I love Mexican food. For the simplicity and freshness in a quesadilla to the complexity of a 27 ingredient mole (pronounced mo-lay), I love it all. Every dish is layered, be it with cheese or with aromas and spices that can be difficult to place but beg to be sopped up with rice.
For eight years my good friend, B, managed a Mexican restaurant in NYC. The nights I spent there were some of the best in my life. We would close the place down with pitchers of margaritas and chips with guacamole in the backyard on humid summer days, or perch ourselves near the front bar talking about books and horror movies. It was more than a destination for our little crew– and ending the night with a $10 check didn’t hurt matters.
It was here that I introduced D to mole and it would become an obsession of his. I ordered it one night when he was on his way in and told him, “no worries, the mole is on the way.” He had no idea what I was talking about and I attempted to calm his nerves with another, “don’t worry, it’s a chocolate-based sauce, really good, you’ll like it.” D must have been thinking fondue, but when the dish finally arrived, he was hooked, ordering it every visit, licking the plate clean with every serving.
My friend has now left and the restaurant is just not the same.
I now get my Mexican fix locally, in Queens. First, with the taco truck down my street. At 7 PM each and every night that silver truck with red and green letters and lights pulls in front of the drug store. The man, he won’t tell me his name, but he’s from outside Guadalajara, makes a mean street taco with choice of eight fillings. D has moved on and is now on a torta kick. They are thick and fresh and overflow with lettuce and cheese and leave your hands dripping from sauces. I stick with a taco in a fresh corn tortilla, change up the filling.
The man is so good that even after a recent epic multi-course dining experience a friend just had to get one taco. The only words he could say upon completion: “oh yeeeeah.”
I’ve asked the man what kind of hot sauce he prefers, hoping to mimic his flavors at home. He laughs and just nods towards the bottles of green and red sauces, “all homemade!” I say he should bottle them and sell them to us gringos. He just smiles and hands over my taco, “extra sauce please.”
About a block away on the opposite side of the street is a small Mexican bodega. My belief is that it’s a restaurant disguised as a bodega that doesn’t want to deal with the permits of serving food. I only see people eating there. Even the cans of soda are for show (though the wall of chiles did help us with this recipe). The food counter overflows and families and workers will come in and sit at one of the two makeshift plastic tables over a plate overflowing with chicken, rice and beans.
The weekends are the real treat. For $1 you can purchase the homemade tamales, steaming and wrapped in corn husks. This weekend, D and I whetted our appetites with mole (chicken mole) and rolla (jalapeno and cheese). They make the experience of walking to the corner vegetable stalls much more pleasant.
This past January, I returned to Chicago just before my birthday. A trip to Rick Bayless reignited my love for Mexican restaurants (though I really wasn’t too thrilled with the guacamole). Needless to say, I swooned over the pyramids of black rice, the specialty margaritas, especially the spicy one, and dove head first into my plate of duck mole. Divine. So I bought the cookbook and had Rick (that’s right, first name basis) sign it.
Since the return from Chicago (nearly 6 months ago) D has poured over the pages of said cookbook envisioning dishes of every shape and flavor. He’s promised and promised to make one. Finally, he found one.
Before I mention what the dish entailed, beyond the above picture and title, let me say that the cookbook I purchased was Bayless’ Authentic Mexican. It’s a cookbook that has received rave reviews on its recipes, but smashed for its inaccessibility to the average person. There are no pictures, recipes can last for pages filled with tips and time lines on the side. It is very daunting. And when I went to the cookbook area to purchase any cookbook I asked my waiter, “what do you recommend.” I received a general, “this one is authentic, this one is simpler.” Who wouldn’t go with the authentic despite its inaccessibility?
So D poured over the pages and finally found his recipe of choice: Dark and Spicy Mole. For weeks he promised me a batch of mole. He was going to make it by himself– all 6 hours of it. So I stepped back and awaited the finale. It was slow coming.
Bayless recommends breaking the recipe down into 4 days. As I would expect with any 6 hour preparation, I became sous chef to D and we sped the process up to 2 days– how can you wait so long for mole?! Day 1 we prepped the ingredients: 4 different kinds of chiles, the Mexican chocolate, tomato, onion. Day 2 we did the rest: cleaning the chiles, reconstituting them, toasting spices, frying onions, raisins and almonds and pureeing batches. We did this for 6 hours (yes there were some breaks) until we were left with one bowl of pureed spices and chocolate and one bowl of pureed chiles.
We cooked sauce one down until thick, added sauce 2, cooked down until thick again, added 5 quarts of homemade chicken broth and then let it simmer for 45 minutes. After that we arranged two chickens onto the roasting pan, coated them with sauce (freezing 6 cups for later use) and baked it all for 1 hour.
That’s it. I dread our electric/ gas bill in the next month, but the mole was fantastic. Was it worth 6 hours? I don’t know. But I can’t fly to Chicago so easily all the time. It was complex and layered with some amazing flavor combinations– the spice-chocolate mixture tasted like peanuts and the chiles were so flavorful and sweet they tasted like chocolate. Together it was rich and well, beguiling, and changed over the week we had it.
In the end it doesn’t look like much. Sure, we could have dolled it up with some avocado, cilantro, maybe some sour cream. I could have created rice pyramids with a moat of mole, but the flavors were so intense we left it simple: some scallions, fresh tomatoes and wild rice. Plus, after 6 hours of cooking, do you really want to spend even another minute adding a twig of baby greens for the perfect picture? Sorry, you just want to dive in and devour.
The recipe is a few pages long (one page is all ingredients) so if you want it, let me know. It’s not for the faint of heart.