Some people come from families who cook, families where food is at the core of that sense of belonging. I’m not one of those people. When I look back on my childhood, I am not flooded with happy kitchen memories. I don’t reflect fondly on inspirational times of cooking with my mother. And yet, somehow, my sister and I have both developed a love of cooking and food. We read cookbooks. We trade recipes. We constantly try new things – with varying degrees of success. Happily, my nephew has followed along behind us and become an adventurous cook himself. So as he was preparing to leave for graduate school In Wisconsin last July, we found ourselves discussing what fabulous dish we could make together before he was gone. I’m not sure exactly how it happened but at some point we both turned on the same light bulb and said, “Rick Bayless’ Oaxaca Mole!”
If you are a fan of the Top Chef series and watched the first season of Top Chef Masters then you know exactly what I am talking about. If not, here’s a little background. Rick Bayless is a chef known for Mexican cuisine. He has spent a lot of time in Mexico and is clearly passionate about the culture and the food. The Frontera Grill in Chicago is one of his flagship restaurants. He won the first season of the Top Chef Masters competition and his Oaxaca Black Mole was one of the winning dishes. It was a dish that I swooned over when I saw it on the show, a dish that sent me scurrying to the show’s website to find the recipe, a dish with 28 or so ingredients and an estimated preparation time of half a day. Oh my! But nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say and it seemed a fitting dish to tackle in celebration of Andy’s new venture in the wilds of the Midwest. We set aside two days for the task. One day to complete the shopping. One day to prepare the dish.
Shopping day. We researched the locations of several Mexican markets in the Orlando area, prepared to visit more than one if we had to. We discussed accompanying dishes, settling on plain rice and a simple jicama salad with a pear crisp for desert. We constructed the very long shopping list and set off in search of the ingredients. The first Mexican market we went to turned out to have almost everything we needed for the mole. There we collected mulato, pasilla and guajillo chilies, fresh tomatillos and jicama, Mexican chocolate and corn tortillas. After that, it was an easy run through the supermarket for the more mundane ingredients: chicken and garlic and onions and other good stuff. I should note that we had stumbled across the required green tomatoes at a farmers’ market the night before so those were already in hand. After several hours of organizing and running about, we were done with Phase I.
Preparation day. We had already decided to do the cooking at my sister’s house. She has a bigger kitchen and her family accounted for 75% of the dinner party attendees. I arrived at noon and we began. Seeding and tearing the dried chilies to be blackened in a dry skillet. Reconstituting the blackened chilies in a warm water bath. Roasting onions and garlic. Toasting nuts and sesame seeds. Chopping and dicing and constructing four separate purees to be incorporated into the sauce. Stirring and thickening the purees to form the mole, each puree added separately in such a long process that we took turns at the stove with the spoon. Cooking the chicken? Almost an afterthought. But after half a day of effort, success! Oaxaca Black Mole with Braised Chicken.
My nephew will turn 25 this March. He has many years of experience and memory making ahead of him. His memory of the afternoon we spent making mole will probably fade in time as so many of our memories do. But for me, this memory will remain bright. When I think of that day, I remember the little boy that I adored and I appreciate the young man who happily collaborated with his aunt to create a special family meal. Life is good.
NOTE: I did not include the recipe within the text of this article because it is very long. You can find it here. We decided, wisely I think, to forgo making the plantain tamals and the grilled nopales.
©HollyKL. 2011. All rights reserved.
This article was produced for the Newsvine Photographers Foodies! challenge.