Saturday, February 5, 2011

Finally some time to sit and reflect..... and cook too!


Moving is all over with and we're finally installed in our new place. It's been so surprising to all of us to feel and see the momentous differences between the East Side of town and the West where we now make our home and it's affected us all in positive ways.... kind of like finding a place where you belong and comfortable again, and it is. Definitely a good move but it took it's toll on all of us, even though we thought we'd rested, we hadn't and it showed in this last week's daily grind, we just couldn't get our energy back and we dragged all through the week.... until it came to Friday afternoon when we collapsed, exhausted and not being able to even move.....

But today is Sunday morning and we're feeling much recharged and much, much better. School is still good and our grades reflect it. YAY! It's been a punishing week with complicated dishes on the menu but came out of it with flying colors and very tasty food to enjoy. I've still got some Roast Duck in the fridge whispering to me.... except in school the sauce was "au natural" while I cooked up some Orange-Tamarind Glaze instead to pump it up. It was awesome and lent just the right touch of sweet/sour to hit your taste buds in the right way. MMMmmmmm!

Something amazing happened to me Friday at school when talking to one of my Instructors at Le Cordon Bleu when discussing sauces, come to find she loves Mole and she was surprised I make my own (but of course!...) and one thing led to another and discussing Mexican Food I come to find that she had been a customer of mine at "Quinta Belina"! Amazing! (yes, she was very impressed....). More amazing is that I still run into people sometimes that remember our little place and were customers..... so satisfying and a great ego boost as you can imagine. Anyway, made my day.....

More than ever and as I delve more into the French way of things since the school is all French technique that I find my appreciation for good and authentic Mexican Food grows. There is also a sadness there when I realize that it's not easy to find and what there is mostly a poor version and people come to believe this is what Mexican Food is.... You'd think that with all the Mexicans in the US we would have better representation, right? But it seems they get amnesia as soon as they cross the border! So it's up to those of us that believe we need to present, maintain and conserve the true cuisine of Mexico, done the old way following the classic preparations and techniques along with whole, natural ingredients so we can show how wonderful our food is and why we can't let it die out. Heavy duty Mexican Food is where it's at.

Yesterday at school it was Canard Poele Aux Navets or Roasted Duck with Turnips, and while it was scheduled to be served with a natural sauce, I was given permission to improvise and so I came up with a sweet apple cider vinegar glaze that had citrus undertones and was absolutely perfect with the richness of the duck. Also made Sole Meuniere which was amazing yet to me, it doesn't hold a candle to my very favorite, duck. I got an extra duck to bring home and while I was debating whether to make Duck Confit or another roasted duck, I settled on a crispy skinned duck with an Orange-Tamarind Sauce plus a Duck Mole with hints of Cinnamon, Cumin and Cardamom. As I write this the aromas of the sauces waft over the kitchen giving us anticipatory feelings of our soon to be devoured meal...... I love food!

So, going back to Mexican Food and that Mole I created I thought you'd appreciate a different take on this classic dish. Don't worry if you don't like duck (OMG!) since you can use Chicken, Turkey or even Pork instead, ok? Make enough so you'll have leftovers to use later with "Enmoladas", Nachos, Chilaquiles, over refried beans, on top of Huevos Rancheros, as a dipping sauce, with potatoes......

For those of you that think Duck is not a very Mexican ingredient to use in this dish let me tell you that our Spanish invaders found Mucovy Ducks happily living in Mexico when they got here, the Europeans had a larger duck type to use for foi gras and the smaller one was replaced by a larger species from Spain. You'll find plenty of duck recipes in Mexico (I've got a great tamale recipe I'll post soon) but turkey was used mostly in Mexico so Mole was originally conceived with wild turkey, the bird guys, not the drink, ok?

Mole de Pato (Duck Mole).- A rich sauce for a decadent dish.... satisfying and amazing!

1 Duck, rinsed and pat dry (you can use whole, thighs & legs or magrets)
Sat & Pepper the outside well

For chicken:
1 large chicken, cut up
About 8 cups of water
1/2 onion, in quarters
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 celery rib, cut in half
salt to taste

Sauce:
6 mulato peppers
4 ancho peppers
6 pasilla peppers
6 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon anis seeds
1/3 cup sesame seeds
2 inches of a stick of mexican cinnamon
1/2 cup of raisins or prunes
1/2 cup almonds, peeled
1/3 cup of raw pumpkin seeds
3 small roasted tomatoes
3 garlic gloves, peeled & roasted
1 large ripe dark-skinned plantain, peeled, thickly sliced (or more, to taste)
1/2- 1 cup smooth Peanut Butter, optional
1/2- 1 cup sugar, optional
1 Tablet of Mexican Chocolate (Ibarra or Abuelita Brand), cut in pieces
Chicken broth from cooking chicken or make your own
1/2 cup of oil or lard to fry the ingredients
Salt to taste

If using the duck, stab it with a knife all over (little holes so fat will drain out) and place on baking pan in 400 degree oven and cook until done or 170 degrees with a thermometer. About 1 1/2 hours. Baste with the fat in the pan after 45 minutes and about every half hour after that to crisp the skin. If you're using duck then don't use lard or oil for any of the steps below, use the rendered duck fat to add more flavor (or save for french fries...OMG!)

