Chicagoans are lucky to be living in a city with such a diverse food scene. Not only does Chicago have some of the best restaurants and chefs in the country, but there is no shortage of specialty and ethnic food shops from which to procure most every ingredient imaginable. As well, Chicago is fortunate that chefs like Rick Bayless are willing to share their recipes with the public, some of which according to Chef Bayless took many, many years to perfect.
I was inspired to make Mole Negro Oaxaqueno, The Mother of Mexican Sauces, after watching Rick Bayless on Top Chef Masters. For those of you who live in Chicago and have not been or for those of you who are planning a trip to Chicago, my advice would be to go to Frontera Grill or Topolabampo, both are award-winning restaurants by Rick Bayless, who is widely recognized as the “king” of regional Mexican cooking in Chicago, if not the United States. Oh, and be sure to reserve in advance at Frontera and Topolobampo; absent a reservation, your best bet is to get there when the doors open and snag a seat in Frontera’s bar area (which serves Frontera’s full menu and, if you ask nicely, a dish or two from Topolobampo’s menu), otherwise plan on a long wait.
So, getting back to the mole, most people would think I am crazy to attempt such a complicated sauce. Well, I always enjoy a challenge, and a few ingredients (about 25 in this case) and a dozen or so steps were not about to stop me. Until Rick invites me over to his Wicker Park home (no, I’m not stalking him, really) for a private lesson in mole making, I am left to create my own mole negro using Rick’s recipe [from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen]. I think I did a pretty good job.
This sauce is great served over lamb, duck, ostrich, chicken, enchiladas, or simply in a bowl with a few fresh corn tortillas.
Started by gathering all the ingredients, most of which I was able to find at the Mexican grocery store not to far from where I live. Lots of steps, as you’ll no doubt see below, but the finished product is a symphony of flavors — as an aside, your kitchen will never smell better than it does as you create this complex, rich, earthy sauce that is deserving of its title.
The Shopping List (don’t be scared off by the sheer number of ingredients):
2 1/2 ounces dried pasilla chiles
1 ounce dried guajilo chiles
1 dried chipotle chile (preferably chipotle meco)
2 white onions, sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 cups oil (or lard) for frying the chiles
1/4 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup unskinned 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
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground clove
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
A scant teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 ripe banana
1/2 cup (3 ounces) finely chopped Mexican chocolate
2 or 3 avocado leaves (optional)
Kosher salt, about 1 tablespoon, depending on saltiness of the broth
About 1/4 cup sugar
Note: Make sure you prepare your mis en place, having all your ingredients measured, chopped, and diced before beginning. It will make the cooking process much easier.
|Toasting chile seeds and tortilla|
Step 2: Roast the onions and garlic in an ungreased skillet over medium heat. Roast until very dark (about 5 minutes on each side for the onion slices; about 15 minutes for the garlic, turning frequently). Let the garlic cool and then peel it and combine with the onions in a large bowl.
Step 3: While the onion and garlic are roasting, preheat the oven to 350°F (for roasting the nuts).
Step 4: In a medium-to-large skillet, pour in 2 cups of oil (should be about 1/2 inch thick); when hot, begin frying the chiles (turn on the exhaust fan, it will get a bit smoky), a couple at a time. After about 30 seconds, after they release their aroma, they will have lightened in color and be well toasted. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a large bowl. Cover the chiles with hot tap water, and soak for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure even soaking. After 30 minutes, drain the chiles, reserving the soaking liquid.
Step 5: While the chiles are soaking, toast the seeds and nuts. Spread the pecans, peanuts and almonds onto a baking sheet, and the sesame seeds onto a separate baking sheet. Bake in the oven, about 12 minutes for the sesame seeds, slightly longer for the nuts. Add the seeds and nuts to the food processor, along with 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth, and process to a smooth puree. Transfer to a small bowl.
Step 6: Add the green tomatoes and tomatillos with 1/2 cup of broth to the food processor (without rinsing between uses) and puree. Pour into another bowl.
Step 7: Add the onion and garlic (set aside earlier) with the bread, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, banana, and 3/4 cup broth to the food processor (without rinsing) and puree. Pour into a small bowl.
Step 8: Scoop half of the toasted chiles and 1/2 cup of the chile soaking liquid into the food processor (without rinsing) and process to a smooth puree. Pour into another bowl. Repeat with the remaining chiles and another 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid.
|Clockwise from top: 1. green tomato-tomatillo puree, 2. banana-spice puree, 3. chile puree, 4. nut-Seed puree|
Step 9: In a very large pot (8 to 9 quart) or Dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the tomato-tomatillo puree and stir and scrape for 15-20 minutes until reduced — about as thick as tomato paste — and very dark (it will be the color of cinnamon and may stick to the pot in places).
|Tomato-tomatillo puree reducing|
Step 10: Add the nut-seed puree and continue stirring and scraping about 8 minutes until reduced, thick, and dark (it will be the color of black olive paste).
|Tomato-tomatillo + nut puree reducing|
Step 11: Add the banana-spice puree and stir well and scrape for another 7-8 minutes until thick.
Step 12: Add the chile puree, stir well and let reduce over medium-low heat until very thick and almost black, about 30 minutes, stirring regularly.
|Tomato-tomatillo + nut-seed + banana-spice + chile purees|
Step 13: Stir in the remaining 7 cups of broth, the chocolate, and avocado leaves (if using), partially cover and simmer gently for about 1 hour.
Step 14: Season with kosher salt and sugar. Remove the avocado leaves.
Step 15: In batches, in a food processor or blender, puree the sauce until as smooth as possible and pass through a medium mess strainer into a large bowl (I didn’t strain the final sauce, but it was still delicious).
Step 16: Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Buen Provecho.