Mole Poblano is a sauce. It’s spicy, it’s chocolatey, it can be mild or hot depending on how you prepare it. It’s also one of my hubby’s favourite dishes and the dish most associated with Mexico.
Mole Poblano comes in little glass jars.* I used to be scared of things that came in little glass jars because I thought there was too much effort and difficulty involved in making something out of them.
Let me demystify these little glass jars for you!
Mole Poblano Sauce
Ingredients you’ll need:
Jar of Mole
Chicken or vegetable stock cube
Cream or sour cream
1/4-1/2 cup raw sugar
Once you open this little jar of magic, you’ll notice there’s a layer of oil coating the top. This doesn’t go in your sauce, though if a little gets in, it’s fine. It’s there to act as a preservative and to keep the paste, well, pasty. It’s sort of like adding olive oil to the top of opened containers of tomato paste so mould doesn’t grow on it. (I just learned that, how cool is that trick?!) Anyway, it may take a bit of effort to get a spoon in there and gouge some out. The oil is messy, btw. Don’t wear white while making this.
Pop some in a saucepan. The amount I have shown will make enough for 2 dishes and then some, depending on how much of it you want smothering your food. I like it suffocating.
Put it on the range with the smallest flame and set it to low. Add enough water to cover the bottom of your saucepan and add a chicken or vegetable stock cube. Massel brand is great and gluten-free. With a wooden spoon, as the saucepan heats, mash the mole paste so it starts to dissolve and incorporates the water. Add more water if it’s too thick or you think it’s going to burn. Once the water and stock is incorporated, you should have a nicely thick paste. From here, you’ll add the sour cream. Add anywhere between half a cup to a cup or more, depending on your taste. I’ve added about 3/4 of a cup of sour cream to mine. Then add about 1/3rd a cup of raw sugar and keep stirring until everything has dissolved. Taste. Is it too spicy? Add more cream. Not sweet enough? Add more sugar a tablespoon at a time.
What you should have now is a rich smelling, nicely thick, chocolatey, spicy yet mild and delicious mole poblano sauce. Serve it on top of cooked chicken, either breast or pieces and/or by itself on top of refried beans and Spanish rice for a vegetarian delight (with the vegetable stock instead of chicken stock cubes.) Top with sesame seeds, avocado slices, fresh cilantro (coriander) and thin slices of onion. You can top it with even more sour cream as well should you desire to. Stir it around. Combine flavours. Experiment. Live a little.
*Note: Okay, Mole Poblano doesn’t ALWAYS come in glass jars, but there are over a dozen ingredients that need to be roasted, prepped, ground together in a molcajete that it’s easier to buy the glass jar that has everything in perfect proportions already.
My long awaited tamales recipe, I hope, is worth the wait. It’s been quite a ride trying to source ingredients and hone techniques — and I’m still learning, but hopefully this effort will prove worthy.
For those who don’t know, tamales are a a whole package dish. Usually made with a savoury filling inside a corn-based dough, inside a leaf wrapper and steamed until tender yet firm. They can be made sweet with sultanas throughout and the dough can be coloured with food dyes. They can be served with sides in a meal or eaten alone. The wrapper is not eaten.
Tamales are a food as old as civilisation and as such, there are many recipes and varieties. The version I’m going to share with you, I can honestly, unbiasedly (maybe) say (as I have sampled MANY over my lifetime) are one of the best out there. Growing up, I remember begging mom to make these each winter holiday every year and waiting eagerly and impatiently for them to be ready. I know mine aren’t nearly as good as hers are, but someday I hope they will be close.
Traditionally, the masa (dough) is made with a special, granular corn flour (not the kind you can easily get at the grocery store) and lard. However, as lard isn’t health-friendly, my mom would make these with vegetable oil and they came out DELICIOUSLY and even better than the lardy ones.
These aren’t a “I feel like tamales, let me whip them up quickly” dish. These are usually planned ahead of time. Sometimes portions, like the meat and mole, are prepared a day ahead of time and then made in large batches with the whole family participating in the prep work.
For the filling, slow cooked beef with ancho mole is what I recommend. Slow cook the meat and prep the sauce the previous day if it’s easier, and refrigerate until ready to use. Also, save the beef broth from the meat and use it to give the masa a really rich flavour.
tall stock pot with deep steamer insert
If using corn husks, begin by soaking them now in warm water to rehydrate them so they’re pliable for folding later on. They should soak for at least 20 minutes. Put some water into your tall steamer, making sure no water is coming through and get that boiling.
The ratio for masa is 1 part corn flour, 1 part vegetable oil and about 3/4 parts broth with salt to taste. It may seem like too much liquid to dry part, but given time to soak, the flour will absorb it all until you get the desired consistency. I used 1 cup corn flour, 1 cup oil and broth for the ones in these photos and it made about a dozen large tamales. Begin with all the flour in a large mixing bowl and slowly add the oil. Mix and begin adding your broth. Once it starts to get thick, continue mixing with your hand. You’re looking for a toothpaste consistency. Add oil, broth and salt until consistency and flavour is achieved. Nothing is worse than a dry, gritty tamale!
