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Worth It: 21-Ingredient Chicken Mole

Alex Van Buren

Layers of clothing. Layers of blankets. When the weather turns brisk, we start thinking of layers on all fronts, especially in terms of flavor.

Nothing epitomizes layering like a great mole poblano. Mole (pronounced MO-lay) is Mexico’s most famous sauce, hearkening back to the Aztec word molli, a mixture or concoction. Mole poblano uses a touch of bitter chocolate along with 20 other ingredients. But don’t panic! It is among the best dishes you’ll ever make—deep, rich and soothing on an almost existential level. Smoky toasted spices, hot chiles, fresh herbs and jammy apricots create a depth of flavor that tends to leave guests speechless.

This is a meditative Sunday-afternoon or special-occasion project, when you want to roll up your sleeves. The result of a few hours of effort? A textured, silky sauce as different from the thin mole served at most taquerias as night is from day.

Just be careful wielding the power of something so good. You wouldn’t want to leave people smitten in your path.

Mole Poblano

Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS

3 whole dried ancho chiles

3 whole dried mulato chiles

1/4 cup sesame seeds plus more for garnish

3 whole cloves

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. anise

1 Tbsp. coriander seeds

3 tsp. cumin seeds

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup raisins

1/2 cup dried apricots, diced 

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

6-8 whole chicken legs 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 oz. dark Mexican chocolate, coarsely chopped (or a 2:1 bitter to semisweet mix)

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

Cilantro sprigs for garnish (optional)

PREPARATION

Place chiles in bowl, cover with 1 1/2 cups boiling water, and let stand 30 minutes. When soft, remove chiles, finely chop,  and set aside, reserving water.

Toast sesame seeds over high heat in large dry skillet, about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Place in a large bowl to cool. In the same skillet, combine cloves, cinnamon, coriander seeds and cumin seeds. Toast until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add to bowl with sesame seeds. When cool, add anise and grind the mixture in a spice grinder. Set aside.

Add oil to skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin seeds and cook, stirring often, about 30 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add raisins and apricots to skillet and cook until raisins have puffed up, 2-3 minutes (do not blacken). Remove from skillet and set aside.

In a food processor, pulse pumpkin seeds, raisins, apricots, chiles and 1/3 of the chile water until incorporated. Add ground spice mixture, onion, garlic and tomato paste and process until smooth. Add more chili water if mixture is too thick. Set aside.

Meanwhile, season chicken legs with salt and pepper and add to same skillet. Cook over medium heat until the skin is browned, about 5 minutes per side. Remove. Drain all but 2 Tbsp. oil from skillet. 

Add spice paste and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add chocolate and stir until melted, about 3 minutes. Mix in stock gradually and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add chicken and bring mixture to a simmer. Cover and cook on low heat until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes. 

Serve with toasted sesame seeds and cilantro sprigs, if desired.

Adapted from a recipe from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.