Most of you know Mole (pronounced MOH-lay) as the somewhat spicy, chocolaty, rich sauce found in your neighborhood “authentic” Mexican restaurant, or the grocery store in jars of Dona Maria. Those of you who have tried this version of Mole really are unfortunate.
Mole, which comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word mulli, meaning sauce or stew, is believed to have been invented in the late 1600s by a nun in a convent in Puebla, outside Mexico City. According to legend, she spared no time or expense, using the best and most expensive ingredients to create a dark, savory sauce. The preparation for mole is intense, some 30 different ingredients compose this version of mole, Mole Poblano, which when prepared correctly, only a subtle hint of chocolate remains when served over the traditional meat for mole, turkey. I could spend an entire post on mole! Maybe I could save that for a different time, but for now I want to cook!
For me, I am just enamored by the moles of Oaxaca. To be honest, for me, Oaxaca is the true epicenter of Mexican cuisine. Its food has a tradition of being labor intensive, as everything is made “a mano” or by hand, with most ingredients that only exist in Oaxaca proper. Oaxaca also has the reputation for being the best place for Mole in all of Mexico. In Oaxaca there are the “seven moles of Oaxaca”, a palette of black, brown, blood-red, brick-red, yellow and green. For those of you wanting to spend a long, but well worth it, adventure in the kitchen, I offer to you, probably the best adapted recipe for mole negro from the legendary Rick Bayless, which can be found here. But for those of us who want to spend some time Christmas shopping this weekend, I offer the recipe for Mole Rojo or Red Mole from Zarela Martinez.
Now, there are some kitchen essentials for making mole. The first is either a molcajete (a mortar and pestal) or a spice grinder, a comal (or a cast iron skillet), and a blender or food processor. The first step is to toast the chiles since they will need to soak for about 20 minutes after you toast them. So using the same methods I spoke of in Barbacoa DelGrosso, I toasted 6 chile pasilla and 4 chile ancho. One they were toasted, I placed them in hot water, covered them, and left them to soak for 20 minutes. In the meantime, I roasted the garlic on the same comal and set that aside. The next step was to grind the bread. I placed the bread in the food processor and made some fresh breadcrumbs and set that aside. I then placed the tomato and onion in a saucepan with water and boiled them for about 10 minutes and put them in a blender with the roasted garlic and ½ the cooking liquid and pureed the mixture, then forced it through a medium mesh sieve and set that aside. Next, I placed the cinnamon stick, peppercorns, cloves, oregano, thyme, bay leaves into the spice grinder and ground them into a nice powder and set that aside. After 20 minutes, I took the chiles and placed them in the blender and pureed them as well, using a bit of the soaking liquid to help it along, then forced that mixture through a medium mesh sieve into a mixing bowl, then combined the tomato puree. In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat till it starts to ripple, then add the spices and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then add the tomato-chile mixture and cook uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes, stir in the breadcrumbs and salt and cook for another 2 minutes. To finish it off toss in a pinch of sugar to taste. That’s it, after 30 minutes to 45 minutes you have a fresh Red Mole to accompany any meat dish.
Now for the duck breast, after a large search of the Seacoast area, I was able to locate a source for fresh duck at Philbricks Fresh Market in Portsmouth, NH. I picked up a nice, but small, Pekin duck breast. At home, I scored the skin side of each breast in a criss-cross pattern. When you score the breast, score just down to the meat, not all the way through the breast. This will enable the fat to render better as it is cooking. Next, heat a skillet over medium-high heat, then place the breast skin side down. You do not need to add any oil to the skillet, as the breast will release its own fats during cooking. Do not touch the breast for at least 2-3 minutes, after that you can lift an edge to check for browning, once the skin side is nice and brown, flip it over, reduce the heat to medium, and cook on the meat side for another 4 or 5 minutes for medium or 6 minutes for medium well. To check for doneness, cut into a breast or use an instant read thermometer: 135°F for medium rare, 155°F for medium well.
Cooking the Duck Breasts
Finally, the asparagus. This was simply prepared by blanching in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, pulled, then finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
After I let the breast rest for 5 minutes, I then slice on an offset and bias. Took a large spoonful of the red mole, pulled it across the plate, I fanned out the slices of duck breast and plated the asparagus. Dinner is served!
This dish is excellent with the Alpataco Pinot Noir.
A beautiful Pan Seared Duck Breast!
Mole Rojo (Red Mole)
(Recipe courtesy of Zarela Martinez from the book The Food and Life of Oaxaca)
- 1 small (4 oz.) piece of day old bread (Challah, baguette, French roll)
- 6 large chile pasilla
- 4 large chile ancho
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 1 large ripe tomato
- 1 small onion
- 1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
- ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
- 8 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 ½ cup chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar (optional or to taste)
- Crush or grind bread in a food processor.
- Griddle dry or toast chiles and soak, covered, in hot water for 20 minutes.
- Roast garlic, peel, and set aside.
- Boil onion and tomato for 10 minutes, and then use ½ of cooking liquid and puree in a blender, force through a medium mesh sieve and set aside.
- Grind cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, oregano, thyme, bay leaves in a spice grinder, molcajete, or coffee grinder and set aside.
- Place chiles in a blender with chicken stock and puree. Force through a medium mesh sieve into a bowl and then combine the tomato puree.
- In a saucepan, heat lard or oil over medium heat, add spices and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add the chile-tomato puree and cook uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the bread crumbs and cook for another two minutes.
- Finish off with adding the sugar to taste.