Saturday, June 28, 2014

Culinary Holidays - Cinco de Mayo


One great thing about my living-in-sin-wife/babymama Kari is her exuberance in finding random holidays from various cultures to use as excuses to make a giant spread. Earlier this year, we did an over-the-top Shrove Tuesday pancake feast (cheddar pancakes with pork belly steaks and a cabbage hash) and we were toying with the idea of trying a Passover seder in April (cooler Gentile heads prevailed after seeing just how involved and ritualistic such an undertaking would be). As for Easter, we ate chocolate, naturally.

Which brings us to Cinco de Mayo. From what little I've heard of the holiday, it's an excuse to eat Mexican cuisine (really, do you need more reason to declare a holiday?). But, since I'm writing a post on the topic, it would probably behoove me to include at least a little bit of background information; here's what wikipedia has to say: 
It originated with Mexican-American communities in the American West as a way to commemorate the cause of freedom and democracy during the first years of the American Civil War, and today the date is observed in the United States as a celebration of thanks to Mexico in fending off would-be French support for the Confederate States of America in the Civil War. In the state of Puebla, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín.

Totally seems like a legit reason to eat a giant feast and drink tequila! But seriously, like so many holidays that come into the public consciousness, Cinco de Mayo has grown beyond its humble beginnings and become more of a celebration of Mexican culture, at least the edible and imbibeable aspects of it...

But, one aspect of the holiday meal surrounding Cinco de Mayo that seems consistent is serving Molé. Molé is a dish that can be found throughout Mexico and everyone has their own version of it. That being said, the Molé we see most in Canada and the US is Molé Poblano, which hails from the same Puebla region from which the holiday likely originates. So, it seems appropriate that I based my Molé recipe on this version, which is the most commonly known outside Mexico. From a few online sources, I got the following unofficial info that Molé a) was put together by a nun who cobbled the whole lot together at the last minute for unexpected guests with whatever she could find (reminds me of the story behind Caesar Salad) and b) it 'traditionally' requires at least 20 ingredients. My version *just* made it to 20 (the cilantro doesn't count), so I guess it was a decent attempt.

One of the cooooooooooolest thing about Molé is that it traditionally is all mixed in a mortar and pestle. I looooooooove my mortar and pestle, having acquired it from a local Thai grocer for a mere 25 dollars. It's a huge stone vessel and is a lot of fun to work with, albeit heavy as all git-out. But grinding all kinds of ingredients together with a big heavy stone club brings out my primal cook side, so the whole process of making Molé is a whole lot of fun.

Alright, let's get to it!

Grinding spices old-school


- 1 dried guajillo chili
- 2-3 dried arbol chilies
- 1 dried pasilla chili
- 1 dried chipotle pepper
- 1/2 tsp anatto seeds
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp cumin seeds (toasted)
- 1 tsp coriander seeds (toasted)
- 1/2 cup roasted peanuts (salted or unsalted, depends on how much salt you want)
- 1 tsp coarse salt (see above)
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp cocoa powder
- 2-3 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh, diced
- 1-2 medium onions, diced
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 ripe, medium tomatoes, diced (make sure you keep juices)
- 1/2 cup Resposato tequila
- 1 cup chicken stock
- juice of half a lime
- chopped cilantro for garnish

Molé, molé, molé, molé


- If your Guajillo, Arbol, Pasilla chilies are still a little moist, dry them out/toast them in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes.
- In a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind together the chilies, anatto seeds, oregano, cumin, coriander, peanuts, salt, pepper, cocoa, star anise and cinnamon stick together. It should come together into a kind of semi-moist powder from the oil in the peanuts.
NOTE: You can also grind all the other ingredients other than the chicken to make the Molé sauce in the most traditional way possible, but it's a bit messy with all that liquid.
- Heat oil over medium-high heat and sauté onions, garlic, chicken and tomatoes for about 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add seasoning from mortar, stirring to make sure everything gets coated with seasoning.
- Stir in tequila and chicken stock and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer Molé for about 20 minutes.
- Serve over Mexican Rice (recipe to come) and garnish with cilantro.

Tasty, tasty Mexican goodness

In the end, I forgot the cilantro (whoops), but the meal was delicious: a good balance of heat, nuttiness, savory and sweet. The cinnamon, peanuts and cocoa blended well to create a fairly decent approximation of the flavour profile of Mexican chocolate and this totally made the chicken excellent, which isn't always easy to pull off .

Here's hoping you enjoy this foray into cooking for a holiday! My intention is to make this the first of many!

Cheers y Salud!

No comments:

Post a Comment