Years in the Making

First and foremost, welcome new readers! I'm assuming you've clicked over from our Make It Better article, so welcome! I hope you enjoy my food-related ramblings! When I was in middle school, I had the most amazing Spanish teacher. Part of what made her and her class so amazing was that she didn't only teach us the nouns, verbs, and adjectives, but she made it her mission to teach us all about the culture behind the language we were learning. I have one specific memory, I can't remember if it was 7th or 8th grade, but at some point we learned about traditional Mexican food. When I say traditional, I don't mean the tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas we call Mexican food here in the United States. She taught us about menudo and sopes, posole and mole. I found it fascinating at the time that menudo had cow's stomach lining in it and that posole had corn that had been soaked in lye in it. The most fascinating thing though, was that mole, a savory dish, had chocolate in it. Yes, this kind of chocolate:
In early college, my parents discovered this "new Mexican place" downtown Chicago called Frontera Grill. As many of you know now, Frontera Grill is headed up by none other than Rick Bayless, winner of the first season of Top Chef Masters. One random weekend that I was home from school, we all went down to Frontera so my sister and I could check it out for ourselves. Upon looking at the menu, I saw it. For the first time in print on an actual menu, there it was. Not one, not two, but THREE different kinds of mole on the menu! Of course I ordered it, and I was in love! Any time I saw it on a menu after that dinner, I ordered it. I'd never had the guts to make it myself after I'd done a bit of research on how it's made. Authentic recipes have up to 27 different peppers, spices, herbs, and other ingredients, all roasted and ground individually, then cooked, ground again... it's quite a process. I got it in my mind though, that this weekend was it. I had to try my hand at making it! I researched, and found a slightly simplified version of none other than Rick Bayless' recipe online that seemed do-able. Not easy by any means, but do-able. I bought the ingredients, started at about 2 p.m. today and we ate at about 7 p.m. I was cooking most of this time... I believe I said at one point "I want to know more about the crazy Mexican woman that came up with this recipe!" But I did it. And it. Was. FANTASTIC!

mole rojo

Mole Rojo (Classic Red Mole) [source] Ingredients
3 medium (5 ounces) tomatillos, husked and rinsed 1/2 cup ( 2 1/2 ounces) sesame seeds About 1/2 cup lard or vegetable oil, plus a little more if necessary 6 medium (3 ounces) dried mulato chiles, stemmed and seeded 3 medium (about 1 1/2 ounces) dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded 5 medium (about 1 1/2 ounces) dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded 4 garlic cloves, peeled Scant 1/2 cup (2 ounces) almonds 1/2 cup (2 ounces) raisins Salt to taste 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground anise seed (optional) Scant 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground cloves 1 slice firm white bread, darkly toasted and broken into several pieces 1 ounce (about 1/3 of a 3.3-ounce tablet) Mexican chocolate, roughly chopped 4 to 5 tablespoons sugar 4 lbs. bone-in chicken breasts, or the same amount boneless turkey breast Sprigs of watercress or flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Directions 1. Set out all the ingredients. Spread the tomatillos on a baking sheet and roast them 4 inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast the other side, 4 or 5 minutes, until splotchy-black, blistered and soft. Set out 2 large bowls and scrape the tomatillos, juice and all, into one of them. Set out a pair of tongs and a slotted spoon. 2. In an ungreased, small skillet set over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds, stirring constantly until golden, about 5 minutes. Scrape 2/3 of them in with the tomatillos; set the rest aside for garnish. 3. Set a large (8- to 9-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela) over medium heat. Measure the lard or oil into the pot. Turn on an exhaust fan or open a window or door. Tear the chiles into flat pieces and, when the lard or oil is hot, fry the chiles, three or four at a time, flipping them constantly with the tongs, until their interior sides have changed to a lighter color, about 20 to 30 seconds total frying time. Don't toast them so darkly that they begin to smoke-that will make the mole bitter. As they're done, remove them to the empty bowl, being careful to drain as much fat as possible back into the pot. Remove any stray chile seeds left in the fat. Cover the toasted chiles with hot tap water and submerge a plate over them to ensure even rehydration. Let stand about 30 minutes. 4. With the pot still on the heat, fry the garlic and almonds, stirring regularly until browned (the garlic should be soft, the almonds browned through), about 5 minutes. With the slotted spoon, remove them to the tomatillo bowl, draining as much fat as possible back into the pot. Now, add the raisins to the hot pot. Stir with your slotted spoon for 20 to 30 seconds, until they've puffed and browned slightly. Scoop them in with the tomatillos, draining as much fat as possible back into the pot. 5. Raise the temperature under the pot to medium-high. Sprinkle all sides of the turkey breast halves with salt, then lay one half in the pot. Thoroughly brown it on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Remove to a clean plate; brown the other half in the same way. Cover and refrigerate if not completing Steps 3 and 4 within an hour or so. Set the pot aside off the heat. 6. Use tongs to transfer the rehydrated chiles to a blender, leaving the soaking liquid behind. Taste the soaking liquid, and, if it is not bitter, measure 2 1/2 cups into the blender. If it is bitter, throw the soaking liquid away and measure in 2 1/2 cups water. Blend the chiles to a smooth purée, adding a little extra water if necessary to keep the mixture moving through the blades. Press the chile mixture through a medium-mesh strainer back into the empty chile-soaking bowl. 7. Without washing the blender jar, scrape the tomatillo mixture into it. Add 1 cup water, along with the cinnamon, black pepper, anise (if you are using it,) cloves, bread, and chocolate. Blend to a smooth purée, again a little extra water if necessary to keep the mixture moving. Press through the strainer back into the tomatillo-mixture bowl. 8. Check the fat in the pot: if there's more than a light coating over the bottom, pour off the excess; if the pot's pretty dry, film the bottom with a little more lard or oil. Set over medium-high heat. When quite hot, scrape in the chile purée and stir nearly constantly until mixture has darkened considerably and thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, another 5 to 10 minutes. 9. Add 6 cups water to the pot and stir to thoroughly combine. Partially cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Check the consistency: the mole should be thick enough to coat a spoon, but not too quickly. If it's too thin, simmer it briskly over medium to medium-high heat until a little thicker; if too thick, stir in a little water. 10. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 3/4 tablespoons, and the sugar (if you're new to seasoning mole, keep in mind that it's a delicate balance of salty, sweet, and spicy; it's best to start with the minimum quantities suggested, then refine the seasoning just before serving). 11. Heat the oven to 325. Brown all sides of the chicken or turkey in a skillet. Place the chicken or turkey (turkey is more traditional) into the sauce, and cover. Cook in the oven, covered, about 35 minutes until meat is done. Remove the meat from the sauce, slice, and cover with a generous ladle of the sauce.

