How To Make Classic Mole Poblano Sauce

Classic Mole Poblano is a complex, rich sauce used in dishes for festive celebrations such as holidays and weddings. Making this sauce takes several hours and is a labor of love, but this mole is worth it.

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White bowl on a wooden board with homemade Classic Mole Poblano with dried ancho chiles as decoration.

Four types of chiles, Mexican chocolate, nuts, seeds, spices, and fruit blend together to create a thick sauce that is reddish-brown in color, smoky, earthy, and slightly sweet.

Mole Poblano has become the national dish of Mexico. Every cook has his or her own recipe, some with over 30 ingredients, and taking three days to make. 

While this recipe still has a ton of ingredients, I’ve taken some shortcuts to make it more manageable. The biggest tip that I can offer you is to prep all of your ingredients before beginning. The French call this Mise en Place and the Mexicans call it Estate Listo. Also, give yourself enough time to go slowly and enjoy the process. Food made with love always tastes better!

Mole Inspiration

I first tasted mole during a business trip to Mexico City. I was instantly a fan and craved more of it. Unfortunately, every time I tried mole in the States, I was disappointed. They were either too spicy, too sweet, or just missing something – and I didn’t have the time to even think about making it myself.

Fast forward a decade while on a trip back to Houston, I tasted a mole that erased my ‘mole cynicism’ and inspired me to take the time and tackle making a mole at home.

Flora Mexican Kitchen collage - Front of building; inside dining room; pina fresca cocktail; octopus starter; Mole Enchiladas; Flan
Flora Mexican Kitchen, Houston, TX (images from FloraHouston.Com )

Flora Mexican Kitchen and their Mole Enchiladas transported me back to my trips to Mexico City! First, the restaurant is simply breathtaking with its floor-to-ceiling windows and elaborate chandeliers. The staff is very knowledgeable and willing to take the time to discuss the dish with you, which as a foodie is almost as important and delectable as the food itself.

Now let me tell you about the food. OMG, the food! Right off the bat, order yourself a Pina Fresca cocktail. It’s like a pina colada but without the overly sweet, cloying, milky stuff that coats your tongue in a not-so-pleasant way. This cocktail is a perfect combination of rum, coconut, and pineapple that’s subtly sweet and perfectly balanced.

While you’re sipping your amazing cocktail, try their Charred Octopus as a starter. Be sure to load your fork with a perfect bite of succulent, impeccably grilled octopus, a bit of spicy chorizo, then sweet potato, all dipped in matcha salsa and sour cream. Now close your eyes and lose yourself in the intricate explosion of flavors in your mouth. Yes, you will sound like Homer Simpson and it’s okay…all the other patrons are doing the same thing.

On to the Mole Enchiladas. Just imagine juicy, tender chicken, wrapped in a corn tortilla, and draped in a velvety blanket of rich mole sauce. The sides of refried beans and Spanish rice were also delicious, but I could not get enough of the mole sauce. 

Our server shared with us that the recipe had over 30 ingredients. Try as I might, I couldn’t identify most of those flavors. Instead, the multifaceted spices melded together in a sensual dance of flavor that can only be described as lovely. It was flavorful without being spicy, and delicately smoky with just enough sweetness to balance out the earthy bitterness of the chiles used in the mole. All of these elements contributed to the mole’s sublime, complex, and sophisticated flavor. 

Did I want to lick the plate? Yes. Yes, I did. Don’t judge.

I want to go off on another rant, this one on Flora’s Flan, but I’m saving that for another post. Let’s just say that it was an almost religious experience.

Flora Mexican Kitchen is a must on your ‘to-do’ list, your bucket list, or whatever list you have going. Whatever you want to call it, Flora can’t be missed.

All About Mole

The name ‘mole’ is derived from the Aztec word ‘chilmolli’ – ‘chil’ meaning chili and ‘molli’ meaning sauce. The Aztecs served it to emperors and as an offering to the Gods.

Aztec molli was mostly chile based and ground into a paste that was then diluted with a liquid and used to cook some type of protein. Influences from the Spaniards, Persian Moslems, Africans, and Asians contributed to the complex sauce that is enjoyed today. It’s believed that mole was the first ‘fusion’ food.

Where Did Mole Originate?

There are a few legends surrounding mole. One is that its creation took place in the early Colonial Period when a group of nuns at the Convent of Santa Clara in Puebla were unexpectedly visited by the Archbishop. In a panic to serve him something festive, the nuns threw together the bits of what little they had, including nuts, seeds, fruits, spices, day-old bread, and a bit of chocolate, to make a sauce. They then killed an old turkey, poached it, and covered it in the sauce. 

Another version has a monk, Fray Pascual, making a turkey to serve the Archbishop of Puebla. A fierce wind knocked his cache of spices into the pot where his turkey was being cooked.

And yet another version has a Viceroy of New Spain visiting the convent or monastery.

White bowl on a wooden board with homemade Classic Mole Poblano with dried ancho chiles as decoration.

What Exactly Is A Mole?

