Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mole: The sauce, not the spy.

Icky thump, who'd a thunk sitting drunk on a wagon to Mexico? Oh wait. That was Jack White, not me. 

On Memorial Day I made mole. 

The holiday and the Mexican sauce are unrelated, of course, I just knew I'd need a few uninterrupted hours in the kitchen to make it happen. And the Tex-Mex of Austin had inspired me. 

I picked up some of the ingredients -- the dried chiles, anise seeds, pepitas, and Mexican cinnamon (called canela and softer than the cinnamon I've known) -- from this place near my house. 

I love that it's a Mexican grocery owned by a Korean man. He wears a UT baseball cap and ends transactions by saying, "Thank you...and gracias," in an accent that doesn't belong to either pleasantry. The whole thing feels very melting pot. 

When I can, I also love, love, love making food that takes time. I can be kind of dramatic about it, frankly...clearing my schedule, announcing to friends for days beforehand that I'll be making [insert culinary process], tromping all over town to find ingredients, laboring over kitchen playlists (see below!), etc. 

Yeah, it's totally nerdy, and mole is perfect for it because the sauce has a gazillion steps that can't be rushed. 

Each set of seeds and nuts must be roasted separately to add depth, and each process comes with its own aroma and sound. The pepitas pop violently, for example, while the sesame seeds just sort of sizzle all cool-like while they fill the room with a big nutty scent that seems too bold for their size.

The chiles -- soft and leathery -- smell like tobacco (or how I might image a man from Havana to smell), before they sweeten when heated in oil. Then there's the blanched almonds…the roasted garlic…toasted coriander seeds (so fresh, exotic!)…and finally the chocolate which adds richness and smooths out the flavor without adding too much sweet. It really is a lovely process!

It took me about three hours to roast and combine all the ingredients. Then the sauce needed to simmer for 45 minutes -- stirring often to keep it from scorching.

After all that time I wasn't about to let it burn on the last step, so I pulled up a stool and a book. Wooden spoon in one hand and a copy of Like Water for Chocolate in the other, I read the chapter on turkey mole, pausing occasionally to inhale deeply over the pot. 

"Just as lovers know the time for intimate relations is approaching from the closeness and smell of their beloved, or from caresses exchanged in previous love play, so Pedro knew from those sounds and smells, especially the smell of browning sesame seeds, that there was real culinary pleasure to come...The almond and sesame seeds are toasted in a griddle. The chiles anchos, with their membranes removed are also toasted -- lightly, so they don't get bitter. This must be done in a separate frying pan...Afterward the toasted chiles are ground on a stone along with the almonds and sesame seeds..."
-- Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Although chicken with mole is traditionally served in pieces with rice. I pulled the meat off the bone and piled it on corn tortillas like an open-faced taco. 

Mole-making music:

Down in Mexico - The Coasters
San Berdoo Sunburn - Eagles of Death Metal
Mexico - Cake
Bernadette - The Kinks
Stormy Monday Blues - T. Bone Walker
Long, Tall Texan - Lyle Lovett
M.E.X.I.C.O. - The Kills
Icky Thump - The White Stripes
Mexico - Merle Haggard
Writer's Minor Holiday - Calexico
Carmelita - Dwight Yoakam

For the mole recipe I followed, click here

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