In the villages around Puebla and Tlaxcala, along the altiplano or colonial highlands of Mexico, molé is not a sauce.
It’s a rite, a responsibility. The recipes are passed down from generations, from mothers and stepmothers, and the treasured sauce is used not only for the table. At the end of October, around the season of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, when lost ones are believed to return from the grave and arrive at ofrendas, altars that families make to guide the departed to old homes. Here, amid the traditional incense, boiled chickens, sweet breads, and bottles of Tequila, are clay pots filled with molé.
Here we met Doña Maria, a molé master in the highlands, and the force in the kitchen of True Hacienda, our sixteenth century retreat for members. We spent the last week with Dona Maria to learn about her mole and other recipes from the altiplano, a place steeped in mystique and history, and where mole is so central to life that during Día de los Muertos the children of the town walk door to door to pass buckets of the families molé around as community offerings. The molé is used so much that pueblo chefs like Dona Maria make large vats at a time, stirring the thick paste into a fine, velvety liquid that have a texture akin to a thin gravy.
Mole is not only tradition.
The sauce is so complex and contains so many ingredients even French soux chefs must puzzle at how many items become re-imagined, re-constituted and transformed into a magical creation that is not only a flavor bomb on the palette but an exercise in balance: salty (but not too much), sweet (but not too much), and spicy (but not too much.)
When we met Doña Maria, she was in her outdoor kitchen, placing wooden sticks to keep the fire under her clay vat of molé going. Every so often, dark bubbles would appear in the sauce, prompting her to stir around with her giant stick. In a separate pot, under a separate fire, she had a brother of chicken soup going, and every so often mixed her brother into the sauce to thin it out and add body and flavor.
In the town, most of the women learn to make mole when they are young, and from their mothers, and later they adapt the recipe from their suegras, or mother-in-laws. When she was younger, Dona Maria’s mother died in an accident, and she was taught the mole from her father. She was young, and without a mom in the house to guide her, she had to learn the technique and process quickly, slowly personalizing her creation over time.
She shared her recipe with us. It’s a challenge to make, so be prepared. She’s also willing to teach our members in her own kitchen on the highlands, just down the street from True Hacienda.
Here is what you’ll need to make Doña Maria’s Magic Mole.
1 Platano macho, or big banana
1/4 kilo, Sesame Seeds
1/4 kilo, Raisins
100 grams, Almonds
100 grams, Peanuts
5 pesos worth of Animal Crackers
1/2 kilo of Chile Pasilla
1 kilo of Chile Mulatto
2 Burnt Tortillas
1 1/2 heads of garlic
1 1/2 Onions
One pinch: anise
A generous bunch: cinnamon
2 discs, stoneground Mexican chocolate.
1/2 kilo, Pork fat.
And this is how you make it.
Boil your chicken until cooked and save the broth.
Toast chiles and burn tortillas in a clay comal (comal de barro).
Place toasted chiles and raisins in water to soak.
Fry sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts, animal crackers, and the platano macho in pork fat.
Make a fire under your clay pot (casuela de barro).
Roast the onion, garlic, and tomatoes in the fire.
Put all your prepared ingredients in a bucket and take them over to the town mill (or use your own) and have all ingredients ground into a paste.
Add 1/4 kilo of pork fat to your casuela.
Once melted, add your two discs of chocolate, stirring until melted and integrated.
Stir in your molé paste.
Add chicken broth as needed to thin the paste. Stir constantly.
Note: The molé must continue to boil for approximately two hours, until the pork fat begins to make floral designs on the surface of the molé. Serve over fish, chicken, meats, tamales, rice and with handmade corn tortillas.