Mole (pronounced mo-lay, and meaning sauce) is the unique culinary symbol of Mexico. It comes in various colours and flavours and is often spiced with exotic chillies, chocolate, nuts, fruits and spices. Mole originates from two main areas of Mexico – Oaxaca and Puebla. I am a big mole fan. It may seem like a daunting sauce because of the unusual ingredients, but it’s really a one-pot dish. Once you’ve mastered the sauce you can use it for a myriad of dishes, simple or complicated. This mole has a more complex and deeper flavour than the quick red mole, which follows. The main difference is the inclusion of the mulato, ancho and pasilla chillies, known as the ‘holy trinity’ by passionate Mexican cooks. The dried chillies are important to the authentic flavours of Mexican food.
- 250 g (9 oz) tinned or fresh tomatillos, drained if tinned or outside leaves removed if fresh (see Note)
- 4 garlic cloves
- 50 g (1 ¾ oz/⅓ cup) sesame seeds
- 50 g (1 ¾ oz/⅓ cup) blanched almonds
- 35 g (1 ¼ oz) (about 3) dried mulato chillies (see Note)
- 35 g (1 ¼ oz) (about 3) dried ancho chillies (see Note)
- 35 g (1 ¼ oz) (about 7) dried pasilla chillies (see Note)
- 35 g (1 ¼ oz) fresh or dried jalapeño or poblano chillies (see Note)
- 80 ml (2 ½ fl oz/⅓ cup) vegetable oil
- 85 g (3 oz/⅔ cup) raisins
- 1 tbsp Mexican spice blend (see below)
- 1¼ litres (42 fl oz/5 cups) chicken stock
- 1 thick slice day-old, crusty white bread
- 50 g (1¾ oz) dark bitter chocolate, minimum 50% cocoa solids, roughly chopped
- 50 ml (1¾ fl oz) agave syrup (see Note)
- 50 ml (1¾ fl oz) sherry vinegar
- sea salt to taste
- hot sauce, if you like your mole extra-hot
Mexican spice blend
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp ground allspice
- 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp ground star anise
- 1 tsp ground cloves
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Preheat an overhead grill (broiler) to high.
Place the tomatillos and garlic on a grill tray and grill (broil), turning occasionally, for 10–15 minutes, until soft and charred black. Transfer to a large bowl.
Dry-fry the sesame seeds in a medium frying pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes or until golden. Repeat with the almonds. Combine with the tomatillos and garlic.
Remove the stalks and roughly chop the chillies, retaining the seeds.
Heat the oil in a medium heavy-based saucepan over low heat. Gently fry the chillies for 2–3 minutes, until they begin to colour. Add the raisins and spice blend and cook until fragrant. Pour in 1 litre (34 fl oz/4 cups) of the stock, add the charred tomatillos, garlic, sesame seeds and almonds, bread and chocolate. Gently simmer for 45 minutes, or until reduced to a thick sauce.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender and process, gradually adding the remaining stock, to make a smooth sauce. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing and rubbing with the back of a spoon to ensure all of the sauce passes through.
Combine the agave syrup and vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium–low heat, until reduced to a caramel. Add the caramel to the sauce and stir to combine. Season with salt. If you prefer your mole hotter, adjust with hot sauce.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Another spice blend, this time with a Mexican flavour. The cinnamon, star anise and cloves add a lovely deep note reminiscent of the classic Mexican hot chocolate. Smoked paprika and cumin give this spice blend a more savoury twist. Combine the spices and store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
• Also known as Mexican green tomato, the tomatillo is a small, green tomato-like fruit. It is a staple in Mexican cooking and can be found at some supermarkets and greengrocers.
• The mulato is a type of dried poblano chilli. It is mild to medium-hot with a fruity, smoky flavour with chocolate and licorice notes. The mulato is part of the famous Mexican 'holy trinity' of chillies, along with ancho and pasilla, used in mole as well as other Mexican sauces and stews. It is available from Mexican grocery stores.
• The ancho is a poblano chilli that has been dried to form a large, flat, reddish-brown chili with a sweet and medium-hot flavour. It is used regularly in Mexican cooking, especially in tamales. It is often sold ground and is available from gourmet suppliers and at Mexican grocers.
• The pasilla is a dried chilaca chilli, black-ish brown in colour and raisin-like in flavour. It is very popular in Oaxaca in Mexico. Look for it both whole and ground in Mexican grocery stores.
• The poblano is a large chilli with a mild to medium-hot flavour. It is often stuffed such as in the classic dish chillies rellenos. When roasted the flavour intensifies. Look for it in some Mexican grocery stores or gourmet greengrocers.
Recipe and image from Cantina by Paul Wilson (Hardie Grant Books, $49.95, hbk, available here)