Recipe for Oaxacan Black Mole With Braised Chicken

From Rick Bayless, chef at Chicago's Frontera Grill and Topolobampo.

Serves 8 (with about 10 cups of sauce, which will mean leftovers to make enchiladas or more chicken).

11 medium (about 5 1/2 ounces total) dried mulato chilies

6 medium (about 2 ounces total) dried chilhuacle chilies (see note at bottom)

6 medium (about 2 ounces total) dried pasilla chilies

1 dried chipotle chili (preferably the tan-brown chipotle meco)

1 corn tortilla, torn into small pieces

2 (1/4-inch-thick) slices of white onion

4 garlic cloves, unpeeled

About 2 cups rich-tasting lard or vegetable oil, for frying chilies

1/2 cup sesame seeds, plus some for garnish

1/4 cup pecans

1/4 cup unskinned or Spanish peanuts

1/4 cup unskinned almonds

About 10 cups chicken broth, canned or homemade, divided use

1 pound (2 medium-large or 6 to 8 plum) green tomatoes, roughly chopped

4 ounces (2 to 3 medium) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and roughly chopped

2 slices stale bread, toasted until very dark

1/4 teaspoon cloves, preferably freshly ground

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela

Scant teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 ripe banana

1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) finely chopped Mexican chocolate

2 or 3 avocado leaves, if you have them

About 1 tablespoon salt, depending on saltiness of chicken broth

About 1/4 cup sugar, or a little more

2 large (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chickens, cut into quarters

Pull out stems and seed pods from chilies, tear them open and shake or scrape out seeds, collecting them as you go.

Scoop seeds into ungreased 8- to 9-inch skillet along with tortilla pieces. Set pan over medium heat, turn on an exhaust fan, open a window and toast seeds and tortilla, shaking pan regularly, until burned to charcoal black, about 15 minutes. (This is crucial to mole's flavor and color.). Scrape them into fine-mesh strainer and rinse 30 seconds or so, then transfer to blender.

Set another ungreased skillet or griddle over medium heat; lay on a piece of aluminum foil and place onion slices and garlic cloves on it. Roast until soft and very dark, about 5 minutes on each side for onion slices (peel them off foil to turn them) and about 15 minutes for garlic (turning frequently). Cool garlic a bit; peel it and combine with onion in large bowl.

While onion and garlic are roasting, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Return skillet to medium heat and add scant 2 cups lard or oil, to about 1/2-inch depth. When fat is hot, begin frying chilies a couple at a time: They'll unfurl quickly, then release their aroma and piquancy (keep exhaust on and window open) and, after about 30 seconds, have lightened in color and be well toasted (they should be crisp when cool, but not burnt smelling). Drain well, gather in large bowl, cover with hot tap water and let rehydrate 30 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure even soaking. Drain, reserving soaking liquid.

While chilies are soaking, toast seeds and nuts. Spread sesame seeds on baking sheet or ovenproof skillet. Spread pecans, peanuts and almonds on another baking sheet or ovenproof skillet, then put both into oven. In about 12 minutes the sesame seeds will toast to a dark brown; nuts will take slightly longer. Add all of them to blender (reserving some sesame seeds for garnish), along with 1 1/2 cups of the chicken broth, and blend to as smooth a puree as you can. Transfer to small bowl.

Without rinsing blender, combine green tomatoes and tomatillos with another 1/2 cup broth and puree. Pour into another bowl. Again without rinsing the blender, combine roasted onion and garlic with toasted bread, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, banana and 3/4 cup broth. Blend to smooth puree and pour into another small bowl.

Finally, without rinsing blender, add half the chilies and 1/2 cup soaking liquid; blend to a smooth puree, then pour into a 4th bowl. Repeat with remaining chilies and another 1/2 cup of soaking liquid.

In 8- to 9-quart pot, preferably Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela, heat 3 tablespoons lard or oil (some of what you used for chilies is fine) and set over medium-high heat. When very hot, add tomato puree; stir and scrape pot (a flat-sided wooden spatula works well here) for 15 to 20 minutes until thick as tomato paste and very dark. It'll be the color of a cinnamon stick and may stick to the pot in places. Add nut puree and continue stirring and scraping until reduced, thick and dark again — this time it'll be the color of black olive paste — about 8 minutes. Add banana-spice puree; stir and scrape another 7 or 8 minutes as the whole thing simmers to a thick mass about the same color it was before you added this one.

Add chili puree, stir well and reduce over medium-low heat until very thick and almost black, about 30 minutes, stirring regularly (but not constantly). Stir in remaining broth, the chocolate and avocado leaves, if using; partially cover and simmer gently about an hour, for flavors to come together. Season with salt and sugar, remembering that this is quite a sweet mole and sugar helps balance the dark, toasty flavors. Remove avocado leaves.

In batches in loosely covered blender, puree sauce until as smooth as possible. Pass through medium-mesh strainer into large bowl.

Return mole to pot and heat to simmer. Nestle chicken leg and thigh quarters into sauce; partially cover and cook 15 minutes. Add breast quarters; partially cover and simmer another 20 to 25 minutes, until all the chicken is done.

With slotted spoon, fish out chicken pieces, and transfer to large warm platter. Spoon a generous amount of mole over and around them, sprinkle with reserved sesame seeds and set triumphantly before your lucky guests.

The mole sauce can be made several days ahead, covered and refrigerated. It gets better, in fact. Heat sauce to simmer before adding chicken, and cook until done.

Note: Chilhuacle chilies are very difficult to find unless you're in Oaxaca, and even there they're sometimes hard to obtain. Without them you can make a very respectable black mole with 6 ounces (12 total) dried mulato chilies, 2 1/2 ounces (8 total) dried pasilla chilies and 1 ounce (4 total) dried guajillo chilies.

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