Chocolate hazelnut chicken mole – hints of dark chocolate and toasted nuts, touch of sweetness, and layer upon layer of complex flavors that blend into this sublime mole sauce, spooned over cooked chicken.
Chocolate + chicken?! Oh, yes, please!
This is my take on Mexico’s iconic sauce, the mole. As presumptuous as it may seem, for a non-Mexican to modify the national dish, the task was actually not as hard, and the result was spectacular (at least in my modest non-Mexican opinion).
Moles come in various flavors, and colors, and as many recipes, as there are home cooks and chefs. Probably due to the sheer number of ingredients (some boasting more than 20), or simply the fact that it’s one of the country’s most destinguished meals, the mole recipes are so different, some varying drastically in the main ingredients and quantities, that it’s impossible to pin-point what a true mole is.
Despite the countless variations, the moles have one thing in common – dry chile peppers. It’s usually a medley of at least 2-3 varieties of mild and spicy, earthy and fruity chiles, plus lots of warm spices to balance the heat, and often toasted ground nuts, and seeds are added for an incredible depth of flavor.
My idea of mole, and perhaps the most popular of all moles, is the dark brown, richly spiced, chocolate spiked mole, also known as Mole Poblano. Adding chocolate to a savory sauce has always had a strong pull, and almost a mysterious aura for me. Maybe because before I even tasted it, I ‘experienced’ the mole for the first time through the pages of a book I read long ago – Like Water for Chocolate.
It was that almost sensual description of preparing the mole sauce, with its seductive aromas from roasting and grinding the nuts and spices, and the intriguing addition of bitter-sweet chocolate, that captured my imagination and curiosity. It takes more than one person, and days to prepare, yet somehow the process doesn’t seem tedious, but feels more like a ritual in the book. Really, what can be so complicated that it needs a few days, and a few people, one might wonder!? Of course this takes place in a small Mexican village, at the beginning of the last century, so everything is homemade and manually done around the kitchen, but to this day, the mole has remained notorious for being extremely laborious and hard to make.
In reality, with the help of a blender and a spice grinder, the mole is really nothing more complicated than a chicken pot pie, let’s say (even easier). The hardest part for me was finding the right peppers and even though I didn’t get all the right ones, substituting worked perfectly fine.
Usually a variety of nuts are used to thicken and enrich the mole – almonds and/or peanuts most often, in combination with pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds, but I decided to concentrate the flavor by using only one type of nut – hazelnuts. Not only hazelnuts are my favorite nut, but also for me, nothing goes better with chocolate than hazelnuts.
If you’ve tried mole at a restaurant and you weren’t impressed, you are not alone. That was my first experience too. But I kept the vision of that mole from the book in my head, and I thought making it at home will do the trick. Let me just say – it deserves its fame, and lives up to its name a hundred times over, and if you really want to experience a mole, make it at home!
I decided to take a middle-of-the-road approach to making the mole. While I kept the list of ingredients as close to the traditional as possible, I mostly shortened the procedure. Where the recipe calls for frying separately nuts and seeds, I streamlined it by dry toasting all spices together, and using pre-roasted hazelnuts.
The whole meal comes together in a little over an hour, if you plan it strategically – not bad at all, I’d say. While waiting for the dry peppers to soak in hot water for 30 minutes, you can let your chicken boil on the stove, and your veggies roast in the oven. While that happens, you can toast and grind the spices, and nuts, and then blend all into the most sublime, velvety smooth sauce, with a hint of chocolate and toasted hazelnuts, a touch of sweetness, and a nice peppery hot sensation at the back of your throat. Somehow, all these different spices and sweet and savory flavors meld together into the most intricate, yet so harmonious sauce you’ve ever tasted. I couldn’t stop tasting and straight out eating it with a spoon. You just need to experience all the different layers upon layers of flavor built into it – at first bite, you may feel the heat, at the second you taste the earthy, slightly acidic peppery taste, and at the third bite, you are hit with the chocolate and nutty notes. Then you want to do it all over again, because you felt something else…something warm – maybe the cinnamon, or was it the cloves? Or maybe it was the barely there aniseed licorice flavor…it reveals itself at every bite so sample it slowly.
It’s a good thing the recipe makes 4-5 cups of sauce. You can spoon it over your favorite meat. Chicken is most often used, but it would be fantastic over carnitas too. You really don’t need to worry about spicing the chicken too much, because it will be slathered in sauce, and the sauce will take over its identity completely. I basically boiled the chicken in broth, until almost done, then finished cooking it in the sauce.
Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Chocolate hazelnut chicken mole - hints of dark chocolate and toasted nuts, touch of sweetness, and layer upon layer of complex flavors that blend into this sublime mole sauce, spooned over cooked chicken.
- 1 plum tomato
- 2 tomatillos
- 1 onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 oz mulato chiles (3-4)
- 1 oz guajillo chiles * (4-5)
- 1 Tbs ancho chile powder
- 1/4 oz chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 3 Tbs raisins
- 3 Tbs toasted sesame seeds
- 1 cup toasted hazelnuts
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 4 whole cloves
- 4 allspice berries
- 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/4 tsp aniseed
- 1/4 tsp black peppercorns
- 3 oz Mexican chocolate or very dark chocolate
- 3-4 cups chicken broth (reserved from cooking the chicken)
- salt to taste
- 3 quarts water (10-12 cups)
- 10 chicken drumsticks
- 2 carrots
- 1 onion
- 3 celery stalks
- 1 bay leave
- 1/2 Tbs whole peppercorns
- salt to taste
- cooked rice, chopped cilantro, , chopped hazelnuts
Prepare the chicken broth: Chop the carrots, celery and onion, and throw in a large pot with the rest of the broth spices and chicken drumsticks. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
While the chicken is cooking, prepare the chiles: Slice the dry chiles open, and remove the stems, veins and seeds. Pour hot water over them until completely covered, add the raisins, and leave to soak for 30 minutes.
While the chiles are soaking, prepare the veggies: Roughly chop the onion, tomatoes and tomatillos, mix with 2 tbs of olive oil, and salt, and broil at 500 °F. After 10 minutes, throw in the unpeeled garlic cloves as well, and continue to broil for another 10 minutes or until veggies are nicely charred.
While the veggies are roasting, prepare the nuts and spices: In a dry skillet, toast the whole spices - cloves, allspice, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, aniseed, sesame seeds - for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a spice mill, and grind.
Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until they resemble a fine meal (but before they turn into butter).
Drain the chiles, and raisins, and transfer to a blender.
Take the veggies from the oven, peel the garlic, and add to the blender.
Add to the blender: the ancho chile powder (if using), the chipotle pepper, the ground cinnamon, the ground hazelnuts, ground spices and sesame seeds, and 2 cups of the chicken broth. Process until smooth.
Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a deep stove pot, and add the sauce + 1 cup of the chicken broth. Cook for a few minutes, stirring continuously, and drop the chopped dark chocolate. Stir until completely melted.
Transfer the chicken drumsticks to the sauce, and cook for another 10 minutes on low heat.
If the sauce becomes too thick, add more chicken broth.
Serve with chopped cilantro, and chopped hazelnuts, sliced avocado, or a bowl of rice.
* The most traditional trio of chiles used in dark moles is ancho, pasila and mulato, all of them are meaty and black when dried, and mildly spicy. I used ancho chile powder instead of a chile, and guajilo chiles in place of the pasila. If you have all three chiles on hand, use 4 mulato chiles, 2 ancho chiles, and 3 pasila chiles.