Open Letter, August 20, 2005
Thursday I got the urge to do some experimental cooking. I’m no student of the culinary arts, but looking back at the results of this particular project, I think I have a gift.
I wanted to make molé (moh-lay) sauce. There’s a restaurant in downtown Salt Lake called The Blue Iguana that serves several different molé sauces, and on my current budget my hankering cannot be sated with a trip out to dinner. A few months back I went to the local mexi-mart and bought a bottle of something claiming to be molé sauce. It looked like someone had gotten sick in a jar of molasses, and it tasted awful. Chemical analyses later showed that something in the La Brea Tar Pits was, in fact, pregnant.
So I turned to my good friend in the culinary research field, Monsieur du Google, and dug up four molé recipes, each quite different. Apparently there’s more to the word “molé” than “sauce made of ground beans.”
Here’s where I begin to think I may possess a gift for this kind of work. I laid out all four recipes, and made a master list of their ingredients. I then substituted things that I figured would probably work in place of things we didn’t have (no almonds in the house, but we have walnuts and pistachio kernels, for instance). I then started gathering ingredients, and throwing them in the blender. I was just eyeballing it, but I could TASTE what was happening without putting things in my mouth. These flavors that I needed to blend together were familiar enough to me already that my brain engaged on some primal, channeling-the-tongues-of-the-ancients level, and I became a blending dervish.
My goal was to end up with two to four cups of experimental sauce. In tweaking the flavors, though, I kept having to add water to get things to blend, and by the time I was done I had a GALLON of pseudo-Mayan pureé bubbling away on the stove. I say tweaking — the flavor of the walnuts was wrong because the walnuts I used were NOT last year’s harvest from our tree out back. They were a harvest from Chalain’s inlaws back in 1998, and they’d gone bitter. Working THAT taste into something nummy took quite a bit of dilution, the addition of some sweetness and a bit of vinegar, and possibly the distant smile of Qetzlcoatl.
Sandra came home just in time for it to be done. She tasted a spoonful and declared it “pretty good.” Then she looked at how MUCH “pretty good” there was, and declared it “I think we need to make a dip out of this for the potluck this coming Saturday.”
So I poured it into some it’s-not-real-Tupperware boxes, and put it into the refrigerator to steep.
Friday morning I folded a tortilla around some grilled pork, poured a good half cup of Howard’s Holy Molé on it, grated some cheddar on top, and then cooked it authentic Mexican Restaurant Style — in the microwave (Note the wording: this is authentic to the style of local Mexican Restaurants, not authentic to the style of actual Mexicans, nor any other Central Americans of culinary distinction).
By the iridium of Chixculub, it was GOOOD. Three ‘o’s of good, at least.
You want the ingredients? Okay: In no particular order… onions, celery, canned pinto beans, home-bottled tomatoes and green chiles, crumbs from the bottom of a big bag of corn chips, olive oil, cheap balsamic vinegar, sugar, splenda, almost a cup of Hershey’s baking cocoa, pistachios, I-wish-I-had-picked-better-walnuts, raisins, garlic powder, basil, cumin, chili powder, and probably a quart of water.
I know, I know. You’re looking at that list and thinking “that’s NASTY.” That’s fine. More for me, pal.