The Secret to Rick Bayless's Oaxacan Mole

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Last night at the White House State Dinner honoring Mexico, Rick Bayless treated President's Obama and Calderon to his legendary black mole, which he learned how to make from his favorite chile seller in the Oaxacan street market, Panchita. We got our hands on this incredibly complex recipe, and though it is not for the faint at heart, it's actually relatively easy to follow—once you get past the daunting list of 27 ingredients!

Serves 8 (with about 10 cups of sauce, which will mean leftovers to make enchiladas or more chicken with)

11 medium (about 5 1/2 ounces) dried mulato chiles
6 medium (about 2 ounces) dried chihualces chiles (see notes below)
6 medium (about 2 ounces) dried pasilla chiles
1 dried chipotle chile (preferably the tan-brown chipotle meco)
1 corn tortilla, torn into small pieces
2 1/4-inch-thick slices of white onion
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
About 2 cups rich-tasting lard or vegetable oil (for frying the chiles)
1/2 cup sesame seeds, plus a few extra for garnish
1/4 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup unskinned or Spanish peanuts
1/4 cup unskinned almonds
About 10 cups chicken broth
1 pound (2 medium-large or 6 to 8 plum) green tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 ounces (2 to 3 medium) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 slices stale bread, toasted until very dark
1/4 teaspoon cloves, preferably freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
A scant teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 ripe banana
1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) finely chopped Mexican chocolate
2 or 3 avocado leaves (if you have them)
Salt, about 1 tablespoon depending on the saltiness of the broth
Sugar, about 1/4 cup (or a little more)
2 large (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chickens, cut into quarters

1.  Getting started:  Pull out the stems (and attached seed pods) from the chiles, tear them open and shake or scrape out the seeds, collecting them as you go. Scoop the seeds into an ungreased medium-sized skillet along with the torn-up tortilla, set over medium heat, and toast your seeds and tortilla, shaking the pan regularly, until thoroughly burned to charcoal black, about 15 minutes.  (This is very important to the flavor and color of the mole.)  Scrape into a fine-mesh strainer and rinse for 30 seconds or so, then transfer to a blender.

Set an ungreased skillet or griddle over medium heat, place the onion slices and garlic cloves on a piece of aluminum foil.  Roast until soft and very dark (about 5 minutes on each side of the onion slices—peel it off the foil to turn it; about 15 minutes for the garlic—turn it frequently as it roasts).  Cool the garlic a bit, peel it and combine with the onion in a large bowl.

While the onion and garlic are roasting, turn on the oven to 350 degrees (for toasting nuts), return the skillet to medium heat, measure in a scant 2 cups of the lard or oil and begin frying the chiles a couple at a time. They’ll unfurl quickly, release their aroma and piquancy (keep that exhaust on and window open). After about 30 seconds, they will have lightened in color and be well toasted. Drain them well, gather them into a large bowl, cover with hot tap water, and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to insure even soaking.  Drain, reserving the soaking liquid.

While the chiles are soaking, toast the seeds and nuts.  Spread the sesame seeds onto a baking sheet or ovenproof skillet, spread the pecans, peanuts and almonds onto another baking sheet or skillet, then set both into the oven. The sesame seeds will take about 12 minutes; the nuts will take slightly longer. Add all of them to the blender (reserving a few sesame seeds for garnish), along with 1 1/2 cups of the chicken broth and blend to as smooth a puree as you can.Transfer to a small bowl.

Without rinsing the blender, combine the green tomatoes and tomatillos with another 1/2 cup of the broth and puree.Pour into another bowl. Again, without rinsing the blender, combine the roasted onion and garlic with the toasted bread, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, banana and 3/4 cup broth.  Blend to a smooth puree and pour into a small bowl.

Finally, without rinsing the blender, scoop in half of the chiles, measure in 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid, blend to a smooth puree, then pour into another bowl. Repeat with the remaining chiles and another 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid.

2. From four purees to mole: In a very large (8- to 9-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), heat 3 tablespoons of the lard or oil (some of what you used for the chiles is fine) and set over medium-high heat.  When very hot, add the tomato puree and stir and scrape (a flat-sided wooden spatula works well here) for 15 to 20 minutes until reduced, thick as tomato paste, and very dark (it’ll be the color of cinnamon stick and may be sticking to the pot in places).  Add the nut puree and continue the stirring and scraping until reduced, thick and dark again (this time it’ll be the color of black olive paste), about 8 minutes.  Then, as you guessed it, add the banana-spice puree and stir and scrape for another 7 or 8 minutes as the whole thing simmers back down to a thick mass about the same color it was before you added this one.

Add the chile puree, stir well and let reduce over medium-low heat until very thick and almost black, about 30 minutes, stirring regularly (but, thankfully, not constantly). Stir in the remaining7 cupsof broth, the chocolate and avocado leaves (if you have them), partially cover and simmer gently for about an hour, for all the flavors to come together. Season with salt and sugar (remembering that this is quite a sweet mole and that sugar helps balance the dark, toasty flavors).Remove the avocado leaves.

In batches in a loosely covered blender, puree the sauce until as smooth as possible, then pass through a medium-mesh strainer into a large bowl.

3.  Finishing the dishReturn the mole to the same pot and heat it to a simmer. Nestle the leg-and-thigh quarters of the chicken into the bubbling black liquid, partially cover and time 15 minutes, then nestle in the breast quarters, partially cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the chicken is done. 

With a slotted spoon, fish out the chicken pieces and transfer them to a large warm platter. Spoon a generous amount of the mole over and around them, sprinkle with the reserved sesame seeds and set triumphantly before your lucky guests.

Advance Preparation: The mole can be completed through Step 2 several days ahead (it gets better, in fact); cover and refrigerate. Completely Step 3 shortly before serving.

Variations and Improvisations: Chilhuacle chiles are very difficult to find unless you’re in Oaxaca (even then they’re sometimes hard to obtain). Without them you can make a very respectable black mole with 6 ounces (12 total) dried mulato chiles, 2 1/2 ounces (8 total) dried pasilla chiles and 1 ounce (4 total) dried guajillo chiles. If you’d rather serve your black mole with turkey, follow directions on page 000. But don’t overlook the possibilities of serving black mole alongside roast pork loin (a crown roast of pork with black mole would be stunning for New Year’s Eve), or even grilled or roasted beef, venison or lamb.

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About this author

Mariela Rosario,

I'm a raging opinionista and I love to share my ramblings on everything from pop culture to food to stuff that makes me laugh & cry! I've worked in all types of media (TV, film, print) and was previously the online editor at Latina magazine before joining Mamás Latinas. On most nights you can find me working my way through my library of cookbooks or playing with my puppy Lola (my only child so far). I have a wonderful hubby who shares my passion for any and all kinds of travel. Together, we've formed a semi-professional wine drinking team.

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