If Mole Rojo (pronounced molé roho) were a person, it would almost certainly be The Most Interesting Man in the World. Slow, methodical, and classy, yet with a touch of intrigue. Cool, but never out of style, and telepathically hitting all the right spots.
It’s ironic then, that the inspiration for this red mole came from a beer… but not the one you’re thinking. It all started a few years ago when a reader invited me down to the brewery he works at to check out some beers. Free beer and a chance to meet up with a reader was all the excuse I needed, and I soon found myself headed down to Black Diamond Brewing Co. in Concord, CA.
As it turned out, calling what they make “beer”, is a bit like calling a diamond a pebble. Their ales are brewed, they’re fizzy, and if you drink enough of them, you’ll get drunk, but they have about as much in common with a can of Coors as a diamond shares with the rocks in your backyard.
In addition to the usual tanks and fermenters, this brewery has a room full of used brandy and bourbon barrels. That’s because some of their brews are aged in the barrels along with fruit, like currants and figs, giving them a depth and complexity that’s unlike anything I’ve ever had before.
Since that first visit, I’ve been going down to try their new creations with every chance I get. A few months ago, Mike sent me an email with the subject “New tasties” (a note to PR folks, if you ever want to get my attention in a hurry, that’s one way to do it). The email contained a list of experimental beers by month, and under May, it said the following:
Mole Red. Just in time to help our neighbors to the south celebrate their independence, we take ingredients from the classic Oaxacan dish of mole and add them to red ale. Guajillo, mulato, ancho, and pasilla peppers provide a smoky heat to the beer, interspersed with the zing of cinnamon. To help with the maltiness and sweetness, raisins are added. Cocoa nibs help impart the bittersweet chocolate flavor.
Needless to say, I was soon heading back down to check out their latest creations.
After knocking back samples of a dozen tasty ales in their tasting room, Mike led me to the back, where the brewmaster, poured us a glass of the Mole Red, straight out of a giant stainless steel tank. Right away, I was struck by its sexy shade of auburn and intoxicating fragrance, which drew my lips in for a sip of the magical elixir.
Like a good red mole, the Mole Red was nuanced, with smoky chiles that were more fruity than spicy. Likewise, the cinnamon, raisins and chocolate gave subtle harmonizing cues without drowning out the elements that make it an ale. Put simply, it was delightfully unique yet enjoyably familiar, and it made me crave a meaty mole rojo.
Back home, it just so happend that the good folks at Lava Lake Lamb had sent me a Brandon Natural Beef chuck roast that was begging to be braised. I used my classic red mole, as the base, but I wanted to see if I could simplify the number of ingredients and steps without significantly impacting the taste.
I know that tradition dictates that you use a Mexican chocolate for mole, but due to the varying sugar content in different brands of chocolate, I’ve found it’s a lot more consistent to use bittersweet chocolate. Like adding a pat of butter, the more refined bittersweet chocolate also lends a velvety texture to the mole.
For the roasting steps, whether it’s in the pan or in the oven, be very careful not to burn anything. The difference between fragrant and burnt can be a matter of seconds. If you’re not sure if you’ve burnt something, taste it before adding it in with everything else. If it tastes very bitter and acrid, toss it out and start over with that ingredient.
One of the biggest time savers was to powderize the dried chiles along with the other dry ingredients. This creates a powdered mole base that you could make in bulk and store in the fridge if you plan to be making this often. It also eliminates the need to strain the sauce.
With flavors ranging from bold and smoky to subtly fruity, and with a rich creamy texture that helps the sauce linger on your tongue just a little bit longer, the shortcuts don’t show. I ended up serving this with a Black Diamond Imperial Porter because they hadn’t bottled the Mole Red yet when I visited. The chocolate, coffee and caramel notes in the dark porter worked beautifully with the mole.
- Place the oven rack in the top position and turn on the broiler.
- Score an "x" on the bottom of the tomatillos and tomato, and then place them on a baking sheet along with the sliced onion and peeled garlic. Broil the vegetables until they are starting to char. Flip them over and continue broiling until the other side is lightly charred.
- Dry the surface of the beef with paper towels and then generously salt and pepper on all sides.
- Heat a dutch oven until hot and then add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the beef in one layer and allow it to form a brown crust on one side before flipping and browning the other side.
- Add the charred vegetables, oregano, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick and pour the water in.
- Bring the water to a boil and skim any foam that rises to the surface until you don't see any more foam coming up. Turn down the heat to maintain a bare simmer, cover the pot with a lid and simmer until the beef is very tender (about 2 to 2.5 hours).
- While the beef is cooking, use kitchen shears to cut the tops off all the chiles and cut down the side of the chile from the open end to the tip. Open up the chiles and remove all the seeds and any pith. Use a damp paper towel to wipe down the outsides of the chiles.
- Place the chiles flat on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until fragrant, but be careful not to burn them as they will get bitter. Remove them from the sheet pan and let them cool on a heatproof surface.
- Spread the raisins on the baking sheet and roast until they puff up.
- Add the pumpkin seeds to a stainless steel or cast iron frying pan and roast the seeds. Once you hear the seeds start popping, you'll need to toss them constantly or they will burn. Roast them until they are golden brown, then transfer them to a metal bowl to cool down.
- Add the sesame seeds to the hot pan and toss continuously until they are golden brown, and then add them to the bowl with the pumpkin seeds.
- Add the coco powder and cinnamon to the hot pan and stir around continuously until they just start to turn fragrant and add them to the bowl with the seeds (this should only take a few seconds).
- Crumble the cooled roasted chile peppers into the food processor. If they are still too moist to crumble, return the pieces that won't crumble to the oven and roast a bit more. Process the peppers until they're a fine powder.
- Add the cooled seeds to the chile peppers and process until the mixture is finely ground. The oils in the seeds will probably make the mixture clump, so scrape down the sides of the work bowl a few times until it's finely ground.
- When the beef is fall-apart tender, use some tongs to remove it from the stock. Strain the stock into a bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible. You should have about 5 cups of stock. If you have more, just boil it down until you have 5 cups of stock. If you have less, add water.
- Let the beef cool enough to handle and pull it and cover it with a lid or aluminum foil to keep it moist.
- Add the raisins along with some of the stock to the food processor with the seed and chile mixture and process until smooth.
- Pour the mixture back into the pot with the rest of the stock and simmer, stirring constantly until thick. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt and sugar to taste.
- Turn off the heat and add the chocolate. Stir until it's completely melted and then pour the sauce over the beef and stir to coat evenly.
- Serve with warm tortillas, shredded cabbage, and cilantro.