I think moles are Mexico’s greatest contribution to the world of cuisine. And I think, if Mexico decides to declare a national dish, it should be the magnificent mole poblano.
Mexican moles deserve to be ranked with the world’s most celebrated sauces. The pomodoros. The bearnaises. The piperradas. The mustards. The ketchups (yes, the ketchups). The hollandaises. The alfredos. The romescos. The arrabiatas.
But not all moles are created equal. There are some, most often sold under the name mole poblano, that are cloying concoctions that overpower the food they are supposed to enhance. I think Kraft barbecue sauce has a wonderfully complicated taste. But I don’t want it anywhere near my spare ribs. That’s like putting a mask on Penelope Cruz.
You don’t often find those dominating moles in San Miguel de Allende. They’re more the product of resort towns filled with sunburnt, sand-in-their-shoes, all-inclucifers providing them with the opportunity to tell friends and family when they return to Peoria, “Guess what, Larry, We had chicken covered in chocolate sauce. Well, OK, we’d had a few margaritas first.”
But for every one of those sickly sweet, burnt chocolate, bad moles, there are ten times as many very good moles and, occasionally, one great mole.
About the only rigid rule for a mole is it must contain chili peppers. The rest of the ingredients combine historic precedents with wild imaginations. The mole that celebrity chef Rick Bayless prepared for Barrack Obama contained 26 different ingredients. Other recipes have more than 30.
There is a rainbow of moles: negro, colorado, amarillo, verde, chichilo, coloradito, and one called mancha manteles (tablecloth stainer) that was the subject of Susan Trilling’s book My Search For The Seventh Mole. There are moles from Puebla, Oaxaca, San Pedro Otacpan, even San Miguel’s neighboring cities of Queretaro and Guanajuato.
And now I’d like tell you about another mole. Call this one the eighth mole. Or call it mole naranja. Or call it mole San Miguel. Or call it all of the above.
Maria Auxilio Trujillo is one of the most respected chefs in San Miguel de Allende. Her reputation has been built primarily on her ability to put a lot of courses on a table for very few pesos. I think Chef Maria is much more than an efficient chef. I think she is one of the very best Mexican chefs regardless of budget. She proved it last week.
I told her I would like her to host The Gentlemen Who Lunch. I told her I would like her to do a mole. Maria looked excited about doing it. Maria decided to make that mole naranja San Miguel.
There were 12 guys there at Maria’s restaurant, Sabores y Salsas for lunch. We started with a salad.
Did you ever have a kaleidoscope when you were eleven years old? Did you still play with it when you turned fourteen? Then you understand Chef Maria’s salad. A bit…no make that a lot…of everything. Lettuce. Alfalfa sprouts. Carrots. Purple cabbage. Amaranth. And the best part, a honey and mustard dressing. There was everything but the pretencious oversized plate with swirls and squiggles on the rim. And do we really want to eat art or do we prefer good tasting food?
Next up soup. Again nothing fancy. Sopa de calabazas. Zucchini soup. With a little chile. A little cilantro. And a little cream. I would have liked a little crunch, maybe some croutons, but then I thought, I’m in Mexico not France.
And then it came. The mole naranja San Miguel. My name, not Chef Maria’s. Over a bed of pork. And the very best piece of a pig a mole could lie on, pierna, leg of pork. Even better than shoulder. With just a little rice on the side.
I could taste orange. I could taste banana. I could taste tamarind.
“And cinnamon”, said Dick Brinson.
“This is the first time I’ve had her food and it’s absolutely amazing”, said Ron Roth.
“So, so good,” said Don Day’s son, Zane.
I asked Chef Maria where her mole came from and she told me, “A lot from tradition and a little from me.”
I asked her to write down the ingredients in my spiral ring binder and she wrote down this:
4 platanos. 1 litro jugo naranja, 10 tamarindos. 10 chiles pasillas. Canela. Pimienta. Clavo. Comino. Piloncillo.
I thought of asking for the exact recipe but then I thought again. Moles are something you buy, not make.
For the finale, Maria brought out the moistest of chocolate rum cakes, with some chunky cranberries, and an ice cream she’d picked up in Dolores Hidalgo made with almonds, pecans and pine nuts.
As good as the dessert was, I couldn’t help thinking of that mole. And I couldn’t think of anything more I could do with this blog post than to possibly persuade you to go to Chef Maria’s new location at El Mirador (with the extraordinary view) and try it.
Now it may not be easy. Because I’m sure Maria got up even before I heard the rooster that morning to make that mole. And I’m sure she’s not going to make it unless she’s got a reasonably big group. But if you think you can organize it, do it.
Sabores y Salsas is located in El Mirador Hotel, Salida a Queretaro 88A in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, Wednesday through Sunday, from 9:00 am.