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Mole made simple with Chef Alonso Hernández at Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía

Mole (pron: molé). Apparently it’s acceptable to eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner if my recent trip to Puebla, Mexico is to be believed  Whether it’s served over chilaquiles for breakfast, or over chicken for lunch or dinner, mole poblano, the dark chocolately-brown sauce is most definitely ubiquitous on Poblano menus.

The history of mole sauce dates to the pre-Columbian era.  Some believe that the Aztecs prepared a complex sauce known as “mulli” which means “mixture/ concoction”.  Indeed, anyone who knows anything about mole and its preparation will be familiar with what seems like an endless list of ingredients, essential to create the complex flavours of the sauce.  The origin of mole sauce as we know it today, however, is disputed, and generally involves one of a few versions of the legend. (Information taken from MexOnline and notes from Mesón Sacristía)

One version states that 16th Century nuns from the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla de los Angeles served a version of mole with turkey to the visiting Archbishop.  Diana Kennedy, in her book The Cuisines of Mexico, [Harper & Row:New York] 1972, (p.199-200) suggests another version. Pascual, a monk and head cook, was preparing a banquet for the visiting Archbishop. Turkeys were cooking in cazuelas over the fire. Pascual was scolding his assistants for their untidiness in the kitchen and gathered up all the spices they had been using, putting them together on a tray, when either a sudden gust of wind swept across the kitchen and they spilled over into the cazuelas, or Pascual stumbled with the tray over the cazuelas, thus resulting in a most unusual and unheard-of combination of ingredients.

Whatever the origin, one thing is for certain: mole can be intimidating for, and is not generally seen as accessible by, the home cook (though I believe Doña Maria offers jarred versions of mole verde, poblano, pipián, adobo and rojo).  When I saw that a mole cooking class at Mesón Sacristía de Compañía was on the agenda for this trip, I was intrigued.  Doesn’t mole take hours, days to make properly?  Well, Chef Alonso Hernández makes it easy and much more accessible to the home cook than many recipes I have seen.  Hernández’ secret? A blender, of all things!  Uh huh – what used to take hours now can be produced in about 60 minutes.   Ancho, mulato and pasilla chilis are blended with tomatoes, onions and garlic, as well as a “secret” blend of spices, almonds, raisins and, of course, Mexican chocolate (interestingly, the spices don’t make an appearance on the recipe that is handed out at the class.  Fortunately my camera captured the plate of spices so I *think* I might be able to make a decent rendition at home!) Hernández makes a salsa of burnt tortillas – yes, burnt! – and fresh plantains which are blended with other components helping to lend the characteristic dark brown colour to the sauce.

Between 10 of us, under Hernández’ expert guidance (and thanks to the fabulously organized mise en place), we had the mole sauce made in about 30 minutes (of course it needed simmering for about another 45 minutes but the active time was much less than I had been expecting).  So yes, whilst it involved a lot of ingredients, this recipe was a lot less labour intensive that I had imagined.  Of course, every Mexican woman has her own mole recipe, usually passed down through the generations.  Hernández made a relatively small quantity of mole (probably serving 6-8 people) which is why his blender was able to lend a helping hand, but generally, because it takes so much time to prepare, it’s usually made in giant batches, too large for a home blender to handle.  Mexican women regularly take take their mole ingredients, cooked and ready for blending, to a large neighbourhood “molino” (grinder). These grinders blend the ingredients to a smooth paste much more effectively for a large quantity than a home blender would.

Check out the step-by-step pictures:

Preparing the chiles by lightly frying them

Burning the tortillas and blending them with plantains to add to the sauce (that’s Raul aka @hummingbird604 there!)

The mole sauce before blending, then carefully poured into clay pot to simmer

Making chalupas – fried tortillas with salsa verde or roja, topped with meat and cheese

Tasting plates: Chalupas, mole taster, mole poblano and cremita

Thank you so much Chef Alonso for demystifying mole for us. I actually think I might try this one when I am back home in August!

