving in case it still needs another correction in seasoning.
Chicken and pecan mole is good with a traditional sopa de arroz or plain white or saffron-infused rice, and it is also delicious rolled up in a flour tortilla.
One more tidbit: the expression “holy mole” possibly can be traced to the legendary origins of mole poblano. The nuns in the Convent of Santa Rosa were said to have invented mole using odds and ends from their meager store of food so they would have something to serve to a visiting archbishop.