Once you have the consistency right, spoon some across your drained, softened corn husks and flatten. Spoon a small portion of your meat and mole mixture into the center and fold the two corners in so that the masa is touching itself forming a seal, enveloping the meat and mole and then fold the bottom, pointy end of the husk up and pinch the top closed. Store flipped with the heaviest part keeping the pointy flap down until ready for steaming. It’s okay if they’re a bit leaky. Still with me?
Once they’re wrapped, carefully place into the steamer with the open ends facing up. Some people like to tie either end with twine like an old fashioned candy, but I’m lazy, that’s more work and this works just as well. Depending on how many you’ve done, you may need to steam them in batches. They should sit comfortably without crowding each other or some might not steam properly and might not set in time.
If you don’t have a steamer insert, you can use an inverted metal colander that will fit inside your tall stock pot. There should be about 5-6cm of water at the bottom for steaming.
Cover the tamales with a damp tea towel and lid. Steam for about an hour to two hours depending on the size of your batch, on a low boil. Check periodically to make sure there’s still water.
Once done, test the masa to see if it has set. When the tamale pulls away from the husk, they’re ready. They should be soft and firm and may need to rest for several minutes before serving. Unwrap and serve with your favourite sides. They will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge, if they last that long. Reheat in the microwave wrapped in a damp cloth or paper towel to prevent drying. I wouldn’t recommend freezing these.
Alternatives: Instead of corn husks, some people use banana leaves and form them in a square, tied with twine. I have yet to try them with dry banana leaves, only the wet, pre-packaged ones. My results were that they were difficult to wrap as they split very easily and steaming them took several batches.
I first tried making tamales here with banana leaves that we found vacuum packed at our local Chinese grocer. I can honestly say I wasn’t happy with the results and missed the days in the San Fran Bay Area of being able to go to the local mercado and buy a massive bag full of corn husks for under $5.
I eventually did find a source for dried corn husks in Sydney here, however you only get a handful for $5. If anyone knows of somewhere else I can purchase them, please let me know! I have tried drying my own, but the commercial corn, even when sold in husks at markets has most of the larger leaves, which are the best for tamales, already removed.
Ancho chillies are a popular dried variant of a poblano chile. Both are used in numerous Mexican dishes. The ancho is usually used in sauces, and the fresh poblanos in dishes such as chile rellenos or chiles en nogada. The flavour of the ancho chile itself can range from spicy to mild. This sauce, however, yields a pleasantly mild, savoury sauce.
The recipe I’m about to divulge (as previously, it was a closely guarded family secret, sorry mom and dad) is fairly easy to make, delicious and can be used in many dishes that I’ll suggest at the end.
Ancho chile sauce
ancho chile pods
salt to taste
choice of herb seasonings to taste
fine mesh sieve/strainer
The texture of a good ancho chile pod I find is like fruit leather; dry, but pliable and slightly sticky. You’ll want to begin by cutting off the stems, slicing the pod open and deseeding it. Open the pod so it can lay as close to flat on either side.
Heat a small frying pan and add a little bit of vegetable oil to coat. Fry each side of the pod briefly until it turns red. Some pods go bright, others just a dark brown depending on freshness. You don’t want to let it linger in the pan or the taste of your sauce will turn bitter.
The true secret to a delicious sauce is to soak them in very hot chicken broth or stock, or pour boiling water over the chillies and then add chicken stock. Soak them for 15-20 minutes or until they go soft. Then let them cool enough to blend and use a blender has a rubber seal or you’ll have liquid flying everywhere. (Note: this may or may not be from experience.)
Pour the mixture into a pan through a fine wire mesh sieve and use a spoon to push the liquid through. What you’re doing here is straining all the pulp and liquid, but not letting any of the skins into your sauce.
Put the strained sauce over low heat to reduce and season to taste. Add enough salt to take the bitterness away. (Take care here that if you add salt and taste, be sure the salt is fully incorporated before you decide it needs more otherwise you’ll end up with a VERY salt sauce.) If you desire an even thicker sauce, you can temper in an egg yolk or add a teaspoon of corn starch at a time and whisk until the desired thickness is achieved. It will also thicken some upon cooling and will thicken if added to any meats.
Some herb seasoning suggestions: cumin, granulated garlic.
Once it’s reduced, you can add it to any savoury dish for a rich, delicious flavour. It’s good with chicken over Spanish rice, with a slow cooked shredded or cubed beef over rice, or pork as a red sauce for enchiladas or in tamales!
I hope you enjoy this recipe. It really is delicious enough to not share.
Where to buy:
I’ve seen some in the deli section of the Queen Vic Markets, Casa Iberica has them sometimes, as does Oasis Bakery. See the Where to Buy page.