Follow Me Foodie to Mole!
Making mole from scratch, in particular Mole Negro, is a labour intensive process which can take days. That’s why in Mexico big batches of mole negro are made at a time, and often it’s for celebratory occasions. You can still find mole negro at restaurants and it doesn’t necessarily make it a “touristy restaurant”, but traditionally its had during birthdays and weddings.
A shortcut to making mole would be to buy a pre-made mole paste, but you’ll appreciate it more once you go through the process of making it from scratch. You have to roast the peppers, grind them in a particular order, source the ingredients carefully… it’s a labour of love, but one I loved.
There is not one way to make mole negro and the recipe varies from family to family and region to region, although it’s most celebrated in Oaxaca.
I was determined to attempt a recipe from scratch after visiting the amazing public markets of Oaxaca. Many vendors were selling the mole paste and I actually bought a few, but not just the first ones I saw. If it wasn’t for the Mexican chefs touring me around the market I would have bought the mole paste from anyone, but they guided me to the better ones. As a tourist how would you know? But in the end, I still wanted to make my own, so I asked my cooking partner Brenda (who helped with this post) to come along on the mole negro cooking adventure.
I went to the bookstore in Oaxaca and bought copies of My Search for the Seventh Mole by Susana Trilling, which is arguably an essential book to understanding and making mole.
Oaxacan Black Mole from Susana Trilling is a well known and beloved recipe, popularized by Chicago’s Rick Bayless and featured in several cooking shows. It was the ideal starting point for a lesson in learning how to make this culinarily important sauce. The recipe in the book is made with chicken but Susana describes how this sauce is traditionally served with turkey instead of chicken, and beef or pork is sometimes added to enhance the flavour.
We wanted to try the recipe using the recommended chicken but decided to use chicken legs instead of whole birds. Chicken legs are meaty and have more flavour than chicken breast, and they also poach up very tender. It was also faster than butchering whole chickens. We happened to have chicken stock already pre-made in the freezer so that was utilized instead of making the stock from scratch.
We were also curious to see how it the mole recipe would work with pork. It turns out that the recipe makes a very large quantity of mole so there was enough to fork off a variation using pork shoulder, but we had to start the pork cooking on its own ahead of time so that it could be served when the mole was ready. The mole itself takes several hours to prepare so we used the sous vide technique to start the pork cooking the night before.
While we were experimenting with variations, it seemed prudent to try a vegetarian version at the same time. The original mole recipe only calls for two non-vegetarian ingredients, chicken stock and lard, so it was simple to substitute vegetarian stock and vegetable oil and keep the mole purely vegetarian. Once the mole had finished cooking, we separated out a small amount of it into another pot that contained cubes of Queso Blanco cheese instead of meat. Queso Blanco is fresh Mexican cheese that is similar to Indian paneer. It has a firm texture that can be cut into bite sized pieces and does not melt when heated. While the classic chicken and pork versions were expectedly delicious, this untraditional vegetarian version was a surprise hit.
Susana recommends that mole is served with a large stack of fresh corn tortillas. These can be purchased from a specialty store but they’re also easy to make at home if you have a tortilla press and masa harina flour. Rick Bayless has a good recipe and instructions for them on his website.
Mole Negro Oaxaqueno: Oaxacan Black Mole Recipe
– adapted from My Search for the Seventh Mole by Susana Trilling
Makes 12-16 generous servings of mole. Leftovers go very well with steamed rice and a fried egg.
