Here’s another vague Christmas tradition for you (yes, I am still seething about Little Feast). Mole poblano de guajolote, or turkey in mole poblano.
There are tons of moles. Seriously, every region in México has it’s own individualized version. “Mole” comes from the Nahuatl Indian word “molli,” which means mixture or concoction. It makes sense, since most moles are made with upwards of 15 ingredients, most of which are considered New World. Moles can be dark and thick like mole poblano, or they can be soup-like and bright green, yellow, red, or black.
Part of the composition of a mole depends on the region it’s being made in. Some regions of México have herbs that other regions don’t, while yet other regions have different plants or vegetables. However, all moles have two things in common: they’re cooked and they use chili peppers.
Mole poblano is considered México’s national dish. It’s served at all kinds of celebrations, from Christmas to baptisms to Cinco de Mayo. No one in the Yucatan are would think of celebrating any occasion without it. Yet, it’s still a newer mole and not an ancient Aztec dish like some claim. Mole poblano is made with chilies and chocolate. The Aztecs used chocolate for religious ceremonies and medicinal purposes. Cooking with chocolate would be akin to cooking with communion wine. It was unthinkable.
It’s assumed that because mole poblano is made with chocolate that it has a chocolaty flavor. Not so, my friends. The chocolate added is minimal and also quite bitter. It makes the texture of the sauce smoother and only contributes a hint of its flavor. Since mole has so many ingredients, eating it is like eating a thousand different flavors that all mesh together perfectly.
The “de guajolote” part is the wild turkey indigenous to México and the New World. Before the Spaniards arrived, Mexican nobility ate roasted turkey, quail, and casseroles of turkey prepared with chilies, tomatoes, and ground pumpkin seeds. These may have been the predecessors of the mole poblano.
Mole poblano de guajolote is prepared traditionally by pounding various sweet and hot chilies (mainly ancho, mulato, and pasilla chilies) in turkey stock. Onions, tomatoes, pieces of tortilla, garlic, crushed almonds, aniseed, sesame seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and coriander are added and the whole concoction is pounded again. The mixture is strained and simmered with more turkey stock. Lard and plain chocolate are added. Cooked turkey is cut into pieces, liberally coated with the sauce, and served sprinkled with sesame seeds with sweet corn or small tortillas on the side.
There are as many different version of mole poblano as there are people making it. The dish can be individualized easily and cooks will make it the way they like it. Some people may not use onions at all, others may use fewer tomatoes, but the use of chilies, chocolate, and turkey remain constant. In Puebla, the town where the dish supposedly originated, it is popular to toast the chilies (usually only mulatos) on an open fire before grinding them on a metate, a sort of grinding stone.
There are several different stories about the dish’s origins, but they all agree that it came from a convent in the city of Puebla de los Angeles. One story says that the Viceroy, Don Jaun de Palafox y Mendoza, was visiting the city of Puebla and planned to eat at one of the local convents. Fray Pascual was overseeing the preparation of the banquet while the turkeys were cooking in cazuelas (a type of cooking pot) on the fire. Fray Pascual began scolding his assistants for their untidiness and gathered up all the spices that had been used. He placed them on a tray and a huge gust of wind came along and blew them across the kitchen and into the cazuelas, creating mole poblano.
Another story from the 16th century that says the Sisters at a convent in Puebla were caught unawares by a visit from their bishop. In a hurry, they cooked the local farmer’s only turkey in a sauce typical of Aztec cooking, with a little chocolate thrown in for fun.
The most popular story is that Sor Andrea de la Asuncion, sister superior of the Santa Rosa Convent, wanted to honor the Archbishop for having a new convent specially constructed for her order sometime in 1680. In an effort to blend New and Old World ingredients, she created mole poblano. However, the true origins of mole poblano will probably never be known since the first published recipe for the dish did not appear until over a century later. It might not have even originated in the 17th century at all.
Here’s a video about mole poblano.
Keep eating and asking, my friends.
-Graber, Karen Hursh. “Demystifying mole, Mexico’s national dish.” Mexconnect.com. Mexconnect, 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 15 Dec. 2011. <www.mexconnect.com/articles/2122-demystifying-mole-mÃ©xico-s-national-dish>.
-Olver, Lynne. “Food Timeline–Mexican and TexMex food history.” Food Timeline: food history & vintage recipes . Lynn Olver, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2011. <http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodmexican.html#mole>.
-Robuchon, Joël. “Mole Poblano.” Larousse Gastronomique: The World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia. [Updated ed. New York: Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2009. 674. Print.
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