When I think of “Comfort Food,” my thoughts turn to my childhood and family gatherings on Bagley Street in Detroit. Grandma and Little Grandpa’s Victorian home was always filled with the smell of something cooking. Grandma was always present in her kitchen and that is where she reigned. Making something to eat for anyone who was hungry. It could be as simple as a warmed corn tortilla with a spoonful of sour cream and a sprinkling of salt folded up as a snack or Menudo made by the gallons for our family gatherings after a Sunday mass. These are the food of my memories and my Grandma and Mexican roots. True Mexican comfort food.
What are the foods or recipes that connect you to your family’s history?
For me and my family, it is the food and recipes that were passed on to my mother by my father’s mother. My Grandma, her heritage and her Mexico. There is nothing that can transport me back to my early memories of childhood like the recipes and foods that my Grandma made. I knew I was loved by her through her food. My cultural connection to my father side of the family runs deep through these recipes. Chicken Mole is one of those recipes for me.
Though my Grandma’s Chicken Mole recipe consisted of simple ingredients. Chicken, water, celery, onion, bay leaf, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, clove, cinnamon, salt, black pepper, and a slurry of water and flour to thicken the mole. The key ingredient was time. Time to let the mole slowly cook and reduce and for the chicken stew and the spiced gravy to develop the deep rich flavors of the mole that warmed our mouths and our hearts. I’ve made my Grandma’s mole this way for many years. Learning the recipe from my mom and my own taste memory. Tasting along the way, adjusting the ingredients to develop those same flavors I remember from childhood.
The tradition of making Chicken Mole in my family always included my Grandma’s Mexican Rice and Potato Salad. You might be asking yourself “Potato Salad isn’t Mexican, right?” and yes, you would be right, but my Grandma knew its cooling effect to the spicy hot flavors of her Chicken Mole. The approach to her recipes was and are very simple and direct. Letting the true flavors of the food sing out and wrap around our hearts and bellies.
One of my most profound memories of eating Chicken Mole took place at the home of my aunt and uncle who lived just blocks away from my grandparents home. The wedding reception of my older cousin Theresa. My Aunt Jenny’s and Uncle Richard’s only daughter. I think I was about 6 or 7. Back then it was the families job and duty to make the food for celebrations of life. I don’t remember if I was even at the wedding, but I do remember eating my plate of Mexican comfort food. Being one of the little ones at the reception we got our food first. On my plate was a mound of Mexican Rice topped with a piece of chicken and smothered in the mole sauce and next to it was a spoonful of potato salad. I dove right in, scooping up that first satisfying bite of chicken, mole sauce, and Mexican rice. The flavor enveloping in my mouth and senses with the spicy, smokey, richly flavored mole sauce and tender and succulent chicken. Then came the hit of heat from the chiles. I moved to the potato salad to cool and tame the spiciness. Then back to the chicken mole and Mexican rice. I proceeded until my plate was clean and my tummy full of that delicious marriage of ingredients. Soon afterward I found myself and us “little kids” being herded into my aunt and uncle’s bedroom to go to sleep for the evening. The sounds of music, family, and friends celebrating slowly fading away in the background as I drifted off to sleep full, happy, and loved.
I still utilize the same ingredients to making Chicken Mole but my approach has changed a bit over the years. Using whole spices and combination of dried chiles. I toast the whole spices in a dry pan to deepen the smokey flavor and then ground. The onions, garlic, and fresh poblanos (anchos are dried poblanos) are glazed with olive oil and placed under the broiler to char and roast for a fire roasted flavor. The dried chilies are simmered in chicken stock to plump up and hydrate. Then the mole ingredients are blended until a smooth puree and then strained to remove all the chili seeds, skins, and vegetable fibers. The chicken is browned in olive oil to caramelize the skin and leaving behind the sucs or fond on the bottom of the pan. Then is de-glazed with the mole puree. The mole is sautéed in the reserved chicken fat to marry and cook out the raw flavors of the spices and reduce before the chicken stock is added. In place of water, I use chicken stock to bump up the richness of the chicken flavor. Thighs and legs go in first before the breast pieces. Simmering the chicken for another hour until the chicken tender and just about to fall off the bone. In place of the slurry of water and flour. I use some of the chicken stock and blend it with Masa Harina to make a slurry to thicken the sauce and add extra richness.
Chicken Mole is a food of celebration, made by the gallons for birthdays, anniversaries, parties, holidays, and weddings. The recipe for Chicken Mole calls for 2 chickens weighing 5 to 6 pounds each. You can make this recipe using 1 chicken if you like. I would encourage you to make the full recipe for the Mole Puree and divide it in half after you have strained it. Freezing half of the Mole Puree for another time you’ll make Chicken Mole. All you’ll need to do is thaw the Mole Puree in the refrigerator and pick up the recipe at “Assembling the Mole.”
To find the whole spices and dried chilies you might have to make a special trip to a Hispanic grocery store. I found the chiles at my local Mexican Market, Dos Hermanos Market in downtown Ypsilanti. Look for chiles that are whole, dried evenly, flexible, and even in color with no blemishes. All the other ingredients like Masa Harina will be available almost all grocery stores.
The full instructional video for Chicken Mole is at the bottom of this blog post. Please visit my YouTube Channel and “LIKE” and “SUBSCRIBE” for this and more cooking and baking videos!
