Thanks to a few recipe modifications, a delicious sauce that used to take days to prepare can now be made in hours.
I love Mexican food, and when I’m at a Mexican restaurant, I’ll likely order a dish with mole poblano sauce. The combination of sweet, savory and spicy is unbeatable. The sauce is made from a combination of chili peppers, seeds, vegetables and spices, plus a little chocolate. I’ve never tried to make mole poblano at home because a true mole takes multiple days to make and requires upwards of 30 ingredients. Just the same, I’ve always wanted to spoon the dark and mysterious sauce over succulent chicken and be able to say, “I made my own mole!”
I wondered if it would be possible to make a faster version of the traditional sauce. Jars of premade mole poblano are available in the international aisle of most grocery stores, so that was my benchmark. Could I make a quick homemade mole that was better than the jarred stuff?
Before we get cooking, a quick lesson on moles. Moles are made throughout Mexico. The Oaxaca region of Mexico is known for its seven different types of mole. The most recognizable mole, especially in the United States, is called mole poblano, meaning it comes from the Puebla region of Mexico. It is distinguished by its slightly sweet taste and use of chocolate. (From now on, when I write “mole,” I’m talking about mole poblano.)
The biggest challenge when making mole is dealing with the peppers. Traditional mole is made from three types of dried chiles—mulatos, anchos and pasillas. The chiles are fried, soaked and softened, and then finally blended. Instead of using whole chiles, my main shortcut was to use chili powder. I knew this was a big risk but wanted to try it.
I also didn’t want to get lots of pots dirty and organized the recipe so I could use just one sauté pan for all of my cooking.
I wanted a meat that would be juicy when cooked but not take too long. I decided that boneless skinless chicken thighs would be perfect.
After cooking a batch of mole and tinkering with the sauce, I compared my finished mole to the jarred kind. Mine was unquestionably better. Even after taking some major shortcuts, I still had a sauce that was thick, rich and silky smooth with a great sweet, salty and spicy balance. Maybe this wasn’t the same as a traditional mole prepared over multiple days, but I wasn’t expecting perfection. My mole only took 1 hour to make and was surprisingly good.
Start by dry-toasting the sesame seeds and almonds until they are brown and fragrant. Put them aside in a medium bowl. This was my main dumping bowl, where I put everything once it was done cooking.
Next, cook a small onion, a clove of garlic and some raisins in vegetable oil. You’ll know the raisins are done when they have plumped up. Once again, I dumped everything in my assembly bowl.
Mix a decent amount of chili powder (1/4 cup) with more vegetable oil and began toasting the powder. I added a little chipotle powder for extra heat and smokiness. Chipotles aren’t one of the three required chiles in traditional mole, but they were integral to my sauce. Toast the chili powder until it begins to darken and the pan begins to smoke. Turn the heat off and stir in some unsweetened chocolate until melted. I poured the chili and chocolate mixture into my assembly bowl.
Add the remaining ingredients: diced tomatoes, cloves, cinnamon, salt, pepper, brown sugar and bread crumbs; stir it all together. Pour the mixture into a blender, and add a cup of chicken broth.
Run the blender for at least a minute, adding more chicken broth, a splash at a time, if the thick sauce isn’t moving through the blades.
The sauce will look pretty smooth, but if you taste it, you’ll notice a slight grittiness. So pass the sauce through a strainer, pressing to get all of the liquid through.
We’re almost done. Brown the chicken thighs in vegetable oil, then reserve on a plate. Pour the strained sauce into the sauté pan; add more chicken stock until it reaches the consistency of heavy cream. (I added 1-1/2 cups stock to my sauce.) Turn up the heat and bring the sauce to a boil. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. (You may need to add more salt.)
Return the chicken thighs to the mole and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the chicken is done, about 20 minutes.
This dish goes very well with rice that has been cooked in chicken stock and a little tomato paste.