The magic of mole (Poblano)

It may not have the easy palate appeal of a Mole Verde or Green Mole, but when it comes to complexity, ancient culinary ingenuity, and chocolate, few have mastered it as beautifully as Chocolate Mole.

Mole to Mexican food is what curries are to Indian cuisine, especially mother sauces across India. They are labour intensive, time consuming and while their presence may not be so noticeable at first, the lack of it, definitely is. “In fact,” says Chef Vikas Seth (Culinary Director, Sanchez), “mole in Mexico is like the sonnet to the culinary opera – it is slathered on the tortillas, drizzled on taquito, is the base to all vegetable and meat dishes and even the secret sauce in barbacoa. No trip to Mexico is complete without trying one or four of the dozens-odd moles that are popular in Mexico City – trudge onto Oaxaca, one of the two capitals of mole making, and you would be inundated with a whole new series of this chilli-based curry aside from the seven iconic moles the place made popular.”

Chocolate mole
The Chocolate Mole is paired with chicken at Sanchez and takes a good few hours to prepare. Unlike the sweetness we generally associate with chocolate, the Mexican way is to pair the bitter taste of chocolate with chillies, tomatoes, spices and nuts.

What adds to the mole experience is that each restaurant, shack, and street side has not just their own recipe of making mole but have it available on tap for anyone to ask for as many helpings. Such is the fascination with mole that it is almost an undeniable symbol of pride for every Mexican, and no trip to this ancient civilisation is complete without one taking a liking to at least one or two of the moles and even learning the art of making one, says the Mexican food specialist. His own fascination with mole and training began with his visit to Oaxaca where he learnt two revered forms of mole – the black mole and Oaxaca special Chocolate Mole, a variant that is revered not just for the number of ingredients it uses (nearly 20), but also the technique and the taste, which, admits Chef Seth, needs to be acquired. And yet, thanks to its classic pairing with chicken – which is how it is served in Sanchez as part of their special menu – Chocolate Mole has found its audience on the world platform including Chef Seth. Even now, he does the first roasting of spices and nuts for the sauce that easily takes about four good hours to be ready – and this includes an hour of resting it that helps all the flavours of chillies, tomatoes, spices and nuts (that is added in the second stage) to incorporate well before it is finished with the traditional dark Mexican chocolate. And still the rich, velvety chocolate hue with that shine is the work of the chillies that are used in making the sauce while the first taste notes are the work of the chocolate – which is the same as is used in Mexican hot chocolate and is bitter and spicy to taste, much like how Aztec King Montezuma II loved and patronised it.

Chef vikas seth
Chef Vikas Seth’s fascination with mole began when he visited Oaxaca to train. He picked up two revered forms of mole – the black mole and Oaxaca special Chocolate Mole.

But is the use of chocolate the only defining factor of this mole? It is one of the fascinating aspects of Mole Poblano, admits Chef Seth, who finds the dish the only savoury one where chocolate – the one enjoyed before the Europeans turned it sweet – is celebrated in such a big way. In fact, the chocolate mole served in Sanchez has 20 per cent of its taste coming from bitter chocolate followed by a collection of nuts (especially soaked almonds), corn tortillas and a selection of chillies which includes the Anchos for sweetness, Chipotle for that smoky-spiciness, Pasilla for complexity and Guajilo for the aroma, flavours and the body and that distinct heat from Arbol. Fascinatingly, most chocolate moles (and others too) in Mexico use three of the above-mentioned chillies because of the brilliant way each of these chillies complement each other to create a sauce that showcases the various other tasting notes of chillies other than the heat it is mostly associated with. The use of all of them, as the story goes, was first done by the nuns of Santa Rosa convent in Puebla in the 17th century. Lore has it that the Mole Poblano was created quite by accident when they heard of the impending visit of Juan de Palafox, Viceroy of New Spain and Archbishop of Puebla. While historians and legacy chefs are divided on the real “origin” of mole, there is little confusion, says Chef Seth, “on the chocolate mole and how it is revered as one of the master sauces in Mexican cuisine.”

“What makes this mole so fascinating,” he continues, “is every single aspect of what goes into making it: whether it’s the gradual layering of flavours (first it’s chillies, tomatoes and spices, then it’s the mixed nuts paste and then the chocolate) to create a rich, nuanced sauce; the composition where each and every ingredient including the Indian pepper and corn tortillas have a defined role to play in the sauce; or the use of the original Aztec style chocolate – a good quantity of it – to create the mole that in texture and flavour is, to put it simply, the creation of a brilliant, intuitive mind.”

And that is what makes Chocolate Mole such a classic.

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