Okay, let me just start with a qualifier because I’m sure you are already asking yourselves, “What is Chef Frank Chiaramonte, an Italian, doing talking about Mexican sauces?” That is the beauty of food. When it comes to cooking there are no borders. Great food comes from every corner of this earth, and to really enjoy life it is important to taste different foods from every cooking style and decide what works (or doesn’t work) for you.
This is a week of celebration for our Mexican neighbors, so I thought it would be good to learn a little about one of the basic components of Mexican cooking, Mole sauce. Mole, the savory Mexican sauce most of would recognize as chocolate and chili pounded to a smooth paste, is a traditional food for celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
There are several legends as to how mole sauce first came to be. One popular story claims mole was invented by a chef who was preparing a banquet dish when a gust of wind from an open window blew a large number of spices into the food. He had no time to redo the dish, so after tasting it he decided to serve it as-is...and was congratulated for his excellent creation! A more common legend credits a group of nuns who supposedly invented mole out of necessity; but even this tale has at least two versions. One story takes place in 1862 when a group of nuns from the city of Puebla were planning a quick escape from the invading French army. The nuns threw together foods that would best suit a long journey. Their chocolate and chili mixture, packed with protein and vitamins, was satchel-ready and more than enough to make an old turkey or hunk of venison cooked over a campfire delicious and nutritious.
Another version of the story also centers around a group of nuns, but it dates back to several hundred years earlier. Sometime in the 16th century, nuns from the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla de los Angeles, upon learning that the Archbishop was coming for a visit, went into a panic because they had nothing to serve him. The nuns started praying desperately and an angel came to inspire them. They began chopping and grinding and roasting, mixing different types of chilies together with spices, day-old bread, nuts, a little chocolate and approximately 20 other ingredients. This concoction boiled for hours and was reduced to the thick, sweet, rich and fragrant mole sauce we know today. To serve in the mole, they killed the only meat they had, an old turkey, and the strange sauce was poured over it. The archbishop was more than happy with his banquet and the nuns saved face. Little did they know they were creating the Mexican National dish for holidays and feasts, and that eventually millions of people worldwide will have heard of mole poblano.
Today in Mexico, mole sauce is commonly served with poultry and prepared in hundreds of ways. Although chocolate is the best known ingredient it is not always included, and like our barbeque sauce, mole can be prepared many different ways depending on the region and food with which it will be served. Ingredients can include cloves, coconut, peppercorns, peanut butter, raisins, tomatillos, bananas, and tortillas.
Mole sauce ingredients were traditionally prepared on a metate, a stone with a flat or concave surface on which grain, nuts, seeds, and so on, could be ground. Modern cooks combine the ingredients in a blender or a food mill. Mole is a celebratory food in Mexico. Because of its long list of ingredients, the dish is served only on special occasions such as weddings and quinceaneras (fancy coming-out parties when girls turn 15.)
Have I got your interest? Well why not plan on fixing an authentic Mexican mole dish this week to join in the Cinco De Mayo celebration? Here is an easy to make recipe for Chicken Enchiladas in Mole Sauce.
Now, you can create this dish two different ways depending on how much time you have and the size of your spice inventory at home: You can do it the easy way and purchase a container of prepared mole sauce at one of our stores, or you can be really authentic and make your own mole sauce. Think about it this way, it's not much different than the same argument we hear all the time, " do we use homemade gravy or store bought?" You can save time or save tradition, your choice. Either way, I hope that you will enjoy the enchiladas.