Mole (MOH-lay) is a Mexican sauce that comes in about as many varieties as there are households in the country. Puebla and Oaxaca are two regions known for their moles with varieties including Verde (green), Negro (black), and Rojo (red). Mole Poblano from Puebla is perhaps the best known with its rusty red sauce enveloping cuts of turkey. Though opinions on this tend to vary, it’s also considered to be Mexico’s national dish. Despite the huge variation in preparations, one thing they have in common is that they all take a lot of time and loving care to make.
I made this dish as my submission for this month’s Dinner and a Movie event. It’s a monthly food event run by Susan and I, where a movie is chosen and participants use the movie as inspiration for creating a dish. Since this month’s movie was Chocolat, it only seemed natural to make a dish featuring chocolate.
For those that haven’t seen the movie, it’s about a mother daughter pair that blow into a staid French village with the “west wind” during Lent. Like a breath of fresh air, their arrival brings new life to the town. Her knack for making sinfully delicious chocolates makes friends quickly, but also sends the town’s conservative mayor on a crusade against them. About midway through the movie, Vianne throws a party for her landlady’s birthday and invites most of the town. There’s a dish served covered in a rich red sauce that makes the guests’ eyes roll back in utter bliss.
The audience is left to guess what the dish is, but given the character’s Latin American background I’d always imagined it was a rich velvety mole. If you’ve never tasted these flavours before, it truly is a throw-your-head-back-in-pleasure kind of experience. The sauce is redolent of roasted chilies, seeds and spices giving it an indescribably complex aroma. As it hits your tongue, it’s spicy, savoury, sweet, and just a little bitter, with a familiar nutty richness coming from the chocolate.
Regular readers know I’m generally against sauces that cover up the flavours of a dish, but in this case, the sauce really IS the dish. I’ve heard many people dismiss mole as overly sweet and heavy handed, and when it comes to canned sauces used in many restaurants, this is certainly true. A truly good mole however, is well balanced and has layers of flavours that aren’t immediately apparent. Mole is the kind of food with such nuanced complexity, that it needs to be consumed in a quiet setting with your eyes closed to taste all the subtleties.
I won’t lie to you, this one will take some time to make. If this is your first time, give yourself 2-3 hours, which by mole standards is down-right quick. Spending the time to roast, toast, and brown each ingredient is absolutely worth it. Not just for the end result, but because each step fills the kitchen with a new aroma. These aromas crescendo as they come together, filling your home with a symphony of smells.
While rabbit isn’t exactly a commonly used meat in Mexico, I used it because it is very French. If you can’t find it in your area or take issue with eating cute furry critters, feel free to substitute chicken or turkey instead. You’ll also have quite a bit of sauce left, which you can freeze and use later to braise other meats in.
I served this with home made tortillas, but it would have been just as tasty with a crusty baguette. The mole was also accompanied by a sliced avocado, cilantro and lime wedges for a bit of contrast and freshness.
- Place the oven rack in the middle position and heat to 350 degrees F.
- Tear the tops off the chili peppers and empty the seeds into a small bowl. Discard the stems and any membranes and tear the chilies into flat pieces. Place them on a foil lined baking sheet in a single layer. Spray generously with cooking spray. Place them in the oven and allow to roast for 5-10 minutes or until they change color and a spicy caramel aroma floats through the kitchen. Be careful not to burn them as this will make your mole taste bitter. Once out of the oven, put them in a bowl and cover with warm water to rehydrate.
- Put the almonds, pumpkin seeds and raisins on the baking sheet, spray with cooking spray and return to the oven until the pumpkin seeds take on a golden color and the raisins are slightly puffy. Again, be careful not to burn them. Set the pan aside and allow to cool.
- In a heavy bottomed pan like a cast iron skillet, toast the chile seeds, sesame seeds, star anise, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper until the sesame seeds just start to change color and the whole thing smells sweet, nutty and spicy like incense.
- Transfer the seeds and spices to a food processor and process for a few minutes or until it's ground into a powder. Add the roasted almonds, pumpkin seeds and raisins and blitz until there are no chunks. Add the oregano, epazote, bay leaf and masa harina and continue to process until powderized.
- Move the oven rack to the top position and turn the broiler on. Place the tomatillos, tomato, onion slices and garlic on a baking sheet and put it under the broiler. Let the tops of the tomatillos and tomato get completely charred before flipping to char the other side. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool a bit. Add to the food processor along with 1 cup of chicken stock and blitz with the spice/seed mixture until it's smooth. Transfer this mixture to a bowl, cover and set aside.
- Return the work bowl to the food processor and add the rehydrated chili peppers along with 3/4 C of the soaking liquid. Process until smooth.
- Generously salt and pepper the rabbit. Heat a large dutch oven until hot, add a splash of oil then swirl to coat. Place the seasoned rabbit pieces in the pot and allow them to brown for 5-7 minutes without disturbing them. If you go to flip them and they're stuck to the pan they aren't ready to flip. Brown the other side then transfer to a plate.
- Turn the heat down, then pour the chili pepper puree into the pan through a single mesh strainer, pressing on the solids with a rubber spatula to remove all the skins. Deglaze the bottom of the pan and cook until the mixture is very thick. Pour the spice/seed mixture into the pot through the strainer pressing on any solids. Add the chicken stock and chocolate then salt to taste. If you like it even sweeter you can add more sugar.
- Return the rabbit to the pot and simmer uncovered over medium low heat until the rabbit is tender (about 1 hour).
- Serve with fresh tortillas, cilantro and lime wedges.