Holy Molé

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.

27 thoughts on “Holy Molé”

    1. I didn’t keep track of the amounts. I just added what felt right.

      A simple molé would be something like this:

      1 cup nuts (almonds, pistachios, or pine-nuts would be best. Avoid bitter nuts.)
      1/2 cup raisins
      1 cup water

      Pureé those, then pour that off into a small pot or sauciér.

      Season with a tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of cumin, and a tablespoon of baking cocoa. Simmer until you have a thick gravy. Serve over a regular old chimichanga or burrito.

      That should be a pretty strong (yet nicely sweet) nut-and-cocoa flavor. Once you’ve figured out how to do THAT, raid the ingredient list above and knock yourselves out.

      –Howard “at least it’s not spelled ‘mölé'” Tayler

  1. Mmmm, Molé.

    Incidentally, I was looking at the Art Institute’s courses, and they offer a full culinary program online. I’m still considering taking some of those in ten years or so. 🙂

    1. I would love to take a set of cooking courses.

      I remember being an 18-year-old, self-trained, play-by-ear, rock-and-roll keyboardist, and deciding I wanted to major in music. Oh, the things I THOUGHT I knew all about…

      Taking a cooking course would be similar. I’d have to unlearn a bunch of stuff before I could make any progress. But THEN I’d cook circles around all y’all. Don’t make me beat you with this wooden spoon.

    1. Upon reflection, I’m not sure whether or not I used that. I know I used it in the marinade I made later that day, because my guest happened to be diabetic.

      Yeah… strike the Splenda from the list. Logically, there would have been no reason for me to use it, so I’m sure I wouldn’t have.

      –Howard

    2. I’ve cooked with it before. It’s an acceptable substitute, so long as you’re not counting on it caramelizing. A warning, though: baking Splenda, pourable Splenda, and packet Splenda are three different things, each with their own uses. Packet Splenda is just the sweetener, pure and simple. Don’t ever try to measure it by volume. Just assume 1 packet is equal to one teaspoon of regular sugar and plan accordingly. Pourable Splenda has an additive that brings its volume up to that of normal sugar. The additive is designed to sublimate in water, so don’t use it if your recipe can’t handle the fizzing. Baking Splenda is purable Splenda mixed half-and-half with sugar. It’ll work anywhere sugar will, but you’re still getting half the sugar you were using Splenda in place of.

  2. It’s a gift, all right. Rebecca is in love with the chupaqueso (“What is this again? Koopachoopa?”), and I still wish I knew how to prepare the chicken-and-au-jus sandwich you made for me when I lived in your basement.

    1. Chicken-and-au-jus… This is EASY, but you need a special tool: the Spanek vertical chicken roaster.

      1) Roast the chicken vertically in a pan with water, boullion, and onions. Do this according to the instructions that came with the Spanek roaster.

      2) Save the drippings in the pan — they’re the soup.

      3) Cut the chicken and put it into sammiches. Toast the buns for extra joy. Butter the toasted buns for bonus extra joy.

      4) Dip sammich in soup. Eat.

      –Howard

    1. *sigh*

      Pregnancy tests are often performed on urine. I’m exaggerating the nastiness of the bottled stuff by suggesting that it was made out of tar and urine.

      –Howard

  3. As an authentic Mexican I’d just like to say the recipe sounds terrifying.

    Unfortunately my own family’s mole recipes are even stranger with twice as many ingredients plus strange little rituals you’re supposed to do to make it come out right, not to mention risking the wrath of little old Mexican ladies if you even think about using a blender 

    And yes I have found that the best usage for store bought any mole is as interesting wood varnish.

  4. Try Lime Pickles

    there are not for the faint hearted

    To make 2 lbs (approx)

    20 Limes

    8 oz (225g) Salt

    20 Green chillies

    4 oz (125g) Chilli powder

    1 tbsp (15ml) Turmeric

    1 tbsp (15ml) Ginger paste

    1 ½ tsp (7.5ml) Aniseed powder

    1 tsp (5ml) Fenugreek seeds

    1 tsp (5ml) Asafoetida

    Method:

    Finely dice the limes (each half should be cut into 32 bits so mind your wickle pinkies)

    Finely chop the green chillies, if you are a wuss, leave out the seeds and the chilli powder.

    Mix everything except for the Asafoetida, Aniseed and Fenugreek together in a bowl and then pour into a plastic bag and seal. I use the nifty “ziplock” bags.

    Give this a good shake to make sure everything is thoroughly well coated. If you haven’t sealed the bag properly, pack bags and leave while you can still walk.

    If you are still alive and allowed to continue, give the bag a turn and a mix every couple of days. There is no need to refrigerate the bag. The idea is that it all starts to turn to slush.

    After a week blast the remaining 3 ingredients (Asafoetida, Aniseed and Fenugreek) in a coffee grinder and add these to the bag. Mix well and leave for another 3 to 4 days.

    Fill jars and screw on lids. If you’ve done this properly the jars should keep unopened for at least 3 months, in fact they benefit from remaining unopened for a month or so.

    Once opened I have carried on using the stuff for a couple of months with no ill effects. It’s up to you. Keep an eye on it and if it starts to go minging, dump it.

    Following this logic it pays to keep it in small jars not the great big Kilners I use. A small jam jar is sufficient unless your turnover is high. Dinner parties, cast iron stomach, death wish etc.

  5. BTW, “Another problem solved by the application of high explosives” makes me laugh and laugh. Because I have a sign on my desk at work that says “There is no problem that cannot be solved by a suitable application of high explosives”, and people look at me strange when they stop to read it.

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