It’s taken me three days to get around to writing this post because it’s taken that long to recover from making Sunday night’s mole poblano, the prized dish of Mexico that contains over 20 ingredients that lend this sauce its gorgeous complexity. Having cooked from Gourmet and Martha for years, I was not intimidated by an unmanageable list of ingredients. That said, and to borrow from our former Chief Executive, I may have “misunderestimated” what is involved in the actual process of making the mole—a fact that became clear somewhere around Hour 3, when I was still in the thick of it with no end in sight.
But let’s back up.
Some of you might recall the Turkey Trauma of Thanksgiving 2010 in which I was sent a barely street legal 7.5 lb turkey the size of a large chicken instead of the 12-14 lb bird I ordered. It’s been burning a hole in my freezer drawer ever since. Last weekend, I decided to break out Tiny Tom and make my very first mole. A few days before I made the mole, I dry brined the turkey with salt and Mexican oregano and let sit in the fridge. I’ve included a mini can (7.5 ounces) of Dr. Pepper in the photo for an idea of scale. Think about it.
J’adore mole, particular the darker versions with a hint of chocolate (which tempers the heat of the chilies). I found this recipe for Turkey in Mole Poblano in an old issue of Saveur. I can promise you that when followed to the letter of the law the recipe is nothing short of spectacular. It’s also nothing short. Period. Because mole takes a long, long time. First there is the deseeding of the three types of a few dozen chilies.
Some of these seeds get toasted with sesame seeds stovetop before they are ground into a fine powder.
Whole cloves, peppercorns and aniseed get toasted separately and then ground into a fine powder before joining the mix, along with dried thyme, marjoram, cinnamon and torn bay leaves. Meanwhile the deseeded chilies are submerged in boiling water for half an hour before they are toasted in small batches in hot oil.
Then comes Satan’s work. In several batches, you puree chilies with their soaking liquid and stock in a blender, then pass through a sieve. This takes more time than you can possibly imagine. Then you set the chile purée aside.
Back to the frying pan. There are various seeds and nuts that also get the hot oil treatment—individually—because each ingredient cooks at a different rate.
As well as slices of bread and stale tortillas. Once they’ve all drained on paper towels, they get added to the spice powder mixture.
And then set aside while you slice an onion and peel 10 cloves of garlic. These get sautéed, transferred to the spice mix, and then tomatoes and tomatillos are sautéed, transferred to mix, and then along with this stock, it all gets pureed in the blender and pressed through a sieve. I really never want to see my blender again after this project.
At some point I threw the bird in the oven—it’s all a blur—and at some point all of the above ingredients were married on the stovetop and simmered away for a good long time.
And don’t forget the cup of chopped Mexican chocolate!
It was a good six hours of active cooking—and that’s not counting the shopping. But nothing worth having comes easy. And mole is very much worth having. All the better if you can share it with good friends. And by the way? That turkey served four.