In exploring the world’s cuisines, you are bound to notice that many cultures build their favorite meals on a foundation of just a few basic sauces. The five “mother sauces” of French cuisine — tomato, hollandaise, béchamel, velouté, and espagnole (via Food52) — immediately come to mind. While each of these sauces is unique in its own way, they all have something in common: They are fairly simple to make and require only a few ingredients. Elsewhere in the world, the idea of a basic sauce isn’t quite so “basic.”
There is no better example of this than Mexican mole sauce. There are numerous regional varieties of mole, seven in the Oaxacan region alone, according to Epicurious, each with a myriad ingredients and methods of preparation. But as Epicurious notes, certain ingredients almost always come into play, including chiles, tomatillos, herbs, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, chocolate, and some kind of thickener, from plantains to tortillas.
While all moles are labor intensive, perhaps none take quite as much time as Oaxacan mole negro.
Even the simplest versions of mole are a major undertaking in the kitchen, typically calling for 20 to 40 ingredients, but Epicurious refers to mole negro as the most complex of the mole sauces. In a video shared by acclaimed chef and Mexican cuisine expert Rick Bayless, he calls this mole “the holy grail of Mexican cooking,” and notes that making it is no small feat. Though his version is as straightforward as mole negro can be, the instructions on his website still call for 26 unique ingredients, including Mexican chocolate, raisins, plantains, and three types of chile pepper: chilhuacle, pasilla, and mulato. Bayless also uses corn tortillas and bolillo, a type of Mexican bread, to thicken the sauce. If the extensive list of ingredients has you daunted, just wait till you hear about the cooking time.
Bayless spends three days working on his mole negro — talk about a labor of love. The first day is devoted solely to food prep. This includes cleaning, toasting, and soaking the dried chile peppers, toasting the nuts and seeds, roasting the tomatoes and tomatillos, and browning the onions, garlic, and raisins. On the second day, it’s time to actually combine all of the ingredients and simmer — the longer the better, according to Bayless. The third day is all about adjusting the seasonings to your liking and he even recommends refrigerating the mole overnight and reheating it to serve the following day so that all of the flavors have time to mesh.