- 4 liters of pre-made chicken stock – or – make chicken stock from scratch using:
- 2 large white onions
- 2 whole cloves
- 4 celery ribs with leaves, or 2 celery hearts with leaves
- 1 large or 2 small heads of garlic
- 4 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 whole dried chile de arbol, or chile japones
- 6 black peppercorns
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme or 2 large pinches of dried
- 2 whole allspice berries
- sea salt to taste, approximately 1 Tbsp
- 2 whole chickens (3 – 3 ½ lbs each), cut into 12 pieces, skin removed, backs and necks saved for stock – or – 6 lbs of whole chicken legs
Pork Variation (optional)
- 2 ½ lbs boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1” cubes
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
Queso Blanco Cheese Variation (optional)
- 1 lb Queso Blanco cheese, cut into ½” cubes
- Chile Paste
- 5 dried chilhuacles negros
- 5 dried chiles guajillos
- 4 dried chiles pasillas Mexicanos
- 4 dried chiles anchos negros
- 2 dried chiles chipotles mecos
- Onion, Garlic & Spices
- 1 medium white onion, cut into quarters
- ½ small head of garlic, cloves separated
- 2 heaping Tbsp whole almonds
- 2 Tbsp shelled and skinned raw peanuts
- 1 piece Mexican cinnamon, 1” long
- 3 whole black peppercorns
- 3 whole cloves
- Raisins, Bread & Plantain
- 3 Tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
- 1 ½ Tbsp raisins
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 ripe plantain, cut into ½” slices (~ 1 cup)
- Nut Paste
- ½ cup sesame seeds
- 2 pecan halves
- Tomato Puree
- ½ lb fresh tomatoes, cut into chunks
- ¼ lb fresh tomatillos, cut into chunks
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme, or ½ tsp of dried
- 1 sprig of fresh Oaxacan oregano, or ½ tsp of dried
- 2 Tbsp lard, sunflower or vegetable oil
- 6 oz Mexican chocolate
- 2 avocado leaves (fresh or dried) -or- 1 small piece of star anise
- 1 Tbsp salt, additional to taste
- Additional sesame seeds, to garnish
- 3-4 dozen small fresh corn tortillas
Notes for success
- The mole recipe makes a great deal of sauce (about twice as much as needed for the specified quantity of chicken) but it keeps well and the flavours get better after a day or so. Leftover sauce can also be frozen.
- The mole recipe makes enough for the amount of chicken, pork and cheese specified in this post.
- The meat and the sauce can be made up to several days and reheated before serving.
- Chicken legs can be used instead of cut up whole chickens. Chicken legs are more flavourful and have more meat.
- When handling spicy chiles and their seeds, be careful not to rub your eyes at the same time.
- Remove the seeds from the dried chiles, set the seeds aside, and soak the dried chile bodies in cold water several hours ahead or the night before making the mole sauce.
- Toast the chile seeds in a well vented location (i.e. turn on the stove exhaust and open the windows). The seeds will smoke; take care not to breathe in the spicy oils.
- Have the remainder of the Mole ingredients ready before making the sauce. Grouping the sauce ingredients together in the order that they’re cooked will simplify and speed things up.
- A powerful blender such as a Vitamix makes this recipe much easier to put together.
- Pork Variation
- Pork shoulder is a very flavourful meat to have with mole sauce but it requires a longer cooking time in order to to become tender.
- This post includes instructions for cooking pork shoulder sous vide ahead of time. It can be started the night before or very early morning on the day of serving.
- Vegetarian Queso Blanco Cheese Variation
- Make the mole sauce as per the instructions below but substitute vegetable stock and vegetable oil instead of chicken stock and lard.
- In place of chicken, use Queso Blanco cheese cut into ½” cubes.
- In a large stockpot (minimum 7 quarts), heat the 4 liters of stock – or – heat 4 quarts of water and the stock ingredients.
- Bring the stock to a boil.
- Add the chicken pieces and poach, covered, over low heat for about 35 to 45 minutes, until cooked through and juices run clear when pierced with a fork.
- Remove the meat from the stock.
- Strain and reserve the stock.
- Cut the pork shoulder into 1” cubes and place into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and pepper and mix well.
Vacuum sealed pork shoulder pieces
- Place the pork in a sous vide bag and vacuum seal.
- Cook the pork in a water bath at 75C for 10 hours.
- Once cooked, allow the pork to cool in the bag.
Mole: Chile Paste
- Break open each of the dried chiles with your hands and empty the seeds into a separate bowl. Reserve the chile seeds and set aside.
- Place all of the dried chile bodies into a bowl and cover with cold water. Allow the chile bodies to soak for several hours or overnight.
- Remove the chiles from the soaking water and place them in a blender with 1/4 cup of the chile soaking water to blend smooth. Leave the chiles in the blender while the seeds are prepared.
- Place chile seeds on a heavy bottomed pan, preferably cast iron. Heat the pan over medium high heat until the seeds are blackened, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Some seeds may jump out of the pan; cover the pan with a splatter screen if one is available.
