Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Pollo en mole verde

When I first planned this dish, I was going to make the famous pato en pipián, which is duck in a pre-Hispanic mole of pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, and green chiles.

But as I continue to adjust to life with an under-one in the house, what I really need are more dishes that can be put together in less than an hour.

It is possible to cook two duck breasts in that time, but it's "fussier". You have to sear the breasts to give them texture (crispy skin) and flavour, then put them in the oven to finish. And you have to keep an eye on them or they will overcook.

By substituting chicken, I just had to poach the breasts in seasoned water for 20 minutes.

If you accidentally poach them longer, the breasts don't dry out as easily as they would in the oven, plus you can let them "cool" in the water once they're done and not only will they not overcook, they will stay moist and just the right temperature, pretty much until you're finished cooking everything else.

The other "cheat" was that I used some pipián I had made previously and frozen.

Some cookbooks tell you not to freeze pipián, but I think they mean the finished dish, with the chicken and rice incorporated. There's nothing "unfreezable" in the sauce itself.

So: pipián or mole verde?

There are seven molesin the legends of Mexican cuisine. The one you probably mean if you just say mole is the dark brown mole poblano, by far the most famous, because it contains chocolate. It also has 26 other ingredients and takes several days to make from scratch (I've tried it).

There is also a (slightly) simpler mole rojo ("red mole"), which has fewer ingredients than the mole poblano (though it still includes a bit of chocolate) and is slightly easier to make.

And there's a green mole, mole verde, which, as Rick Bayless wrote, replaces everything red in the red mole with something green: instead of tomatoes you get tomatillos; instead of dried reddish chiles you get fresh green chiles; instead of dark rich spices you get fresh green herbs.

All three of these are thickened with seeds (the French thicken sauces with flour; Mexicans thicken sauces with ground nuts or seeds).

Sesame seeds are the star of the brown and red moles, but pumpkin seeds (which, again, are green) take the lead in mole verde.

(By the way, the other four moles are mole colorado, which is another red mole; mole amarillo, the yellow mole - though it's actually kind of orange; manchamanteles, which means "tablecloth-stainer" and includes fruit; and the most complex and challenging of them all, the Oaxacan black mole, or mole negro.)

Some people don't believe that mole verde and pipián are the same thing. They may be right, though I say they're basically the same: a rich green sauce of pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, and green chiles.

pipián is one of the earliest pre-Hispanic dishes described by the conquistadors. It was served to them when they visited Moctezuma (before all hell broke loose).

Of course, modern mole verde/pipián is embellished with some things the Spanish introduced, not least of which are onions, garlic, and coriander (cilantro).

Because I used my pre-made frozen mole verde, I'm only going to give recap on the recipe here. You can read the full thing in my post on mole verde last year.

  • 6 tomatillos
  • 100 g pumpkin seeds, hulled (I used half pumpkin seeds and half sesame seeds; some recipes even add peanuts)
  • 1/2 a white onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Green chiles to taste (I used 2 chiles serranos, 1 chile jalapeño, and about half of a chile poblano)
  • A bunch of coriander
  • 1tsp of dried epazote
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves
  • A 5 cm stick of Mexican cinnamon
  • A pinch of cumin seeds (say, 1/8 tsp)
  • Stock (homemade if possible)
  • Salt
  • Oil or lard for frying

Basically, prep all the ingredients, put everything but the seeds and spices into a blender and blend to a smooth sauce. Gradually add the seeds and spices and continue blending while the sauce thickens.

Then heat some oil or lard in a pan and fry the sauce until it darkens and thickens some more. Then thin it back out with some stock.

Mole verde is best served on the day, but I froze it and then thawed it in the fridge overnight. That way I just had to gently re-heat it in a pot over the hob, adding some stock when necessary to thin it out.

Where did I get the stock? By poaching my chicken breasts, of course!

Basically just bung the chicken breasts into a pot, add some bits to season (usually chopped onion, garlic, a bay leaf or an avocado leaf, black peppercorns, etc), cover with water and bring to a rapid boil, then turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 20 minutes or so.

Let the chicken "cool" in the broth if you have time. Not only is the chicken cooked beautifully, you now have a basic, though not very strong, chicken stock!

I also served a modified version of arroz a la poblana (Pueblan rice), which is normally white rice with chiles poblanos, but I used green bell peppers and some yellow corn.

Take some diced onion and sweat it in some butter over a medium heat until it gets soft and a bit translucent but not brown.

(I didn't use to use butter for Mexican rice until I read this post by A Mexican Cook in Ireland.)

Then add the rice and fry a few minutes more. Then add the corn and fry a few minutes more (unless you're using tinned corn, in which case add the corn last because it's already cooked). Then add some diced green bell pepper.

After the bell pepper has softened, add some water, bring to a rapid boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low for about 25 minutes or so. When it's done cooking, you can take the rice off the heat and keep it covered. It will stay warm for like an hour.

Nearly done!
The quantities I use, by the way are:

1/2 cup of diced onion
1/2 cup of yellow corn kernels
1 green bell pepper, diced
10 g butter
150 g white rice
300 mL water or stock

You want the uncooked rice to be exactly half the volume of the water, so what I actually do is fill a cup with rice and then put in two measures of the same cup of water. But this time I weighed it out as well and those were the quantities I got.

It works for me every time.

So how this worked out was, at just after 8pm I put the pipián in a pot to heat up, put the chicken on to poach, and started on the rice.

I checked the pipián every now and then to make sure it wasn't burning or anything.

When the chicken was done, I used some of the broth to thin the pipián to the desired consistency. I probably could have thinned it more, actually.

Once the rice was simmering, I used my "free time" to lay the table and whip up a "wintery" salad of watercress, pear, and toasted walnuts with a balsamic vinegar and agave nectar dressing, which was just phenomenal.

Everything about this was awesome
We were eating by 9pm. WIN!

I have warm feelings about this dish, because it was one of the first authentic Mexican dishes I ever cooked, using the recipe from Two Cooks and a Suitcase (where it appears as Pollo Verde).

It blew my mind. On the one hand I had never tasted anything like it (it was completely different from the Americanized Northern Mexican food I grew up on). On the other hand something about it tasted so inimitably and unmistakeably Mexican, as if it could not have come from any other national cuisine.

That was years ago now, and the recipe I currently use is a synthesis of several different recipes from various cookbooks.

It's a very good dish (and quite spicy if you use enough chiles!). If you have never tried it, you really should. Mexicans have been cooking with pumpkin seeds since before they invented the tortilla.

It is a true classic of Mexican cuisine.