Cook’s Recipe: Chicken Mole

The Southerner is speaking far too quickly for most of the party and Yousi, the party priest and the only one who supposedly speaks the local language, is almost as lost as the others. He looks alternately confused and surprised as the Southern man reviews the tavern’s offerings until the waiter finishes, either running out of items or patience. Yousi turns to the rest of the party and haltlingly translates. “They have something with snails, some fish with peppers, and then something else with chocolate.”

Teska, the rogue, opts to be adventurous and orders snails while the erudite Galondi asks for the fish with some careful stipulation that the waiter almost certainly has no intention of remembering. The brutish Stefan, though, makes a wry face at all the options and harrumphs for several minutes while the others decide. “I’ll take the chocolate,” he says at length with all the politeness that he has in battle with his broadsword, “Can’t go wrong with chocolate.” These words soon rang in Stefan’s head as the waiter returns with a slice of chicken slathered in sauce as dark as midnight with onions and peppers visible. “What in the Eyes of Dispater is this?” the warrior growls as he pokes at the dish and takes a sniff.

“I’ll have it,” Teska cuts in, swallowing a snail and reaching for Stefan’s plate.
“Hold on!” the fighter says, fending off her fork with delicate parry. “I was serious… Can’t go wrong with chocolate.”

Like Stefan, you may be expecting something totally different when you hear the words “chocolate-based dish” but chicken mole is delicious. While chocolate is normally only seen in desserts in American and European culture, it was used for centuries in Central America in savory dishes before anyone on the other side of the Atlantic knew it existed. I believe that pre-chocolate period is most commonly called the Dark Ages for this exact reason.

Mole is a traditional Mexican dish with a thousand and one recipes that are handed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter along with family heirlooms and the like. What follows is probably nothing like these recipes since I dislike spending whole afternoons cooking and I don’t have access to all the ingredients available in rustic Mexican townships. Where it counts, though, this is entirely authentic: it’s absolutely delicious.

The ingredients for chicken mole, color-coded as usual, are as follows:

Chicken Mole

Makes enough for four servings.

Ingredients

6 skinless boneless chicken breasts, sliced into strips
2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 14 1/2-ounce cans chunky tomatoes in juice
1 cup canned low-salt chicken broth

1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped

Preparation

Coat chicken on all sides with cumin and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat and sauté chicken until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add onion and sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice, broth, chipotle, red chili powder, and chocolate and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce thickens slightly, about 20 minutes.
Plate with rice (garnished with cilantro if you have any).

Now, a lot of recipes that I’ve seen recommend chicken thighs rather than chicken breast but whenever I try that I find too much chewiness to the thighs. I don’t know if there’s a secret technique with thighs that I don’t know but chicken breasts always work out so I just go with what I know. I also adjust the spices for those with a low tolerance by halving them (at least) so that it’s not so overwhelming. If this happens, though, the chocolate starts to really take over so it might work to add some chopped garlic to the mix to substitute for the missing spices.

If you’re going to try this out, let us know how it went!