Mole is traditionally a stand-alone sauce that’s poured over poached or roasted meats, usually poultry. It isn’t used as a condiment, but rather a building block of the dish.

Mole can be compared to French mother sauces, such as a bearnaise poured over a steak or a bechamel used in lasagna. Mole can be used as a sauce for enchiladas, burritos, and tacos, or poured over vegetables, rice, or beans. When thinned a bit, mole makes a great poaching liquid for chicken.

Ingredients Needed For Classic Mole Poblano

Infograpic of the four types of dried chiles used in making a mole poblano.

Rick Bayless once said that mole ingredients can be grouped into five classes or flavors: hot (the chiles), sour (tomatillos, white vinegar), sweet (raisins, chocolate, agave syrup), spice (cumin, thyme, Mexican oregano, etc.), and thickeners (nuts, bread, tortillas, seeds).

  • Onions and garlic – aromatic vegetables provide a flavor base for the sauce. Both the onions and garlic, when cooked, provide an umami flavor and a bit of sweetness. 
  • Poblano pepper – adds a very mild heat and when cooked a bit of sweetness.
  • Tomatillos – provides a bright, acidic, and vegetal flavor.
  • Bacon fat or lard – I like cooking the bacon in the same Dutch oven that I make the mole. Use the bacon for another recipe, but all the browned bits on the bottom of the pot adds a ton of flavor to the mole.
  • Ancho chiles – provides an earthy, fruity, and bittersweet flavor.
  • Mulato chiles – lends a smokey, coffee-like flavor with a hint of chocolate and black cherry.
  • Pasilla chiles – adds depth to the mole with a strong, bitter bite and a hint of smokiness.
  • Chipotle chiles – adds a medium-level heat and a smokey/sweet flavor.
  • Chicken stock – to thin the mole. You can also use vegetable stock.
  • White vinegar – for acidity and to balance out the sweetness.
  • Almonds – makes the mole creamy and adds a sweet, richness and mouthfeel. You can also use walnuts or pecans.
  • Sesame seeds – for texture and a nutty, slightly bitter flavor. You can use sunflower kernels, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, or pine nuts instead.
  • Raisins – for sweetness, but they also add depth to the flavor profile. Dried dates or apricots can also be used.
  • Fire-roasted tomatoes – using canned tomatoes saves a little time. The fire-roasted tomatoes adds acidity, sweetness, and smokiness.
  • Toasted bread and corn tortillas – used for thickening and to add a bit of a starchy flavor. The corn flavor from the tortillas compliments the flavors of the chiles.
  • Ground cloves, cinnamon, cumin, Mexican oregano, thyme, black pepper, ground anise, salt – flavors that add depth, complexity, and sophistication to the mole.
  • Mexican chocolate – lends interest and depth to the flavor profile with its grainy, sweet, and spiced flavors.
  • Agave syrup – for sweetness. Similar in taste to honey, but much sweeter, you can use less to sweeten the mole.

To Toast Or Not To Toast

Skillet with whole spices being toasted and stirred with a wooden spoon.

Should we toast the spices or not? Is it worth the effort? Does it make that much of a difference?

Toasting spices intensifies their flavor, adding a toasty complexity. If you have the time, it’s well worth the time to toast your whole spices and then grind them yourself.

So how do you do it?  Well, first select a pan that is large enough that the spices can lie in a single layer. This will ensure that the spices toast evenly. Pick a pan with a thick and heavy bottom.

Place the pan over medium heat and when hot, add the spices. Shake the pan and allow the spices to toast on all sides, shaking often to prevent them from burning and to turn the spices, ensuring that they toast evenly. Toast until the spices are very fragrant, which will only take a few minutes.

Dump the spices into a glass bowl to cool completely. You want to remove them from the hot skillet or they will continue to cook, risking burning the spices and creating a bitter, off-putting flavor. When cooled, grind them with a mortar and pestle, coffee grinder, or food processor.

Steps To Make This Recipe

  1. Prep all of your ingredients.
  2. Roast the onions, garlic, tomatillos, and poblano pepper to get a charred flavor. Cool, chop, and set aside.
  3. Fry the chile peppers in bacon fat until fragrant.
  4. Add the chiles to the blender along with some chicken stock and white vinegar.
  5. Fry the almonds, sesame seeds, and raisins in bacon fat until the almonds are toasted and the raisins are plumped.
  6. Dump the nut mixture into the blender with the chiles and process until smooth.
  7. Rinse out the Dutch oven and return to medium-low heat.
  8. Spoon the chile paste into the pot. 
  9. Pour in the canned tomatoes, toasted bread, tortillas, spices, and chocolate. Stir to combine, and simmer on low heat for one hour.
  10. Pour in the remaining chicken stock, agave syrup, and salt. 
  11. Simmer for at least another 1 ½ hours or up to 3 hours, stirring often to prevent burning.
  12. Use an immersion blender to blend smoothly or spoon into a high-speed blender.
  13. Return to the pot and stir in the agave syrup.  Simmer another hour or two.
  14. Cool to room temperature before using.

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