My friend Nere mentioned to me that she’d be spending two days this week preparing mole for her daughter’s graduation ceremony at the primary school. I asked her if I could come and watch and she agreed immediately. Take pictures? Sure! Write about it? Of course. I owe this woman an entire entry devoted to her awesomeness, but for now I’ll be keeping it to mole: the signature sauce of Mexico.
When I need to explain curry to our Mexican kitchen helpers, I usually call it a “mole de India” – an Indian mole. Conversely, mole could be described as a “Mexican curry”. Mole, prepared correctly, is a sauce that has a flavor so intricate that no one ingredient can be tasted individually. There are countless variations. The one prepared by Nere and her family is called mole casero.
If you are ever served mole in Mexico you can guess it is either a holiday, a gesture honoring you or others as guests, or a very special occasion. The labor intensive aspect of preparing mole makes it practical for large batches: for weddings, quinceañeras, baptisms, or graduations. If you are going to go to the trouble of making a nice mole sauce, you might as well make it for a crowd.
So last night Brian and I walked to the village to watch her prepare the chiles and ingredients for a huge batch of mole. When we arrived, Nere and her friends had laid out all the ingredients they intended to work with as they knew we wanted to photograph. Have I mentioned how awesome this woman is?
The big cazuela was heating in the back room, ready for working with the chiles, nuts, and spices. Cazuelas are traditional clay pots used because they impart better flavor to sauces and stews. Nere added shortening to the pot and then began lightly frying the dried chiles, a few at a time, for just about 30 seconds.
After the chiles, the rest of the ingredients were also lightly fried or toasted. The peanuts went in first, emitting a pretty amazing smell into the room. She finished up with sesame seeds: in all she was working with over 25 ingredients!
After all of the ingredients had been prepared, they are left to sit overnight. This allows the chiles to become even softer before they are brought to the molino – the town grinder.
This morning we woke up at 5:30am to wearily join her as she (and we) lugged buckets of corn and the mole ingredients to the grinder.
El molino is open every morning of the week. This morning it was busy – filled with women preparing their own mole ingredients for the party – 5 students graduated, so 5 mothers each made a batch of mole. Along with the mole, every morning women bring corn to the town grinder to be ground up into masa – corn dough used for fresh tortillas. The corn was processed first. The señora who runs the grinder makes sure the corn drops through correctly, and each woman collects their own masa down below.
After all of the corn had been ground, the mole ingredients could be processed. First, each woman ground their nut and spices mixture. Then the chiles went through. El molino does such a nice job grinding the ingredients that the result is a completely smooth sauce.
Meanwhile, Nere’s mother had been preparing a chicken broth with the pieces of chicken that would not be eaten with the mole. I was offered a bowlful of steaming broth and a chicken foot. While I appreciate that we should use every part of the animal, I’m not at the point where I can eat a foot. Not yet.
The broth is combined with both the ground chiles and the ground spices to thin into a sauce. The cazuela was being warmed again, ready to finish off the batch of mole. The room we had used the night before was now very smoky – I couldn’t stand in the room for long, but the women cooking are accustomed to smoky conditions and didn’t seem bothered. The stove area was being used to make fresh tortillas, and two small fires were made on the ground. One for rice, and one for the mole.
Shortening is added to the cazuela until it is very hot, and then the nut and spice mixture goes in to fry. This method of frying is common in Mexican cooking, and imparts a different flavor into sauces than you might get if you slowly simmer a tomato sauce for pasta.
The spices are cooked, stirring constantly, for nearly a half hour before adding the chiles.
And we have mole!
Nere served her mole over nice pieces of chicken, accompanied by two types of sopa de arroz (Mexican style rice).
The result was amazing. The hours of work that had gone into the preparation paid off – mole is truly a wonderful way to eat in celebration. Each family served their batch of mole to their family and friends, along with some other snacks (we had fresh corundas – steamed corn dumplings).
The graduating class was all girls this year, and they wore matching dresses and decorated the area with pink balloons. Nere’s daughter, Patty, with her friends from her class:
And the chef, Nere, with her husband Chilino (proud parents!):
Finally, the list of ingredients in Nere’s mole:
- Chile pasilla
- Chile negro
- Chile molata
- Chile moreliano
- pumpkin seeds
- sesame seeds
- leaf of an avocado tree
- Mexican oregano
- chicken broth
- bolillos (bread)
- hoja santa
- vegetable shortening
- black pepper
- all spice
27 ingredients, and a lot of love and labor, makes for a fine mole casero.