Mexican black mole. It really does have as many ingredients as you’ve heard—30 give or take in the version below—and yes, there can be too much of a good thing. Moles like this are reserved for celebrations because of the time involved in making them. But I think it’s also because this is some intensely flavored, seriously heavy food. I felt kind of guilty for getting completely mole’d out during my week in Oaxaca, but apparently that’s not unusual. The second cooking class I had steered clear of mole recipes because the instructor, herself, had burnt out on moles during a festival the week prior.
The first of two cooking classes I took in Oaxaca was from Pilar Cabrera at La Casa de los Sabores. I had no idea what to expect only having taken lessons abroad some time ago in Bangkok and a class in Singapore last year this very same week. Neither of these classes in Asia included market visits, though, because I can never get up early enough on vacation. It’s a miracle to make it out of the hotel before 11am
That’s one way that I benefited from traveling by myself. By having no late night temptations in Oaxaca, I went to bed before midnight and was able to report at 9am (an hour earlier than I normally show up at work) for shopping duties and chitchat with my fellow out-of-towners.
I’d already been in Oaxaca for three-and-a-half days floundering around over the weekend before taking this class. Consequently, I had already been to the Mercado de la Merced, a small market for locals, on the recommendation of my Spanish teacher. It was definitely helpful to go with a regular who knows the vendors and can explain unusual ingredients and techniques.
Taking photos of people in general, and especially in markets, isn’t my thing. Though of course photos of people tend to be my favorite subject to look at when shot by professionals. Both Dave Hagerman, the image half of Eating Asia and Austin Bush do this well, but I am not them. I just find it creepy to snap photos (especially with a flash) of people going about their business. It makes me feel more other than I already do. But I did loosen up a bit with these groups since the vendors were accustomed to it and we were instructed to ask not just start shooting. My sparing Mercado de la Merced snapshots are here.
I brought back a shitload of chiles. Well, not the shitload I originally was handed and had to give back because my small suitcase was already pushed to its limits. Left to right, chilhuacles, the deep brown round chiles seemed important since I was told they were native to Oaxaca. I also wasn’t convinced that I would find stubby mulatos in NYC. Pasilla de Oaxaca are smoked and also native to the region, but we used Mexican pasilla, the long skinny chile pictured. Having no sense of metric weight, I asked for medio-kilo of the chilhuacles and the small pillowcase sized plastic bag was filled to the top. Ah, no, I then went for quarto-kilo which was still a ton so I split it was a woman in class. This bag on the left contains a mere 1/8 kilo.
I chose this Tuesday session especially to learn how to cook black mole (Wednesday was Zapotecan conducted in Spanish and Thursday was tamales). My plan was to master it so I could recreate it for a dinner party the weekend after I got back to NYC. That would be tomorrow. I hope I don’t mess it up.
The full menu for my class included:
Quesadillas de flor de calabaza
Salsa de tomate y chile de agua
Mole negro con pollo
Arroz a la hierbabuena
Nieve de petals de rosas
More photos from the class are here.
Oaxaca is often cited as having seven moles. But in reality, we were told, there are hundreds. Everyone has a variation and recipes differ by region even within Oaxaca State. Here is the recipe for the black mole we made. It certainly helps to have a group of 12-plus deft kitchen assistants to cut down on the prep time. This nice basket was already awaiting us after we returned from the market.
Black Mole with Chicken
4 chilhuacle chiles
8 mulato chiles
8 pasilla mexicano chiles
4 tablespoons lard
¼ cup almonds
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup pecans
¼ cup peanuts with skins
4 slices of egg bread (semisweet) torn in pieces
¼ cup sesame seeds
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/8 teaspoon oregano
4 avocado leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/8 teaspoon anise (a.k.a. fennel seeds)
3 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon cumin
3 whole black peppercorns
1 tomato, roasted
3 tomatillos, roasted
3 cloves of garlic, roasted
¼ medium onion, roasted
4 cups chicken broth
8 pieces of boiled chicken
3 tablespoons sugar
½ cup Oaxacan chocolate
Salt to taste
Clean the dried chiles with a damp cloth. Open the chiles by making a lengthwise slit down one side of each. Take out the seeds, veins and stems. Reserve the seeds.
Heat 3 tablespoons of the lard in a saucepan, and then fry the chiles. Remove the chiles from the saucepan as soon as they begin to change color and become crispy, and place them in a bowl lined with absorbent paper towel.
In another pan, heat the remaining lard and fry the raisins until they puff up and brown a bit. Remove the raisins and then add the almonds, pecans and peanuts frying for five minutes until they are a dark brown color, remove them from the pan. Then fry the pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cinnamon, anise, cloves, cumin and black peppercorns in the same pan, until they obtain a deep brown color. Remove them and then add the dried bread pieces to the remaining hot lard for two minutes, then remove.
Roast the tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and garlic.
Place the spices, tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and garlic and one cup of chicken broth in the blender. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Put into a bowl and set aside.
Place the fried chiles and one-and-a-half cups of chicken broth into the blender. Blend until the mixture is a smooth paste.
Remove the remaining lard from the pan in which the nuts and spices were fried. Pour into a deep pot, heat and then add the blended chiles. Cook for three minutes; then add the spice mixture and cook for three more minutes. Add the sugar and chocolate and stir for five minutes. The sauce is ready when, while stirring, the fat rises to the top of the mixture.
Add the rest of the chicken broth and season with salt. Cook for three more minutes over medium heat. Add the pieces of chicken before serving.
Garnish with fried plantain.
Ack, I just realized this recipe never says when to add in the thyme, oregano, marjoram or avocado leaves. I really want to say that the herbs get added with nuts and that the avocado leaves would be simmered whole in the final stages. But that's just how I would do it.
Plantains frying, chiles frying too and tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and garlic being grilled.
Toasted herbs, spices and nuts.
Everything pureed with chicken broth minus the chiles.
The chiles (also pureed with chicken broth) give the black mole its deep color not the chocolate as many believe. Said chocolate and sugar are added at the very end.