Back when I was in cooking school, I took an amazing food and wine pairing class. It was held during the evening in the main, huge kitchen. We’d team up to tackle a stack of recipes from around the world and then line up our completed dishes to fill our plates and drink wine. I think we actually did learn something but it was the most fun I’ve ever had in class. Our final project was to cook a recipe and then bring two wines to pair with it; simple enough.
My kitchen partner and I reverse engineered our dish a bit. We found a wine we both loved and decided to cook to it. The wine? Earthquake Zinfandel. The dish? Molé. What could pair better with a lovely smokey, chocolately, bitter-berry wine than a dark smokey chili-chocolate sauce? Not much.
We crafted our molé from about four different recipes. Our master recipe was a cookbook in itself. It was three pages long encompassing two kinds of chocolate, four types of nuts and seeds, six different dried chilies, and almost every cooking spice in the spice isle. It was insanity. We made it twice. It took eight hours of active cooking each time. We scored an A on that project, but I have never attempted that recipe again.
I remain slightly obsessed with molé.
So while poking around the Internet looking for a lovely and different Valentine’s Day dinner idea I was thrilled to come across this: an easy slow-cooker version of my favorite sauce-as-meal. Written by Rick Bayless and published in his cookbook Fiesta at Rick’s the recipe looked intriguing with a handful of key molé ingredients that are slowly cooked for hours and then blended together. It seemed easy enough. I trusted the source, so I thought I should at least give it a whirl. I’m glad I did.
It took me 15 minutes to gather my ingredients, get the first stage of cooking done and the whole mixture into my slow-cooker.
Six hours later I used an immersion blender to puree the chilies, nuts and tomatoes into a smooth paste.
I let it cook on low for two hours longer to make sure all the flavors were fully married. Then, I shredded some chicken, sauteed it in molé with sesame seeds, and plated it with a generous amount of molé on top.
As simple as this recipe is, it delivers a very good molé experience that tastes even better the next day. The recipe makes a big batch, I made two dinners (straight molé over chicken and then cheese and spinach enchiladas with molé) and had a bit leftover to freeze. That is not a bad thing.
Give it a try. I do think it would make a fantastic Valentine’s dinner–spicy and sweet, exotic and earthy–perfect for a candle lit dinner for two. Or just because. I think you’ll be as happy as I was with the results.
Easy Slow Cooker Molé with Grilled Chicken
serves 12 with about 2 quarts of sauce (you’ll have leftovers)
Adapted from Fiesta at Rick’s by Rick Bayless.
- 1/2 cup rich-tasting pork lard or vegetable oil, plus a little more if necessary
- 6 medium (about 3 ounces total) dried mulato chilies, stemmed, seeded and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces
- 3 medium (about 1 1/2 ounces total) dried ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces
- 5 medium (about 1 1/2 ounces total) dried pasilla chilies, stemmed, seeded and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) whole almonds—with or without skins
- 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) raisins
- One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
- 1/4 teaspoon anise, preferably freshly ground (optional)
- A scant 1/8 teaspoon cloves, preferably freshly ground
- 1 ounce (about 1/4 of a 3.3 ounce tablet) Mexican chocolate, roughly chopped
- 1 slice firm white bread, darkly toasted and broken into several pieces
- 1/4 cup sugar (plus a little more if needed)
- About 2 quarts chicken broth
- 12 good-size pieces of chicken—bone-in breast halves or leg-and-thigh pieces—trimmed of excess fat
- 1/3 cup sesame seeds
- Prepare the molé base: If your slow cooker has a removable cooking crock that can be placed directly on the heat, measure in the lard or oil and set it over medium heat. Otherwise, heat the lard or oil in a very large (7- to 8-quart) pot or Dutch oven. When hot, add the chilies, garlic, almonds and raisins. Stir slowly and continually until the chilies are thoroughly toasted (the interior of each piece will become lighter in color) and the almonds have taken on a creamy color and toasty aroma—about 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes (with their juice), spices, chocolate and bread. Cook until the tomato juices are reduced and quite thick, about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups water, the sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir to combine. When the liquid comes to a simmer, transfer the crock to the slow cooker (or scrape the mixture into your slow-cooker). Cook on low for 6 hours. After 6 hours most of the liquid will be reduced to a glaze. The mixture can hold for several hours on the slow cooker’s “warm” setting.
- Finish the molé: Scrape every bit of the molé base into a bowl, then scoop half of it into a blender jar. Add 2 cups of the chicken broth, cover and blend until as smooth as possible—for most household blenders this will take 4 to 5 minutes. Set a medium-mesh strainer over the slow-cooker’s cooking crock and press the molé base through it. Repeat with the remainder of the molé base. Stir in 3 cups more chicken broth. Simmer in the slow-cooker for 2 hours or so on high. If the sauce has thickened past the consistency of a cream soup, stir in a little more of the broth. Taste and season with additional salt (usually about 1 teaspoon) and sugar (usually 2 to 3 tablespoons).
- Grill the chicken: Light a gas grill, setting the temperature at medium on the sides, off in the center; or light a charcoal fire, letting the coals burn until they’re covered with white ash and medium hot, then banking them to the sides. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken pieces liberally with salt, then lay them, skin side up, in the center of the grill. Cover and cook until the chicken is done (160°F on an instant-read thermometer or a small knife inserted into the thickest part of the thigh draws clear—not rosy—juices), 35 to 45 minutes. With this method of chicken grilling, there’s no need to turn the chicken, only to move pieces on the edge around if they are browning more quickly than those in the middle. The internal temperature of the grill should stay at about 325°F.
- Serve: In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds, stirring nearly constantly, until lightly browned and aromatic, about 4 minutes.
- Lay a piece of grilled chicken on each dinner plate. Pour a generous 1/2 cup of sauce on and around the chicken, then sprinkle with a generous shower of sesame seeds. Serve right away.