Oaxaca is a place I have been to countless times, but always leave wanting to go back. No wonder I was eager to bring the crew, so they could experience all that I kept telling them about. And mostly, so they could help me capture it to bring to you.
My series director, Dan, must have been dizzy from me telling him how things are “different” in Oaxaca so many times. There is something in the air, and there is something in the way the light hits Oaxaca. It makes everything you think is familiar gain a completely different dimension. Maybe that is why Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s main cradles of art.
The blue in the sky seems a deeper shade of blue. The green in the plants, mountains and herbs looks more intense and has more saturated hues of green. When you wake up in the morning and open a window, the air smells fresher and feels more crisp. The sun shines brighter. And the word “diverse” has never had a better match.
Oaxaca is one of the – or the – most ethnically and culturally diverse places in all of Mexico. It has eight defined and distinctively different regions and 18 ethnic communities – each with their own culture, cuisine, language and pre-Hispanic forms of self governance and organization for life and society.
To put it simply, as my dad would say, Oaxaca is another world.
One of the common sayings related to Oaxaca is “the land of 7 moles.” But, the irony is that there are many more moles than that. There are dozens and dozens of them. Each mole has so many different versions, depending on the cook, the family or the town.
Here, I am sharing a Coloradito Mole with Chicken. I tested it many times at home to get the exact taste I experienced in the city of Oaxaca. So many times that Sami, my middle son, would joke “coloradito, mami, coloradito?” every time he walked in the kitchen and saw a large pot simmering.
Silky, delightfully sweet, savory, tangy, and with a light spice, it is a small window into the beautiful complex layers that Oaxaca has all around.
Try it at home and join me for the new season that is about to premiere! Check your local listings here.
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- 1 ripe plantain
- 6 ancho chiles stemmed and seeded
- 5 guajillo chiles stemmed and seeded
- 1 pound (or 3 to 4) ripe Roma tomatoes
- 5 cloves garlic unpeeled
- 1 1/2-inch thick slice of white onion
- 1 1-inch-long stick ceylon cinnamon or canela (or 1/2 teaspoon ground ceylon cinnamon)
- 3 whole cloves
- 6 black peppercorns
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons raisins
- 1 tablespoon grated piloncillo or dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt divided
- 1 3-pound chicken cut into 8 serving pieces (wings removed for later use and breasts cut in half)
- Vegetable oil for cooking the chicken
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 3-ounce bar of Mexican chocolate broken into pieces
- 1 pound chayote squash peeled and sliced into 1-inch strips
- 1 pound green beans trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- Tortillas or rice to serve
- Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Place the plantain in a baking dish lined with aluminum foil and make a couple of 1/2-inch slits on its skin. Bake until completely cooked through, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, when cool enough to handle, peel and slice. Set aside.
- Heat a comal, griddle or skillet over medium heat. Once hot, toast the ancho and guajillo chiles for about 30 to 45 seconds per side, until fragrant and lightly toasted. Place chiles in a saucepan along with the whole tomatoes, cover with water and set over medium-high heat. Simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until the chiles are rehydrated and plumped up, and the tomatoes are cooked and mushy.
- On the same comal, griddle or skillet, char the unpeeled garlic cloves and the onion slice, until completely charred and softened, about 8 to 10 minutes, flipping a couple of times in between. Set aside to cool. Peel the garlic when cool enough to handle.
- On a small skillet set over medium heat, toast the cinnamon stick for a minute or two until fragrant, flipping once. Next, toast the cloves and peppercorns for a minute, moving them around the entire time. Toast the almonds for a couple of minutes, until lightly browned, as well as sesame seeds. Lastly, toast the oregano for 5 to 10 seconds.
- As each ingredient is finished being toasted, place it in the jar of the blender: the cinnamon, garlic, onion, cloves, peppercorns, almonds, sesame seeds, and oregano. Add the rehydrated chiles, cooked tomatoes and 1 cup of their cooking broth, and the plantain to the blender, as well. Incorporate the raisins, sugar and 1 teaspoon salt, and puree at least for a couple minutes until completely smooth. If your blender is on the smaller side, puree it in batches.
- Set a large casserole over medium-high heat and heat enough oil to have about 1/8-inch of depth. Season the chicken with the remaining teaspoon of salt. Once the oil is hot, brown the chicken pieces in batches, making sure to not crowd the casserole. Cook until they have created a crust on the skin and are easy to flip, about 3 minutes per side. Place the finished pieces in a large bowl.
- Once you are done browning the chicken, reduce the heat to medium-low. Carefully, and using the casserole’s lid as a shield (there will be splatters), pour the mole sauce into the oil. Stir and cover with the lid, leaving it slightly open, and cook for about 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally (still protecting yourself with the lid), until the sauce is very thick and seasoned. Add the chicken broth, chocolate pieces, and the browned chicken pieces, and cook for another 20 minutes. Add the chayote squash and green beans, give it a good stir, and cook until vegetables are cooked yet tender, another 10 minutes.
- Serve with tortillas and/or rice.