Chicken Mole (and a few thoughts on the season)

October 31, 2011

We recently lost a chicken, which made me think of how fortunate we have been since our children were born not to lose any family or friends that they are close to.  This presents a challenge though, in how to teach our children of the role of death in life and of grief and how one continues on in the face of it.  But then, is that not what this season is all about?  The dying of summer and light leading us into the cool introspective winter.  The death of one season and the birth of another.

If one looks beyond what Halloween has become for many- an excuse for sugar indulgence or a chance to dress as a mass murderer or a whore, this time is an opportunity to commune with those who have passed on from life into death.    Our ancestors, our contemporaries, our friends who are no longer among the living.  The Mexican holiday of El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is especially intriguing.   I love the imagery of the brightly decorated skulls that signify the integral part that death plays in life.  We act this out with each meal, taking the life and energy contained in plants and animals and bringing it into our bodies to fuel our own existence.

So, while looking at some pictures of celebrations of Dia de los Muertos, my son and I began to talk of death.  I told him how death was a part of life and that it need not be a scary thing.  That all that is living must one day die (like our carved pumpkins destined for the compost),but that death would fuel the beginning of new life.  He nodded and agreed, reminding me of how incredibly sane and stable children are and how grateful I am that my life is blessed with two very special little people.

Chicken Mole is a perfect dish for Dia de los Muertos.  A thick sauce, rich with chiles, nuts, and the signature chocolate, bathes chicken as it slowly cooks and absorbs the luscious flavors.  This is a special meal, requiring a bit of time to prepare the sauce.  Feel free to make it ahead and keep in the refrigerator or freeze.  It is worth every step to create this incredible sauce.  Serve Chicken Mole with simple rice.

Note: The mole is also excellent with turkey.  Try it as an unexpected gravy on Thanksgiving.  Enjoy!

Chicken Mole

adapted from Rick Bayless via Saveur Magazine

serves 4 hungry folk

makes 1 quart mole sauce (enough for two dinners)

8 ancho chiles

8 guajillo chiles

2 1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds

1/2 teaspoon whole aniseeds

1/2 teaspoon peppercorns

1/4 teaspoon whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 1/2 dried bay leaves, crumbled

3/4 inch piece of a cinnamon stick (preferably Mexican)

1/4 cup raw almonds (skin on)

1/4 cup raw peanuts (shelled and skinned)

2 1/2 tablespoons pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)

2 1/2 tablespoons raisins

5 cloves of garlic (skin on)

1 slice white bread, crusts removed

1 corn tortilla

1/4 cup vegetable oil (divided)

1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 quartered tomatillo

1/2 cup chopped and drained tomatoes

4 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup finely chopped Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra)

2 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

8 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin

Cooked rice- for serving

There are a lot of ingredients in this recipe.  If you are like me and have a difficult time measuring accurately while cooking (and tending to the needs of children who are simultaneously turning the living room into an extravagant fort and cutting their own hair), then please measure out your ingredients before you get started.  You will be glad you did.

Heat a cast iron or other type of heavy bottom skillet on medium heat.

the chiles

Remove the stem and seeds from the chiles (do not worry if a few seeds stick on, they will be strained out later).  Tear the flesh of the chiles into flat pieces.  Working with a few at a time, place the chiles on the dry skillet and press down with a spatula to flatten.  Remove to a heat-safe bowl once the chiles have softened and begin to turn color- it only takes a few seconds.  Repeat with the remaining chiles.  Cover the chiles with boiling water and soak for 30 minutes.

the spices

While the chiles are soaking, toast the aniseed in the dry pan for a minute or two, until it begins to smell fragrant.  Remove from pan and place in a spice grinder (I use a mortar and pestle).  Repeat with the black pepper and add to the spice grinder.  Repeat with the sesame seeds and add to the spice grinder.  Add the cloves, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick to the spice grinder.  Grind spices into a powder.

the nuts, raisins, and garlic

One ingredient at a time, toast the almonds, peanuts, pepitas, and raisins.  Stir or shake the pan to ensure even toasting.  As each is done, remove from the pan and add to a blender.  Place garlic in the pan with the skins on.  Shake around in the pan until the skin begins to brown.  Remove from the pan, smash with a knife, and discard the skin.  Add the garlic to the blender.

completing the sauce

Pour 1 tablespoon oil into the pan.  Cook onion until it softens and begins to brown.  Remove onion from the pan and add to the blender.  Pour in the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.  Brown the bread in the oil, flipping to toast both sides.  Tear into pieces and add the bread to the blender.  Brown the tortilla in the oil, flipping to toast both sides.  Tear into pieces and add the tortilla to the blender.  Add the diced tomatoes and tomatillos to the blender along with 1 cup chicken broth.  Drain the chiles and reserve the water.  Add the chiles and 1 cup of chile water to the blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add more of the broth if necessary to get a smooth consistency.

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat.  Place a strainer or food mill over the pot and pour puree mixture through the sieve into the pot.  Discard bits left in the strainer. Add ground spice mixture to the pot and remaining broth.  Bring mole to a simmer and cook uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the chocolate whisk to incorporate.  Simmer for 20 minutes more.  Season to taste with salt.

The sauce can be made a day or two ahead.

the chicken

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.  Heat a dutch oven over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.  Add thighs to hot oil in two batches.  Cook long enough to brown, then flip and brown the other side.  Meat should not be cooked through.  Set browned meat aside and repeat with any pieces that did not make it into the first batch.  Once all the thighs are browned, return meat to pan and pour 2 cups of mole sauce over the top.  Nestle the thighs into the sauce.  Bring to a simmer.  Cover and transfer to the oven.  Cook until the meat reaches 160 degrees- about 40 minutes.  Serve with rice.

Freeze the remaining 2 cups of mole for a special dinner down the road.

Print this recipe:  Chicken Mole

You may also like:

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Mexican Pozole Rojo

World’s Easiest Carnitas with Grilled Tomatillo Salsa


10 Responses to “Chicken Mole (and a few thoughts on the season)”

  1. Robert Green Says:

    We were just talking Mole recipes last night! Can’t wait to try this one!

  2. amy zimmer Says:

    Gorgeous. Sorry about the chicken, and love the teachings she left as a gift. AMy

  3. Janice Says:

    What a lovely essay — using the Day of the Dead to give thanks. Beautiful.

  4. TasteFood Says:

    Lovely post – and this recipe is gorgeous. I’ll be making it soon.

  5. Hannah Says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts – this is a lovely post. My children have experienced the deaths of grandparents, a family friend and pets and have understood/incorporated the reality of death into their lives in a very sane, healthy way. It’s important to talk openly about this, as you’ve done – this is such a good time of year to discuss this topic (and Dia de los Muertos provides a good opportunity, too). Big sigh…

    Your mole looks terrific! I love mole sauce and this one looks incredibly tasty.

  6. ann marie Says:

    What an incredibly smart and loving way to share life experience
    with family and friends…..Thank you

  7. mark morley Says:

    Totally agree with your thoughts about Dia de los Muertos, Karen. I love the reverence and irreverence of it. And, really, whores and mass-murderers? You call that a holiday? Terrific blog. I can’t wait to dig into it further. Think I saw pozole! Mine needs serious help.

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