Majestic Mole to the Rescue
No, not a competitor for Mighty Mouse.
Rather, guess what’s got chocolate and nuts and makes people of all ages happy, even when facing down turkey leftovers (“Not turkey AGAIN!”)?
I’m thinking about mole (MOH-lay), that thick brown sauce which is the perfect companion for poultry.
It came to mind, and to my table, recently in Mexico, where Thursday’s meals comprised things like shrimp tacos, huitlacoche empanadas and suckling pig cooked “sous vide” in Yucatan seasonings. No ersatz “Thanksgiving” menus offered in tourist restaurants for me. But those signs did remind me of the mountains of Thanksgiving leftovers now lying about in American kitchens.
The mole we’re talking about is not the slightly sweet, somewhat cloying glop that can turn up in some restaurants, merchandised as ‘chocolate chicken’. Rather, it’s the rich, thick, brown sauce which can transform any turkey to a delicious dish, even if the meat is a little dry. (Let’s be honest, folks.)
The first thing to remember about mole is to forget about the chocolate flavor. Moles do indeed have a small dollop of dark chocolate tossed in at the end, but this is to enrich the sauce and add complexity to the flavor. It is not intended to dominate, and should be barely discernable, if at all.
While moles have been part of the wonderful and varied cuisines of Mexico for centuries, some of the key ingredients in most modern recipes – sesame seeds and ground almonds – were brought by the conquistadors from the Old World.
One of the best moles I have ever had was, incredibly, on an airplane from Mexico City to Chicago. Sitting in the front of the plane, I was one of the few passengers to opt for the Mexican entrée. The thick ochre sauce (on rubber chicken, alas) had clearly been made with love, maybe with a recipe from the chef’s abuela (grandmother), and tasted of ground almonds with just a hint of chili, clearly having been made in a small batch.
Moles vary by region in Mexico, and by family recipes and traditions. They are, most simply, a ground nut/sesame seed/chili based sauce, and can be further thickened with tortillas or masa harina (the ground corn from which tortillas are made). And that dot of chocolate.
The most efficient way to create a mole is to make the sauce separately from the meat, poaching that separately, or just using leftovers. Turkey (or chicken) legs and thighs are particularly delicious in a mole sauce because of their natural moisture, but breast meat works.
Mole makes a fabulous sauce for enchiladas, too.
Now, if I get to the store really fast, there may still be some loss leader turkey to replenish the freezer.