I grew up with a good dose of traditional Mexican food mixed into our midwestern diet. The connecting link was through my dad’s side of the family who had a restaurant in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico along with a dentist office in Mexico City. One of my favorite meals was our post Thanksgiving leftover turkey mole made using one of the prepared mole pastes, Knorr or DOÑA MARÍA were our go to and the combination of chili, chocolate, and nut flavors still something I still remember. And crave.
Mole, (pronounced mo-lay) is a generic description of a series of different sauces and dishes based around the sauce. Mole Poblano, a rich reddish brown sauce, is most commonly found outside of Mexico and what you often find here in the states. Diana Kennedy’s book, “The Art of Mexican Cooking” describes the seven moles of Oaxaca and the Puebla and Oaxaca moles are the most well known but a mole is really almost any generic sauce.
Usually once a year we will break out the full spice cabinet and spend a day cooking up a batch of mole. I follow a recipe that you can find from Rick Bayless that is almost identical to Diana Kennedy’s. It’s a labor of love. There can be as many as five different chili’s, three or four different nuts, tomatillo’s, onions, garlic, a list of ten or more spices, and chocolate each is treated individually. Then they are brought together and further cooked, blended, strained, and cooked some more before you even start on the meat. It’s well worth the effort. As with any slow cooked dish the end result has a unique depth of flavor and mouth feel that can’t be replicated.
The other day though I found a recipe on The Latin Kitchen that got me thinking. The result, our Chicken Mole Pronto, uses cold brewed coffee and one of our specialty chilis to mimic the depth of flavor. It’s not as good as the real stuff but it was surprisingly close.
1 4 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 pound of shitake mushrooms sliced (optional but highly recommended)
2 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
4-5 paste tomatoes peeled and coarsely chopped (or a small can of crushed tomatoes)
4 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I prefer Valrhona)
3 teaspoons of light brown sugar
2 tablespoons Night Kitchen Urfa Biber pepper (or a can of chipotle in adobo)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup cold brewed coffee
1/2 cup water
Preheat the oven to 300F
Put the Urfa Biber chili and salt into a small spice grinder and pulse until finely ground. The salt will help break apart the chili.
Saute the onions in olive oil until just turning translucent, about 6 or 7 minutes. Add in the tomatoes and cook for another 3-4 minutes or until the tomatoes start to break down. Add in the garlic and cook for another 45 seconds or until the garlic is fragrant. Stir in the cocoa powder, sugar, and ground chili mixture and mix well. Finish with the cold brew coffee and water. Bring everything to a boil and cook down by about 1/3. Finally, carefully add the sauce to a blender and puree until smooth.
Put the chicken in a single layer in a shallow pan that has a lid or can be covered. You need enough room to braise the chicken, the enameled cast iron pot works perfectly. Sprinkle the mushrooms around and then pour in the sauce. It should come about half way up the thickest part of the chicken. Cover and braise at 300F for 2 hours, basting the chicken after the first hour.
Serve over rice. You can also allow the chicken to cool and shred it off the bones and mix back in and use as a taco or burrito filling or maybe for a great chicken sandwich.
The two things that really make this special are the way the cold brew coffee blends with the cocoa powder to create the feel of a mole. The Urfa Biber pepper is indigenous to the Urfa region of Turkey, evolved from the Capsicum annuum chili stock brought by the Spanish from regions of Mexico in the mid 1500’s. These chilis are dried similar to vanilla – left out in sun during the day and wrapped tightly over night. It creates a unique, smokey, raisiney flavor that builds on the coffee and chocolate flavors.