Note: Try to do this in a well-ventilated place because the seeds will give off very strong fumes.
- Remove the blackened seeds from the heat and place them in a bowl. Soak the blackened seeds in 1 cup of cold water for 10 minutes. Drain the seeds and cover them with more water. Let them soak for another 15 minutes more, then strain them.
- Add the seeds to the blender with the chiles and blend for about 2 minutes. The chile paste should be silky smooth, with no noticeable pieces of chile skin.
- Place the chile paste in a bowl and set aside.
Mole: Onions, Garlic & Spices
- In a heavy bottomed frying pan (preferably cast-iron), char the onion and garlic over medium heat for 10 minutes. Remove them from the pan to a medium bowl and set aside.
- In the same frying pan, toast the almonds, peanuts, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, and cloves for about 5 minutes. Add them to onion and garlic bowl and set aside.
Mole: Raisins, Bread & Plantain
- Heat 3 Tbsp of oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan (preferably cast-iron) over medium heat until smoking.
- Add the raisins and fry them until they are plump, approximately 1 minute. Remove them from the pan to a medium bowl.
- Fry the bread slice in the same oil until browned, about 5 minutes, over medium heat. Remove from the pan to the same bowl.
- Fry the plantain in the same oil until it is well browned, approximately 10 minutes, over medium heat. Remove from the pan to the same bowl.
Mole: Nut Paste
- In a small frying pan, toast the sesame seeds over low heat, stirring constantly. When the sesame seeds start to brown, about 5 minutes, add the pecans and brown for 2 minutes more.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let the seeds cool.
- Place the sesame seeds and pecans in a powerful blender or spice grinder and grind them to a smooth paste. It takes a bit of time, but this is the only way to grind the seeds and nuts finely enough.
Mole: Ground Ingredients
- Place the nut paste into a blender. Add the raisins, bread & plantain. Add the onions, garlic & spices. Add 1 cup of stock.
- Blend well for several minutes, until the mixture is very smooth.
Mole: Tomato Puree
- In a separate frying pan, fry the tomatoes, tomatillos, thyme, and oregano over medium to high heat, allowing the juices to almost evaporate, about 15 minutes.
- Blend well into a smooth puree, using 1/2 cup of reserved stock if needed. Set aside.
- Have the chile paste, ground ingredients, tomato puree and chocolate pieces ready.
- In a heavy 6-quart stockpot, heat 2 Tbsp of lard or oil until smoking and fry the chile paste over medium to low heat, stirring constantly so it will not burn, for approximately 20 minutes.
- When it is “bubbling furiously”, add the tomato puree and fry until the liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes.
- Add the ground ingredients to the pot. Stir constantly until everything is well-incorporated, about 20 minutes.
- Add 1 cup stock to the mole, stir well, and allow to cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the salt.
- Break up the chocolate and add to the pot, stirring until it is melted and incorporated into the mixture. Taste the mole and add additional salt to taste.
- Toast the avocado leaf briefly over the flame if you have a gas range or in a dry frying pan and then add it to the pot – or – If avocado leaf is unavailable, add the piece of star anise.
- Slowly add more stock to the mole, as it will keep thickening as it cooks. Continue to cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so it does not stick, and adding stock as needed. The more time it has to cook, the better. There should be no gritty texture (from the seeds), which will cook out over time. The mole should not be too thick; just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- If making a vegetarian cheese option, remove 1 cup of the mole and place into a separate saucepan.
- Heat the corn tortillas in a microwave and keep them covered so that they do not dry out.
To Finish: Chicken
- Place the cooked chicken pieces in the leftover stock in a saucepan and heat through.
- Serve the chicken family style or individually plated with the mole sauce. Serve with hot corn tortillas.
- The pork should be cooked tender firm from the sous vide bath.
- Open the sous vide bag and drain the pork juices into a separate bowl. If the pork is cooked far enough in advance, the pork juices can be used instead of chicken stock for the mole sauce.
- Add the pork to the mole sauce to heat through. The pork can also be left simmering in the mole for the last 30-60 minutes of the mole’s cooking time.
- Serve with hot corn tortillas.
- Place the cubes of Queso Blanco in the mole sauce until heated through.
- Serve with hot corn tortillas.