Holy mole, pass the sauce

DAVE BURTON
Last updated 08:42 11/12/2013
andres pimentel
KENT BLECHYNDEN/FAIRFAX NZ
FELIZ NAVIDAD: Mexican mole meister Andre Pimentel.

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Since Christmas is a big deal to devout Mexicans and the turkey is their prized native bird, it may well be that our Christmas turkey story begins with them.

Certainly there's an ancient tradition behind the sauce served with the Mexican Christmas turkey, the legendary mole poblano - a slightly sweet, faintly smoky, mildly spicy sauce which famously includes a distinct hint of chocolate or cocoa. Written recipes date from the early 19th century, but generic mole is much older.

In Wellington, the undisputed mole meister is Mexican restaurateur Andres Pimentel, who shares his recipe here. He serves it over chicken all year round at his Lower Hutt restaurant, Hot! Like a Mexican, and tomorrow is offering it in a special taco at his brand new Willis St venture, Burrito King.

When he is home in Vera Cruz for Christmas, he serves his mole over turkey for his extended family on Christmas Eve, before they go to church for Midnight Mass. After dinner, presents are handed out to the children, which explains why Santa isn't big in Mexico. There, he's referred to as "gringo rojo" - the red gringo.

As Pimentel explains, Mexican men aren't really supposed to be in the kitchen. Soon after he married his Kiwi wife Myrene, the couple returned to his family for Christmas.

His sister poked her head around the door and hissed "Shortie!" (for that was his nickname). "Damned Shortie, you married a Kiwi who doesn't like cooking! Instead, she's watching football on TV with our husbands and boyfriends, which is where you should be, too!"

"But please," said Pimentel, "I love my kitchen, I love my cooking, and I want to learn everything from you."

Written family recipes being unheard of in Mexico, Pimentel watched carefully as sister Elizabeth made Guajillo, a Christmas leg of pork, marinated with a paste of roast onion, garlic, chillis and tomatoes. This is served over wide ribbons of pasta, with a sauce of onion, mushrooms and cream.

Foreign to Kiwi palates is the Christmas bacalau prepared by his sister Marina - dried cod, soaked for two days to soften it and reduce its saltiness, then shredded and mixed with capers, red capsicum, garlic, olive oil and white wine.

Once fried, the bacalau is sandwiched between two layers of soughdough bread, known as a torta. As for the Ensalada de Navidad (Christmas Salad), there's no great secret, as it simply comprises chopped apple, walnut and cream. Add celery and voila - Red Gringo's Waldorf Salad.

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TURKEY MOLE

NEED TO KNOW

Main ingredient Turkey
Type of dish Mexican
Course Lunch
Cooking time 2+
Serves/makes 4-6
Special options Kid-friendly

1 turkey, about 6kg
1 cup melted butter
2 tsp ground chipotle (smoked jalapeno)
2 cloves garlic, mashed
The Mole Poblano:
5 dried chipotle chillies (for smokiness)
10 dried pasilla chillies
6 dried guajillo chillies
6 dried negro chillies
200g sesame seeds
200g pumpkin seeds
200g almonds
2 Tbs coriander seeds
1 Tb black peppercorns
1 Tb cumin seeds
1 Tb aniseed (can use star anise)
1 Tb whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
3 corn tortillas (can use corn chips)
1 head of garlic, roasted
200g raisins
1 medium bunch fresh radish leaves, shredded
Up to 1 cup cocoa powder
Sugar to taste
Salt to taste
Lard, as needed
3 tomatoes, roasted, skinned and deseeded
Chicken stock, as needed
Extra sesame seeds for garnishin

1. Prick the turkey all over with a fork and rub with the butter mixed with garlic and chipotle. Use your favourite stuffing, or try grinding tortillas with the turkey giblets, a little chilli (both green and dried), and salt and pepper. Moisten with chicken stock.

2. Roast the turkey at 180 C for three and a half to four hours, turning and basting occasionally, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 85 C.

Pimentel says the secret to mole is to have everything ground as finely as possible, so the final sauce is silken smooth.

To this end, everything that can be roasted, should be roasted until brittle - the chillies, seeds, nuts, spices and tortillas.

3. He has a special grinding machine, but home cooks can pulverise everything in an electric coffee grinder, in batches. If you can't achieve a fine powdery consistency, pass the mixture though a fine sieve.

4. Add the cocoa powder at the end, to taste, along with the sugar and salt, also to taste. It should be only slightly sweet.

5. Mix in just enough lard to turn the mixture into a paste.

6. Place this paste into a frying pan along with the tomatoes. Heat and stir, but only long enough to ensure the mixture is thoroughly blended. When the mixture begins to go plop, plop, stir in enough chicken stock to reduce the sauce to the consistency of cream.

7. Evenly smother each turkey portion, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve with sourdough bread rolls, to save any family member having to be away from the table, heating up tortillas in the kitchen. Makes 20 portions, but freezes well.

- Stuff

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