Saturday, May 06, 2006

¡Viva el cinco de mayo!

Having lived in both Arizona and California, Cinco de Mayo is a well known day of celebration. But I have to admit I did not really know why.

In the US, it is primarily associated with consumption of Tequila and Margaritas, street fairs and consumption of bad Americanized renditions of Mexican food. It seems a lot of people view it as a sort of Mexican independence day, like July 4th for Americans.

But that is not the case. Mexican Independence day is actually September 15th. Mexico declared independence from Spain in that day in 1810.

Cinco de mayo celebrates a different historical event – the battle for the fortified city of Puebla, east of Mexico City. If you believe some of the Web site descriptions listed below, it celebrates either a significant battle for eventual Mexican sovereignty from France in 1862, or, through a series of ‘what if’ presumptions, the reason the North won the civil war in America, and the reason we speak English in the US instead of French. History is full of tantalizing confluences of events like this.

Some short histories covering the originof the holiday:

So despite the fact that we might all now be enjoying better breads and wine here, it seems fortunate that the battle turned out as it did. And Cinco de Mayo is certainly a celebration of the ‘little man’ standing up for a bigger cause and helping to defeat repression in favor of a somewhat more fair society.

But this is a food blog, so all you history buffs will have to look elsewhere.

On to the food.

A few weeks ago, I made a green Mole sauce. Which turned out pretty good. But everyone was surprised (read disappointed) that it contained no chocolate. There’s lots of Moles, and not all contain chocolate.

For the May 5th celebration, I decided to make the more popular Mole Negro Oaxaqueno – or Black Mole from Oaxaca Mexico. This Mole has not only Mexican chocolate (which differs from European style chocolates), but a long list of other ingredients, many of which are some fairly hot chilies and their seeds. It looked a bit time consuming as well.

Despite my concerns for spontaneous combustion of my digestive system, we jumped off the Mole bridge and went for it. Be warned, it’s a two hour jump.

The list of chilies used on this recipe includes chilhuacle negro chiles, guajillo chiles, pasilla chiles, mulatto chiles, chipotle chiles and ancho chiles. That not only sounds like a lot of fire power, but also seemed like a challenge to find.

The chocolate required, as mentioned, should be Mexican chocolate. Looking on the internet, the main difference between Mexican and European style chocolates seems to be the addition of Mexican cinnamon in the Mexican chocolate. Unbelievably, we could not find any traditional Mexican chocolate, but we did find Mexican cinnamon – very different from the ‘usual’ cinnamon. So we used dark 70% chocolate with some ground Mexican cinnamon in it. This recipe shows you how to make your own .

The deep brown / black color of this Mole Negro comes not only from the chocolate, but also from the roasting. Everything is roasted – the chilies, the seeds, the spices, the tomatoes, everything.

The chilies are roasted so long that they actually ‘dry out’. All the moisture is driven out and just a very dry, concentrated paste is left that takes on a very deep brown color. This was the longest step of the procedure, maybe because I was not sure exactly how long to roast the chilies in the pan to achieve a ‘dry’ look. I was not sure if they meant dry in a relative sense, or dry as in cooked until just some dust remained. As we were adding the tomatoes and tomatillos in the next step, we went for relatively dry, and that took a half an hour of roasting.

All in all, despite the many individual steps and ingredients (26 different things go into the sauce!), this was not a difficult recipe. It was more of a trick to roast all the different components without burning anything as they are all different in terms of composition (oily, dry, wet, etc.) and ease of burning.

But the end result was nice. A deep burning fire – not unbearable – but intense. With a wonderful roasted and chocolaty flavor. Not sweet, but the cinnamon did shine through.

We put this on some chicken we had cooked up. A real treat was the chicken broth left after the chicken had cooked. Maybe it was the addition of some allspice and cloves to the water, but that was without a doubt the best chicken broth I have made. Period. We were able to save a few cups for a future recipe.

To complement the fire of the Mole Negro Chicken, we made a simple Chayote salad. The Chayote is actually a form of squash common to central America. It has a crunchy, very mild taste, more like Jicama or almost like a cucumber. It can be eaten raw, or cooked. I sliced it into matchstick pieces raw, and dressed it with an orange and lemon juice vinaigrette with cilantro. It was a wonderfully bright and clean taste next to the smokey and complex fire of the Mole sauce.

A few corn tortillas, and dinner was served! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva Juárez! ¡Viva el cinco de mayo!

(Black Mole from Oaxaca)
From Chile Pepper Magazine, Jan 95
courtesy of Michael Bowers (

1 whole chicken, cut into eight pieces
*6 C chicken stock
(*Note 1: This is your basic chicken stock with onions, garlic, carrots celery, bay leaf and thyme, plus 1 allspice berry, 1 clove and 1 whole chile de arbol.)
(**Note 2: For all chiles, save the seeds. Substituted chiles are more readily available in the US.)
5 chilhuacle negro chiles, or substitute ancho chiles**, seeded, stemmed
5 guajillo chiles, or substitute dried New Mex. chiles, seeded, stemmed
4 pasilla chiles, seeded, stemmed
4 mulatto chiles, or use ancho, seeded, stemmed
2 chipotle chiles, seeded, stemmed
1 medium white onion, cut in quarters
6 cloves garlic
2 Tbs whole almonds
2 Tbs shelled, skinned peanuts
2-4 Tbs lard*** (or use vegetable oil if you must)
2 tsp raisins
1 slice bread (prefer Challa or egg bread)
1 small ripe plantain, or use a small banana
1/2 C sesame seeds
2 pecan halves
1" Mexican cinnamon stick
2 whole peppercorns
2 whole cloves
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
5 fresh tomatillos, chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 bar, or to taste of Ibarra chocolate, or other Mexican chocolate
1 avocado leaf, omit or use bay leaf
salt to taste
fresh tortillas

Simmer the chicken in the stock until tender, about 30 min. Remove, keep warm and reserve stock
Toast the chiles, or fry them in lard, until just darkened -- don't let them burn. Place in bowl, cover with hot water until soft, about 30 min.
Puree chiles in blender, adding the soaking water if needed to form a paste.
Roast the garlic and onion in the same pan until slightly brown, then remove.
Toast the almonds and peanuts slightly, remove.
Toast the chile seeds until dark but don't let burn.
Heat 2 Tbs lard in skillet and fry raisins until plump, remove and drain.
Fry bread until brown, remove.
Fry plantains until brown, remove.
Add more lard if needed, and fry sesame seeds at low heat until slightly brown, stirring often.
Add pecans, brown and remove and drain.
Toast the cinnamon, peppercorns and cloves lightly in a dry pan. Let cool, and grind in a molcajete or grinder.
In a blender or processor puree nuts, sesame seeds, bread and pecans; use small batches if needed.
Add onions, garlic, plantains and puree. Remove, then puree tomatoes and tomatillos.
Heat the remaining lard in a large heavy pot and fry the chile paste until dry, but don't let it burn.
Add tomato puree and fry until liquid is gone.
Add ground spices, nut/bread mixture, pureed onion mixture, oregano and thyme.
Heat to a simmer while stirring constantly, add chocolate.
Toast the avocado leaf over open flame briefly, then add to mixture.
Slowly add reserved chicken stock to mixture until mixture will just coat a spoon.
Salt to taste.
Simmer for 5 min, then add chicken and heat thru.
Serve with tortillas and spoon over with the sauce!
Yield: 4-6 servings

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