- 8 qt. Large Cooking Pot or Dutch Oven with Lid
- 12-inch Saute Pan
- Sheet Pan (lined with Aluminum Fold)
- Wooden Spatula
- Cutting Board
- Chefs Knife
- Spice Grinder
- Double Mesh Strainer
- 2 qt. Bowl
- Amount and Ingredient
- 1 Large White Onion (peeled and cut into 4 pieces)
- 2 Fresh Poblano (stem and seeds removed and halved)
- 1 Head of Garlic (separated into cloves with skins on)
- 4 Dried Ancho Chiles (stems removed)
- 2 Dried New Mexican Chilies (stems removed)
- 2 Dried Guajillo Chilies (stems removed)
- 2 Dried Pasilla Chilies (stems removed)
- 2 Dried Chile De Arbol
- 1 Quart Chicken Stock
- 2 Tbsp. Cumin Seeds
- 1 Tbsp. Coriander Seeds
- 4 Whole Cloves
- 1 Cinnamon Stick 3-inches (broken up)
- 1/2 tsp. Whole Black Pepper
- 2 large Bay Leaf (or equivalent, crushed)
- 2 tsp. Mexican Oregano
- 1 – Tomatoes, 15 oz. cans (Fired Roasted if possible)
- 4 stalks of Celery (coarsely chopped)
- 3 tsp. Sea Salt (fine)
- 1 Quart of Chicken Stock (homemade or good quality low sodium)
- 2 Whole Chicken (5 1/2 to 6 pounds, cut into 10 pieces with skin on, cut chicken breast in half)
- Olive Oil
- 2 Qt. Chicken Stock (homemade or good quality low sodium)
- 1 cup Masa Harina (Corn Flour for Tortillas)
- Salt and Black Pepper to Taste
Broiling the Vegetables:
- Move the oven rack to the highest position in the oven and turn on the broiler 5 minutes before broiling the vegetables.
- Place the prepared onion, garlic cloves, and poblano pepper onto the aluminum lined sheet tray. Drizzle with olive oil and coat the vegetables.
- Place the pan into the oven on the highest rack and roast under the broiler. Checking after 8 minutes.
- Turn the vegetables over and toss the garlic around in the oil to get an even char on top of the vegetables.
- Broil for another 8 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven and let cool.
Preparing the Spices and Chilies:
- In the dry sauté pan add cumin seed, coriander seeds, broken cinnamon stick, cloves, and whole black pepper. Place the skillet over medium-low heat and slowly toast the spices. Shaking and tossing the spices in the pan to get an even toast. The spices will lightly smoke.
- Remove the toasted spices from the skillet and place on a plate to cool. Add the bay leaf and Mexican Oregano to the toasted spices.
- In the same preheated dry sauté pan. Add the dried chiles and pour 1 quart of chicken stock over the chiles.
- Bring the chicken stock to a full boil and let the chilies soak in the chicken stock for 15 minutes. Flipping the chilies over half way. They should become very plump and pliable.
- Turn off the soaked chilies and let rest while grinding the spices.
- Place the cooled spices in the spice grinder and grind until a powder forms. Shaking the spice grinder as necessary.
- Place the ground spices into a small bowl.
Preparing the Mole Sauce:
- In a blender, place the soaked chilies, roasted vegetables, whole tomatoes, celery, ground toasted spices, sea salt, and the reserved chili-soaking liquid into the blender. Process on high speed until smooth.
- Place the fine strainer over the 2 qt bowl. Pour the mole puree into the strainer and press using a rubber spatula. Do this in two or three batches if necessary Discarding all the fiber and skins and just collecting the ancho puree.
- Reserve the strained mole puree for the next step.
Assembling the Chicken Mole:
- Place the 8 qt. pot or Dutch Oven onto the range and set the flame to medium-high to heat and preheat for 10 minutes.
- Dry the chicken pieces with a paper towel. Lightly coat each piece of chicken with olive oil and then salt and pepper each side of the chicken pieces.
- Starting with the leg and thighs, place the chicken pieces into the hot oil and brown on all sides. Do not crowd the pot or the chicken will not brown. This should take about 6 to 8 minute a side. If the chicken is sticking it is not ready to turn yet. There should be a good color on the skin. Remove the browned pieces to the sheet tray lined with aluminum. Continue until all the chicken has been browned and placed onto the sheet tray.
- In the pot will be all the chicken fat and browned bits from the chicken this is the sucs or fond. Pour the strained ancho puree in the pot that is still over medium-high heat and sauté to deglaze the pot. Scraping the bottom the pot with a wooden spatula to get all the caramelized bits up and into the sauce.
- Sauté and stir the mole sauce constantly to reduce and thicken. This will take 20 to 30 minutes.
- Adjust the heat as necessary.
- Once the mole has been reduced add 1 quart of the remaining chicken stock and stir to combine. Taste the mole for salt and pepper and season to taste at this point.
- Add the chicken legs and thighs to the bottom of the pot first and then the chicken breast pieces. Push the chicken under the mole to coat.
- Place the lid on the pot and bring to a full boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer
- Simmer covered with the lid on for 1 hour or until the chicken is tender and just starts to fall off the bone.
- Remove the chicken pieces and place onto a sheet tray. Cover with aluminum foil to keep hot.
- In a small bowl combine 2 cups of the reserved chicken stock with 1 cup of Masa Harina and whisk to make a smooth slurry.
- Pour the Masa Harina slurry into the mole sauce and stir with the wooden spatula to combine.
- Add the remains chicken stock and cover the pot with the lid.
- Turn the heat to Medium-High Heat and bring the Mole back to a full boil.
- Uncover and add the chicken back to the thickened Mole and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and bring the pot to the table to serve.
- Serve the chicken and spoon over plenty of Mole Sauce.
- Serve the Chicken Mole over Mexican Rice or white rice and your favorite Mexican side dishes.
Note: If there should be any leftovers the Chicken Mole freezes very well. Place into an airtight freezer container and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw the Chicken Mole in the refrigerator and reheat in a pan on the stove.