mole rojo


I have to say that I'm beyond proud of myself for successfully making this amazing mole rojo. It was just as richly flavored and complex as I remembered it being the first time I ate it. Now, it's not nearly as good as Rick Bayless' but, as Adam said, there'd be something wrong if it was quite as good as his! Will this be a regular thing for me to make? Absolutely not. It was far too time-consuming to make all the time. But, It was really fascinating to see the process firsthand. I found myself wondering how exactly it would be done without the luxury of an electric blender, gas stove and oven, and fine-mesh sieve.

It's taken me almost 20 years to build up the nerve to make this once, but rest assured that I'll be making another type of mole again soon!

Now, I do have to brag for a minute. I tweeted yesterday to Rick Bayless himself if he had any hints for me for making mole for the first time, not thinking he'd answer. Not only did he answer, but he gave me great advice:

Then, after my successful attempt today, I tweeted him again, showing off my picture and thanking him. He responded again!!
I feel like I've had a genuine brush with celebrity, and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy that there was approval. Now, to pack up the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, and revel in this amazing dish again... just another reason to #TGIM!
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27 Responses to Years in the Making

  1. omg omg Rick Bayless tweeted with you! I am so jealous!!!!

    That mole looks delicious and I want it now. Nowhere around me has mole on the menu. Guess I will have to try it too!

  2. MarathonVal says:

    Well I don’t usually care for mole, but one thing I do love is your photos! I swear, you make me want to dig in despite my mole aversion… job well done!

  3. Christina says:

    Ahhh congrats Mara! I’ve watched Rick make many a mole on Mexico One Plate at a Time but still don’t have the nerve to try it.

    I saw your tweets to him and was giddy for you! I remember back when we ate at Frontera and I cooked his fundido I tweeted him and he tweeted me back. I ran screaming into J and we both thought it was fantastically cool. I love that he interacts with his fans like that and is just a down-to-earth guy.

    The pictures look absolutely beautiful and I have to say, having never tasted mole, I’m a bit jealous! hehe
    .-= Christina´s last blog ..Empty Bowls Benefit =-.

  4. Lin says:

    Congrats on the mole success! I was super excited when you posted you were going to make mole because I had been talking to the boyfriend about making it ever since I saw Rick Bayless make it on tv. I watched the Top Chef Masters episode where Rick made his mole and I was totally taken aback by how much work was put into making it.
    .-= Lin´s last blog ..Lesson Learned the Hard Way =-.

  5. Melissa S. says:

    Great job w/ the Mole! I know it can be rather difficult to get right, and have it taste good to boot! yay!!!

    it looks amazing…and now i regret being a vegetarian. 😉
    .-= Melissa S.´s last blog ..Vegan Indulgence: Sublime Restaurant and Key Biscayne Running =-.

  6. I have never had mole, but it looks delish! I’m putting this on my weekend menu! Thanks!

  7. Jackie says:

    Mrs. Josephson! She was pretty awesome, wasn’t she?

