Forget the notion that mole is a chocolate sauce: It’s actually a complicated blend of chilis, spices, herbs, and nuts (and, sure, chocolate). Oliver Le Calvez, chef de cuisine at new Mexican restaurant El Catrin, shows us what goes into his sweet, fiery mole negro.
The chilies: Le Calvez uses a blend of four kinds of dried chilies, and might swap in ancho or chihuacles, depending on what he can get shipped from Mexico. In this case, fresh isn’t best: Dried chilies are preferred because they have a stronger heat and a smoky flavour.
The nuts: Almonds, peanuts, and walnuts are ground up in a blender to add oil to the mole, giving it a smooth, creamy finish. Back in Mexico, Le Calvez would crush nuts and spices with a metate (a slab of volcanic rock) and a mano (a grinding stone shaped like a rolling pin).
Pumpkin-seed peel: Called pepitas in Mexico, pumpkin seeds are a big part of the national cuisine and often roasted as a snack.
Day-old baguette: Leftover bread acts as a thickener and binding agent without adding a competing flavour to the mole.
The spices: Le Calvez prefers Mexican cinnamon (or canella), which has a more delicate and earthy taste than its common cousin. “I don’t like the regular kind that much—it tastes like medicine.” He’s similarly partial to Mexican peppercorns (somestimes called Jamaican peppercorn), which has less heat than the conventional peppercorns grown in southeast Asia.
Tomatoes: All produce is first dried and roasted in an oven before it’s added to the pot. An abuela (grandma) in Mexico would probably prefer to do it the old-fashioned way and dry them out in the sun, but that would take two weeks. From start to finish, the mole negro comes together in four hours.
The chocolate: No, it’s not like tossing a Hershey bar into the pot. Chocolate from the Oaxaca state in southern Mexico is prized for its bitter finish (it’s 70 per cent cacao) and slight cinnamon notes. “A mole negro has to have chocolate,” says Le Calvez. “It rounds out the sauce and combines all the sweet and bitter flavours from the other ingredients.”
The finished mole: All the ingredients—save the chocolate and some shortening—are roasted until they blacken and develop a smoky aroma. They’re then thrown into a pot of chicken stock along with tomato paste, red wine, and a mirepoix (sautéed onions, celery, and carrots) and simmered down to a thick, almost syrupy consistency. The chocolate is added at the very end before everything is pureed into a smooth black sauce. At El Catrin, the fragrant mole is used for braising beef short ribs for a full 24 hours, before the dish is finished with sweet potato purée and sautéed sugar snap peas.
El Catrin, 18 Tank House Ln., 416-203-2121.