If using chicken or turkey: Put the ingredients in a large pot, cover with water and cook, simmering until done, about 45-60 min. Skim foam off the top as you see it, keep it clear.

If using pork, cut it up in cubes and sear until golden brown in a pan with a little lard or oil over med-high heat. Reserve.

To make the sauce: Take the dried chiles, split them open and remove the stem, seeds and veins, flatten down. In a large pan on the stove, over med heat, toast the chiles (you could dip them in oil if you wanted to) until fragrant, turning so both sides get done. Once done, place them in a bowl or pan with hot water and allow them to soak until they are soft, about 1 hour or so. Toast all the spices in the pan until they become fragrant, turning them to prevent their burning. If you have a food mill or coffee grinder, once toasted grind them well and reserve in a bowl until ready to use them. In the pan with a little oil in it, roast the fresh produce like the tomatoes and garlic, you can throw in the raisins or prunes here too.

Now, in your blender, place the soaked chiles along with their soaking liquid and blend them until you obtain a smooth puree. Then you will add the toasted and ground spices to this, incorporating so everything is smooth and velvety. Then add the tomatoes, garlic and plantain. As you blend things and need to empty the blender glass, add more stock as you need it to help the blender along, have a large pot ready with a little lard or oil (unless using duck) over med heat ready to receive the smooth puree, add to this as ingredients are processed and mix, mix, mix.

The plantain is here to thicken and lend some sweetness to the party, while the peanut butter adds a nutty undertone while thickening as well. Depending on your preference, you can add more or leave without, but a lot of people thicken mole with toasted tortillas or pieces of bread and to be honest, these don't inspire me since they don't bring much flavor. I also don't like to thicken my sauces with flour or other "thickeners" as a rule if I have something that can thicken naturally while imparting their own flavors and textures.

You should have a thick like paste at this point that needs to be fried in the pan with lard, oil or duck fat. Mix, scrape off the bottom and be sure you cook it well. You will have something akin to a bubbling cauldron by now, taste it again so you are sure you're on the right track, you can add some of the reserved chicken broth to get the consistency you need, thick so it's really coats the back of a spoon and has "body". Now add the chocolate if you want and mix to allow to melt. You should be tasting all the while so you know whether or not you will be wanting to add more chocolate, some sugar or not, more plantain, peanut butter, your choice.

You need to let this sauce come together, over very low heat, mixing every now and then so it doesn't burn or stick on the bottom. Adding more broth if you need to and tasting. Once the duck is done, allow to rest and split it in 6-8 pieces, reserve the back portions which you will put in the sauce as it cooks to give it even more flavor. If you're using Pork, now is the time to add it to the sauce and let it finish cooking along with the sauce. The meat will release juices which will flavor the sauce. Let the meat get very tender before eating, ok? Or you can use a pressure cooker to speed things along. Allow this to cook at least 1 hour (or more in a regular pot, the pressure cooker will be less) or come to this point and turn off the heat, save it and finish it the next day to allow for even more flavors to come through. This gets better with age and turns into "recalentado".....

When I made this in Puerto Vallarta I used a huge "cazuela de barro" (glazed terracotta pot) which is THE thing to use with wooden spoons, it also allows more flavors to develop and the glazing makes them better than non-stick while being great heat retaining vessels. My neighbors would walk by to try and guess what was cooking on the three large cazuelas bubbling in my outdoor kitchen (usually Asado de Boda Zacatecano, Mole y Salsa de Cacahuate).... aromas of our homeland, fragrant and full of flavor!

Your sauce will gel and become a paste which you can then store for future uses like Enchiladas or whatever, all you need to do is add some broth to it for it to come back. It keeps a long time in the fridge so you have an amazing meal ready in no time at all. Or you can freeze in individual servings (zip lock bags) so you can just boil in hot water or nuke it and an ordinary meal becomes extra-ordinary. This will be amazing!

Now make a lovely Frisee salad with a nice vinaigrette, some crisp veggies and some rice pilaf and you've got one incredible meal! Impressive for company but a guilty pleasure for a night of staying in.....

I hope you will at least try this one time so you can see what I'm talking about.... There are so many variations to mole you'd have a hard time keeping up with all of them, but it's fun to try. I've got some incredible fruit based moles which I'll share soon too. But in the meantime, savor every spoonful.... talk soon....

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