Mr. Mole Maker, Won't You Make More Mole for Me?

I love to cook. Why? Well, because I love to eat. Every now and then, someone asks what my favorite food is. My response? Well, how could I even begin to choose? How can I have a favorite in a world so full of fantastic, amazing, incredible, wonderful food? How could I possibly say that I like the sublime beauty of sushi over the less-refined but more id-pleasing joy of digging into a paper carton of General Tso's chicken? I can't, no more than I could really say that I like a great ribeye more than I like a great cheeseburger. I couldn't possibly pick a favorite food - but I do know that mole has to be near the top of any list.

I know that Mexican restaurants are kind of stuck for an easy answer when somebody asks, "What is mole?" How can you describe mole in a few words? "It's a sauce made with chiles and chocolate" is sort of the standard answer. Which, yeah, is a fairly functional explanation, but it's sort of like if someone were to ask you, "Who are the Beatles?" and you were to reply, "A band from England that was popular in the '60s."

Once, a restaurant I was working at got a new chef. When he had been there for a couple of weeks, he introduced a new appetizer involving mole. Curious, I asked, "What kind of mole is it?" There are as many kinds of mole as there are little villages and towns in Mexico, after all, with different ingredients, different colors, different flavors. I sort of expected that he'd have at least some familiarity with this. This was a chef, after all, who had just days before spent a good five minutes angrily bitching out the entire waitstaff about our lack of knowledge because none of us was familiar with the word concassé, with the implication being that none of us idiots were fit to serve his brilliant artistic creations to the hungry masses. So I expected at least a little knowledge from him when I asked what kind of mole he was making.

"It's a very traditional mole," he said. Oh, okay. Sort of like asking what kind of sauce he was putting on a pasta and hearing, "It's a very traditional pasta sauce." Not unexpectedly after such a response, that shit tasted like the man had tossed some jalapeños, a banana and a Hershey bar in a blender and dished it up.

I'm pleased to say that, with an assist from Rick Bayless, I think I'm beginning to get a handle on mole-making. For dinner guests last night, I decided that mole would be just the thing. This required a trip to a different grocery store than either of the two we usually shop at on Sunday afternoon and, when that one didn't have the dried chiles I needed, a trip over to one of the Mexican grocery stores on Federal Avenue. Sunday afternoon and evening was given over entirely to mole making.

Reconstituting the toasted ancho and guajillo chiles.

A variety of ingredients draining after being fried; clockwise, we have almonds, raisins, white bread (a sliced Mexican bolillo roll), corn tortilla, peanuts, pumpkin seeds.

Frying onions and garlic.

Two purees waiting to be mixed; on the left, a mixture of spices (chile seeds, sesame seeds, grated avocado pit), the nuts, raisins, bread and tortilla, the onions and garlic, tomato and tomatillo, plus chicken broth. On the right, the chiles.

I had to pause to wash some dishes in the midst of the process, because I was out of counter space in the kitchen.

The two purees are combined and set to simmer, along with some more chicken broth and some Mexican chocolate.

The great thing about mole is that you can make it in advance, and it will only get better sitting in the fridge for a couple of days.

I have fallen madly in love with the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducin' Grilling Machine that we got as a wedding gift. It makes a thoroughly convenient way to cook even a big mess o' chicken.

And there you have it!

Mmm...mole. Delicious, delicious mole. Spicy, sweet, smoky,, so good.