Thursday, September 2, 2010

Saturday Night Mole

Almost two weeks ago, a couple my parents are close to, Mr. and Mrs. Zen, let us come over so that I could learn firsthand how to make Mr. Zen's well-known dish Pollo en Mole de Zarzamoras. Mr. Zen wanted to know how to make Chicken in Blackberry Mole, and he actually found a recipe from a restaurant through a blog. So he bought the cookbook and has slightly tweaked the recipe, but the original is from Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art by Tom Gilliand and Miguel Ravago.

When we arrived at their house, all of the ingredients were laid out. If you're not familiar with mole, it usually has about seventeen ingredients, if not more. He was very smart to lay them out in advance, since the prep work for this is what could really kill you. Once you start cooking, it's helpful to have everything on hand and not have to get it ready. These were only some of the ingredients, but I fell in love with the little seashell prep bowls.

One thing the Zen family has that I recommend buying, especially for cooking with chilies, are plastic gloves. My tattoo artist and piercer go through them like candy to keep everything sanitary, and it makes sense that the same goes in the kitchen. Mr. Zen and I wore plastic gloves while rinsing off the chicken so that we could get them clean but not have to worry about cross contamination. We then put the chicken breasts in a container and coated them with an impromptu mixture of orange juice, lemon pepper, balsamic vinegar, lots of garlic salt, parsley flakes, olive oil, and Worcestershire sauce. We mixed all of the ingredients in a small bowl and made it to taste. I swear, I might marinate chicken in that mixture alone. It was so good. So we covered the chicken and let it sit in the refrigerator to marinate.

Next, we prepared the chilies. With a new set of gloves, Mr. Zen cut off the tops of each one and rinsed them under the tap to rejuvenate the peppers a bit but also to rinse out the seeds. The recipe originally says to remove the seeds but reserve them to add to the mole sauce later on, but the Zen family doesn't like that much spice, so we just rinsed them out of the peppers. Since Hatch chilies are in season for a brief period, he added two to the mixture as well, but otherwise he used two Ancho chilies, one Mulatto, and one Chipotal. I love the smell of dried chilies such as these, since the smoky flavor is so rich and reminds me of delicious dishes I had on a Christmas trip to New Mexico.

Next, he put olive oil and butter in a skillet. If you're wondering, I did forewarn them that I am dairy free, but most people don't equate butter with dairy, and I didn't want to be rude since they invited me over to show me how to make this. But in the future, I might bring a stick of margarine with me just in case.

Once the pan was hot, we began roasting the various nuts. First were the peanuts and almonds, then the pumpkin seeds, and finally the pecans. After each, Mr. Zen carefully spooned the nuts (and minimal butter oil)  into a bowl. 

Before adding another ingredient to the skillet, he would add more olive oil and butter as needed. 

Then he fried each chili pepper on both sides for a few seconds. Above are the hatch chilies, which are actually pretty sweet and tasted similar to bell peppers. If I could still eat goat cheese I'd sprinkle some herbs on it and wrap it in hatch chilies.

 Next, he diced a small onion and chopped a few garlic cloves before cooking them in the skillet.

Then he roasted the sesame seeds, anise seeds, coriander seeds, and a single cinnamon stick. If we'd added the chili seeds, it would have been at this point. Then he added cumin, thyme, and oregano.

After cooking each ingredient, he added them to the bowl that held the nuts, and then he transfered everything to a blender.

The recipe says to fry a tortilla before adding it to the blended mixture, but it's certainly easier to use tortilla chips, which we did. We also added three cups of chicken stock before blending the mixture further.

Mr.Zen heated a medium saucepan with some olive oil in it, and once the mixture was fully blended, he poured it into the saucepan, using a spatula to get every last drop. 

Without cleaning out the blender, we added two pints of rinsed blackberries and blended them with sugar.

When they were fully blended, he put them in a strainer inside a bowl (as you can see) and I stirred and stirred the puree so that the liquid would come out but not the seeds. Once that was ready, we discarded the seeds and added the blackberry liquid to the mixture in the saucepan. 

We added more chicken stock and let the mole simmer while we prepared the side dishes (which I'll go into in the next post). Before serving, we added most of the above chocolate bar (which is, unfortunately, not entirely gluten and dairy free), which Mr. Zen grated before we arrived. 

We let the mole sauce simmer until we were all ready to eat, and we tasted it as it was on the stove. It was amazing, and the whole kitchen was very aromatic. 

Along with our side dishes, Mr. Zen grilled the chicken breasts on an outdoor grill, which gave them another level of flavor that I love. Honestly, anything grilled tastes incredible. While we were doing this, Mrs. Zen cooked brown rice in a rice cooker, which we served next to the chicken and I poured the mole on top of the chicken and the rice. 

After serving each plate, we poured the remaining mole in a gravy boat, which I definitely helped myself to at least once. Luckily, Mr. and Mrs. Zen gave us the leftover sauce, so my parents and I recreated the meal the next night for dinner. 

Mole will keep for at least a week, and the flavors can become more complex as time goes on, since they are able to blend into one another more. I enjoyed making mole with the Zen family, and I always appreciate an opportunity to be given cooking lessons firsthand, since that's how recipes like this were passed down for so many generations.

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