    Yea on the mole adventure! All day cooking adventures are always fun (once in a while…)
    .-= Jackie´s last blog ..Fresh passion fruit =-.

  8. mimi says:

    fabuloso, daughter o”mine!

  9. Oh my gosh – I just had this little social media moment right now. So fabulous that Rick Bayless is a nice guy on Twitter – I can only imagine how awesome he must be in real life!

    That said, you certainly gave him a reason to re-tweet you. This looks absolutely phenomenal! I’ve had mole once before and couldn’t get over how rich and wonderful it is. Kudos to you for creating such a masterpiece 🙂

    Just read the piece on Make It Better, too! So wonderful! You deserve sincere praise for the time and dedication you put into your recipes, your friends and your blog. So excited for you!
    .-= Jenn (eating bender)´s last blog ..Madtown vs. Chitown =-.

  10. Oh and P.S. Thanks for the #TGIM link loveeeee!!
    .-= Jenn (eating bender)´s last blog ..Madtown vs. Chitown =-.

  11. Mama Pea says:

    I was watching your tweets yesterday…I’m so happy he tweeted at you. That mole looks insane (though kinda hard for me to make). 🙂
    .-= Mama Pea´s last blog ..Peas On Film: Vegan Energy Bars =-.

  12. AMazing! That is so cool he tweeted with you. I want some mole!
    .-= Jessica @ How Sweet It Is´s last blog ..Mother Lovett’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. =-.

  13. Lauren says:

    Girl, how do you do it? Seriously???? You make some of the best looking ethnic dishes I have ever seen!!! 🙂
    .-= Lauren´s last blog ..Trip to The Pantry, Dressing Up, Bowls of Veggies = Great Weekend! =-.

  14. That is SO cool that you tweeted with Rick Bayless!!! Awesome! You are so impressive in the kitchen! 🙂
    .-= Kelly @ Healthy Living With Kelly´s last blog ..Happy Saturday! =-.

  15. Biz says:

    I ate at Frontera Grill about once a week when I worked downtown – I haven’t been in 8 years!!

    Congrats on trying mole – I wonder if that’s something you could make a big batch of and can to have on hand??

    Happy Monday!
    .-= Biz´s last blog ..I’d like everyone . . . =-.

  16. Wow, that’s different. I’ve never heard of it, but it looks fantastic! I love when new recipes turn out well. 😀

    .-= Jenn (´s last blog ..Gloomy Sunday =-.

  17. Liz Barrett says:

    OMG – I’m dying! A) You are Tweeting with Rick Bayless – so jealous. B) You made mole! C) I just bought a shitload of dried peppers at a Mexican grocery last month, with the intention to make either cooked salsa OR mole and D) I’ am now so inspired by you that I am going to make it this coming weekend! Yey, Mara – you’re the best!
    .-= Liz Barrett´s last blog ..Fresh Spring Favorite: Zucchini Wrapped Fish Fillets =-.

  18. Melleah says:

    I’m so jealous you had a brush with fame :-)! Rick Bayless is my favorite TV chef– I finally bought one of his cookbooks a few months back and have been very happy with his recipes. Hat’s off to you for making a mole– that takes a lot of time and patience!
    .-= Melleah´s last blog ..Oh Peas! =-.

  19. How fun!! Rick Bayless tweeted you ?! That’s pretty cool 😀 I’ve only tried mole once, and I’m pretty sure that it was not made correctly… Need to try again, but this time at a place known for their mole 😉
    .-= Mary @ What’s Cookin’ with Mary´s last blog ..Blueberry Vanilla Protein Shake =-.

  20. Lele says:

    Omg you have a celebrity fan! Very cool.
    I have always wanted to make mole, and this looks like an awesomely unintimidating recipe. Thank you for posting it!
    I took an afterschool Spanish class in second grade, and at the end of it we had a fiesta and the teacher brought in Mexican food. Everyone else in the class was totally cool with the “Mexican hot chocolate” (which I think was basically chocolate milk) but I was the only one who ate the guacamole (because I’d had it at home and loved it!) because it was green and everyone else thought that was gross hahaha.

  21. kate says:

    Larabar kind of freaked me out with their Cocoa Mole flavor, but this makes me think I should give Mole another try! Now Im going to go google Rick Bayless.

  22. Marianne says:

    Mole is something I always order when I’m at a good Mexican restaurant, simply because I KNOW I don’t have the patience to make it myself. Good job!

  23. Holy Moly! That’s awesome that Rick Bayless answered your tweet! Great job on the mole! I’ve done all day cooking projects and the process is fun, but then when it takes 2 seconds to eat I sometimes wonder if its worth it, but then I think back to how much fun it was making it, and it IS worth it!

    I have a new weight loss success story on my blog today Mara, Lindsay has lost 116 pounds and looks AMAZING, so come check it out!

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