Mole with chicken & Mexican rice: $2.39/serving

If spending 3 1/2 hours on a Saturday afternoon toasting, frying, grinding, simmering, or in some way drastically altering the physical characteristics of over 20 different ingredients is not your idea of a good time, you might want to skip this post. Making mole from scratch is just not something sane people do. Or so I’ve heard.

The relatively higher cost of this meal is also going to necessitate us eating 36-cent cheese sandwiches for most lunches this week (as seen at left: one-third of a homemade 33-cent sourdough baguette, spread with 1/4 of a log of $2 goat cheese and sprinkled with a little cracked pepper; these two halves are for one person), but it was so worth it. Oh, was it worth it. I’d had from-scratch mole before at a restaurant, but it certainly didn’t cost $2.39 (in fact, if I recall, the entree was over $20), and this version is very similar to what I was served—earthy, savory, sweet, spicy, and hauntingly complex. The recipe is adapted from one in Rick Bayless’ “Authentic Mexican,” a must-have for anyone who’s into…um…authentic Mexican.

As for the Mexican rice, there are a million ways to make it; the recipe you’ll find below just happened to be what I had time for.

For the mole (4 generous servings):

1 chicken, quartered: $3.49
2 oz. ancho chiles (2 $1.37 bags): $2.74
1 1/2 T sesame seeds: 10 cents
1/3 cup vegetable oil: 50 cents
2 T peanuts: 5 cents
2 T raisins: 5 cents
1/4 onion (from the yard), sliced: $0
1 clove garlic, peeled: 3 cents
1/3 ripe plantain (I buy them on sale and keep them in the freezer), diced: 75 cents
2 T masa flour, mixed with just enough water to make it pliable and patted into a tortilla-like shape: 3 cents
1 slice stale bread (1/10 of a 33-cent loaf): 3 cents
2 large tomatillos, husked and boiled for 10 minutes: 80 cents
3/4 ounce cocoa powder with a pinch of cinnamon: 5 cents 
1/2 tsp dried oregano: 7 cents
1/4 tsp dried thyme: 5 cents
1 bay leaf: 1 cent
8 peppercorns: 1 cent
3 cloves: 1 cent
1 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick: 3 cents
5 cups chicken broth (frozen in freezer from leftover carcass and kitchen trimmings): $0
1 T sugar: 10 cents 
TOTAL: $8.86/4 =  $2.22

Set up your mise en place with all the ingredients; combine the tomatillos (break them up a bit with a spoon), cocoa, oregano, and thyme into a large bowl, grind the bay leaf and spices and add those as well.

Dry-toast 1 T of the sesame seeds in a medium skillet, add to the bowl.

De-stem and de-seed the chiles and tear them into large, flat pieces. Fry them in the skillet, in 3 T of the oil, being VERY careful not to burn them. They only need about one second on each side, otherwise they’ll be inedibly bitter. Err on the side of undercooking them if need be. Once fried, submerge them completely with boiling water.

Add a little more oil if necessary and fry the peanuts, adding them to the bowl. Then fry the raisins, stirring constantly until they puff up, and add them to the bowl. Then fry the onion and garlic until very browned, add to the bowl. (Add oil to the skillet as needed, but be sure to drain each ingredient of oil before putting it in the bowl.) Then fry the plantain and add it to the bowl. Then take your tortilla-like masa patty and fry that. Break it up into pieces and add it to the bowl. Finally, fry the bread, tear it up into pieces, and add it to the bowl. Stir the mixture well and blend in three or four batches in a blender, adding enough chicken broth each time to liquefy everything. Strain it all through a sieve into another bowl.

Next, drain the reconstituted chiles (they should’ve been sitting for about a half hour by now) and puree them in batches in the blender, also adding more broth to liquefy. Strain that into a separate bowl.

Take the quartered chicken and brown it in 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a wide soup pot (I used a 5 1/2-quart dutch oven). It should take about 3 minutes per side. Remove and keep in the fridge.

Pour out all but a thin film of oil and add the pureed chiles. At this point the mixture splattered violently all over me, the stove, and pretty much anything else within a 5-foot radius, so be sure to wear an apron. Fry and simmer the pureed chiles for about 5 minutes, then add the other bowl of puree and simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 2 1/2 cups of broth and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes. At this point add the dark meat to the sauce and simmer for 10 minutes, partially covered; then add the white meat and cook about 15 minutes longer.

Serve garnished with remaining sesame seeds.

For the Mexican rice:

1 T vegetable oil: 5 cents
1 cup rice (Costco): 10 cents
1 small onion from the yard, chopped: $0
1/2 15-oz. can petite diced tomatoes:  50 cents
1 1/2 cups chicken broth (from leftover carcass, see above): $0
1/2 tsp salt: 2 cents
TOTAL: 67 cents/4 = 17 cents

$2.22 + 17 cents = $2.39

For the rice, heat the vegetable oil in a medium saucepot over medium heat and saute the rice and onions together until translucent. Add the tomatoes and half the juice in the can, the salt, and the chicken broth, bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes, remove from the stove and let stand another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve with the mole.

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