A version of Chef Alonso’s recipe (minus the secret spice blend) can be found here.
Another mole recipe you may enjoy can be found at Pati’s Mexican Table.

Disclosure: My trip to Puebla, including transportation, accommodation and all meals, was sponsored by the Mexican Tourism Board. I was not required to post about this trip and was not compensated for doing so.  All opinions are my own.

Follow my travels on Flickr this summer with my Summer 2012 set of photos – updated regularly!

 

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22 Responses to Mole made simple with Chef Alonso Hernández at Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía

  1. idiosyncratic eye June 28, 2012 at 07:08 #

    I read that title as mole rather than molé which conured up very different, and slightly disturbing ideas in my head. But hey! That kitchen design is vicious, I’m not sure if sunglasses would help. ;)

  2. Mr. Neil June 28, 2012 at 08:05 #

    I find it amusing reading this on the ELTW blog.

    I mean, it is Mr. Neil who introduced mole to Mardi many years ago…I remember the reaised eyebrow and “mole-what?” response. I told her Mole Poblano was, quite possibly, my favourite Mexican dish. That piqued her curiosity. So when she was first in Mexico with me, she was excited by this – the real – version. (Yes, I’ve used Dona Maria’s help at home from time to time…)

    She was transfixed.

    SO envious to not have been there for this class. But watch this space…am positive a mole experience from WM will be coming to a blog near you soon….

  3. Alice June 28, 2012 at 09:30 #

    totally jealous of all of your adventures! how is Paris??

    I have nominated you for the Lovely Blog award! Check out this post to accept it!

    http://acookingmizer.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/a-lovely-blog-award/

  4. IdaBaker June 28, 2012 at 14:33 #

    Now that is one cool kitchen. Since seeing the Malibu Tile close to LA, I’ve loved spotting some of these historical tiles. The designs, the color, and of course, the craftsmanship, it’s just amazing.

  5. Alicia June 28, 2012 at 14:35 #

    Pretty pretty and so colourful kitchen! What a fun and cheerful space to spend some learning hours.

  6. Geoff June 28, 2012 at 17:47 #

    But, doesn’t the burnt taste of the tortillas dominate things somewhat?
    Great pics and very interesting post. Thanks Mardio.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite June 29, 2012 at 04:01 #

      Hey dad, Not at all actually – there is so much else going on and there really were not that many tortillas in the mix at all. It’s an interesting concept though, no?

      • Geoff June 29, 2012 at 23:22 #

        Yes, as you know, I find it hard to imagine a taste based on the mix of ingredients but the “burnt” offering intrigued me

  7. Traveling Ted June 29, 2012 at 00:39 #

    I love the way you set up the pictures that illustrate step-by-step the way the class showed us how to follow the recipe. Chef Alonso made it look easy, but that is why he is the master. Interesting side notes on the history of the sauce. I like the recess peanut butter cup theory myself.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite July 4, 2012 at 14:49 #

      Haha! And yes, he DOES make it look easy – the roof will be when we try to make this at home!

  8. Raul (@hummingbird604) June 29, 2012 at 10:58 #

    Thanks for this post, Mardi, and for including me in the step-by-step process! It was such a pleasure to meet you and look forward to reading more and crossing paths with you more often! I wish I was in Paris too!

  9. Marina@ Picnic at Marina June 30, 2012 at 14:45 #

    The biggest attraction in this post, being informative and very interesting to read, is … pottery in the cabinet. Sorry, I just couldn’t take my eyes off it, it’s just beautiful, earthy. He even cooks in one too. Thanks for sharing this post! A little trip to Mexico… :)

  10. Mike June 30, 2012 at 21:47 #

    Love this post, Mardi! The photos do a great job of illustrating the step-by-step process.

  11. Colleen January 13, 2013 at 23:29 #

    Oh, yum. I love mole, although I’ve never actually had it for breakfast. Love the colors in the kitchen too — that pink is so pretty and vibrant!

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