Thursday, 2 February 2012

Mole poblano 3: the making of mole

[First published on 2 February 2012]

I have been dreading writing this post, just as I was dreading the actual cooking.

You see, after the recipes are read and the ingredients assembled, there is nothing left but to take that plunge and start cooking the most time-consuming and ambitious dish I have ever attempted.

In his book, Authentic Mexican, Rick Bayless writes that it takes about six hours to make mole if the broth (or stock) is on hand.

It takes a good two or three hours at least to make a good stock; but even if the stock is made, six hours of cooking is not feasible if you're planning on enjoying the meal that night.

Also, all the recipes for mole say it tastes better the second day (and even better the third, and so on), so they all recommend making it at least over two days and letting the flavours mingle.

This is how I made mole:

When we got our turkey from Craigies Farm before Christmas, I put the neck and giblets in the freezer. I also saved the carrot trimmings from the carrot and star anise soup. And of course I saved the leg bones and carcass after the turkey was carved up.

All of this went into the freezer, along with some choice cuts of breast for the finished dish.

On day one I took out my defrosted turkey bones, neck, and giblets, and put them in a large pot with the carrot trimmings, a couple bay leaves, Mexican oregano, epazote, and lots and lots of water. I brought it to the boil and then let it simmer for a few hours.

When the stock was ready (when it tasted very strongly of turkey), I let put cool, then strained the broth and put it in the fridge. The broth was now "on hand".

The next day, my wife and I prepped the chiles by cutting off the stems, tearing the chiles into flat pieces, and discarding the seeds and veins - apart from the tablespoon of ancho chile seeds called for in the sauce. We placed these in a ziploc bag.

The day after that, it was my turn to get up with the baby. I changed her nappy, took her downstairs, and got her some breakfast.

Then she watched me toast each kind of seed and spice in a dry pan and put them into the huge pestle and mortar or "molcajete" I got for Christmas.

"Molcajete" is Mexican Spanish and literally means "sauce pot", grinding being an essential technique in making Mexican sauces.

You have to toast the seeds and spices one kind at a time, because they all have different cooking times. If you try to do them all at once, you WILL burn some of them. And, as I mentioned in my last post, the actual grinding is very hard.

This was the part where my daughter stopped watching me and went off to play with her toys. I would have been happy to join her.

Eventually I did finish the grinding, though. Below is a photo of the fruits of my labour.

By this time my wife had come downstairs and took the bairn off to get dressed etc, which was just as well because it was chile time.

I heated up some oil in a frying pan and began frying the chile pieces briefly on each side into they changed colour. This took forever. While it is true that frying one or two chiles this way is no big deal, there is a lot of chile in this dish. I easily spent half an hour or more just frying these chiles.

Once they were finally fried, I put them all in a ceramic bowl, covered them with boiling water, weighted them down with a plate, and left them to soak.

They needed at least twenty minutes, so it was time to get on with the other frying. But first, I needed a roast tomato, a roasted onion, and three cloves of roasted garlic.

To achieve this, I took the wire rack out of the grill pan, lined the pan with foil, and set the tomato, onion, and garlic under the grill.

My intention was to keep an eye on them while frying the other ingredients, as the tomato needed 12 minutes, the garlic barely five, and the onion (probably) somewhere in between.

This was a stupid idea, and of course the time got away from me, so though the tomato turned out fine and the onion just needed the blackened outer layer removed, the garlic was a write-off.

Instead, I used three fresh cloves of garlic, finely minced (on my new garlic grinder I also got for Christmas - thanks Santa!).

I chopped up the onion (roughly, as it gets blitzed anyway), and mashed up the tomato in my molcajete. I then put all this in a bowl with 50 grammes of Mexican drinking chocolate (Diane Kennedy's suggestion).

While all this was happening I was also:

Heating oil in a pan (the same pan in which I fried the chiles, as directed by the recipes)

Frying the pumpkin seeds, almonds, pecan nuts, raisins, brioche crumbs, tortilla pieces, and possibly a few other things I'm forgetting, one kind at a time

Adding each to the molcajete, as soon as it was available

When I dropped the raisins into the hot oil they puffed up and turned golden within a few seconds. At that point I removed them with a slotted spoon and put them into the molcajete. Once they had cooled they turned normal again.

I mention that because it was awesome. 

By the way, you remove everything from the pan with a slotted spoon, in order to preserve as much oil as possible.

All this stuff ends up in the molcajete for some more difficult grinding, and from thence into the bowl with the tomato, onion, garlic, and chocolate.

In Spanish, the verb moler means "to grind" (it's related to the English word "mill" and the French moulin).

Grinding being so vital to Mexican sauces, it's only natural that the Spanish thought "mole" when they heard the Aztec word molli. But alas the two are, as we say in linguistics, faux amis.

By now the chiles had had more than enough time to soak.

I drained the water into a separate bowl (one recipe recommended keeping it) and blitzed the chiles with a hand blender, adding some of the chile-soaking water (which was now a lovely rust colour and very fragrant) to help the chiles pass through the blades. The goal is a thick paste, so only add the water a bit at a time.

Once I had the chile paste, it was time to blitz everything else.

So, again with the hand blender, I blitzed the mixture of fried and toasted nuts, seeds, spices, bread and tortilla crumbs, chocolate, roasted tomato and onion, and minced garlic.

For this paste, I used the turkey stock (again, a little at a time) to keep the mixture running smoothly through the blades. The chile paste was black, but this paste was a kind of mushy beige.

I had started this thing at about 7.30, after my daughter and I had breakfast (she woke up early that morning, and I didn't try to get her back to sleep because I had so much to do). It was now after noon.

For the next step I needed two frying pans (or actually one pan and one pot).

First, I had to fry the chile paste in the big pot for a few minutes until it thickened and got darker (though it was already pretty dark).

Then I turned the heat right down and, in the original frying pan, fried the other paste for a few minutes until it too had thickened and darkened.

Then I added that paste to the chile paste in the pot, turned the heat up to medium, and added most of the remaining stock, mixing the whole concoction into a huge pot of bubbling sauce.

I then left it to simmer for a couple hours, occasionally tasting it for salt, sweetness, chocolate, and general balance of flavours.

The mole is cooked when a layer of fat rises to the surface. You then skim off this fat and transfer the whole thing to a covered dish.

Once it cools, put it in the fridge overnight ( you can keep it there for a week, apparently, and it will only improve in flavour).

I found the hoped-for layer of fat when I came back downstairs after having lunch, a shower, and helping to put a child's bed together. It was nearly 4pm.

My last picture for this post is of the mole cooking in the pot. It looks like chocolate sauce, but it isn't. Next week we'll get into what I did with the sauce the next day.