Is This Mexico’s Best Mole Poblano?
I’ve taken dozens of cooking classes throughout the years in towns across Mexico. Among my favorites were two classes I encountered just last month, days apart. The first was in Puebla at Mesones Sacristía, a quirky boutique hotel and restaurant where chef Alonzo Hernández showed me how to make mole poblano the way his grandmother taught him to make it. That’s what this story is about. (The other class was in Punta Mita at the luxurious Four Seasons resort, where chefs Richard Sandoval and Philippe Piel sparked up the beachside grill for fresh octopus that had been pulled from the sea earlier that day by local fishermen. But that’s a story and recipe for a future post, coming soon.)
Located in Puebla’s historic core, Mesones Sacristía is an eclectic, eccentric hotel with only eight rooms, a former private residence built around a central courtyard. The courtyard was originally open air but is now covered with a glass roof, conservatory style. The restaurant consists of a handful of wobbly tables scattered around the courtyard, whose walls are painted hot pink, and tucked into a small alcove bar, with purple walls. The tables are set with beautiful blue-and-white Talevera plates from a local potter.
This was actually the second time I had taken a mole class at Mesones Sacristia. The first time was many years ago when I first stayed at the hotel and fell in love with Puebla. Back then, the chef was someone different. I don’t remember his name, nor do I remember much about his mole. Every cook in every kitchen in Puebla has a unique way of making mole. No two recipes are alike. And everyone’s is the best—or so they’ll tell you. But the new chef? The new recipe?
Hernandez’s version is absolutely incredible, the best mole poblano I’ve ever tasted. (And I’ve sampled quite a few over the years. I even served my own version when I was chef/partner in a restaurant in Texas, before I became a writer.) If my version had tasted anything like Hernandez’s, I’d probably be a famous restaurateur right now. Dark, smoky and complex, this mole unfolds across the tongue in a tightly orchestrated symphony of flavor: a bold blast of chiles, followed by a sly hint of clove, the mere echo of fennel, a suggestion of garlic. There’s a constant undercurrent, a curious tang of charred tortillas. The chocolate adds a softness rather than any distinguishable flavor. I liked my plate clean. And I can’t wait to make it again.
Mesones Sacristía, Puebla, Mexico
Oil, as needed for frying
3 Mulato chiles
3 Ancho chiles
3 Pasilla chiles
6 Roma tomatoes
1 Onion, quartered
2 Garlic cloves, peeled
6 cups Water, divided
¼ cup Raisins
¼ cup Almonds
¼ tsp Fennel seeds
¼ tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Coriander seeds
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
2 Tbsp Sesame seeds, toasted
2 sticks of Cinnamon
1 Plantain, fully ripened, peeled, cut in half
2 Corn tortillas
1 Cup raw sugar
3.3 oz (one disk) Ibarra chocolate
Chicken, roasted or grilled
Additional toasted sesame seeds, garnish
1. In a skillet layered with oil, fry the plantain until golden; reserve.
2. Using tongs, hold the tortillas over a gas flame and let them slowly catch fire and burn until crisp and black.
3. Transfer the plantain and tortillas to a blender and puree until smooth, adding a little water as necessary to achieve a smooth, creamy consistency. Reserve.
4. In the same skillet, quickly flash-fry the chiles until they become soft and fragrant, just a few seconds each. Reserve.
5. Heat a comal or dry cast-iron skillet or griddle until extremely hot and cook the tomatoes, onion and garlic until fully blistered and charred on all sides. Do not use oil; simply add the vegetables straight to the dry, hot surface and let them smolder. The vegetables should still be firm but fully charred.
6. In a large pot, bring about 5 cups of water to a boil. Add the fried chiles and the charred vegetables along with the raisins, almonds, fennel, cumin, coriander, cloves, pepper, sesame seeds and cinnamon. Boil until the vegetables are completely soft.
7. Working in batches, transfer the vegetable mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. (Be careful when pureeing hot mixtures, as the volume will expand when the blender is turned on; fill no more than halfway.) Strain the sauce through a medium sieve and discard any solids.
8. In a large skillet or pot, heat oil until very hot. Carefully add the tomato/chile puree to the hot oil and fry until the oil and sauce have fully incorporated and thickened. Reduce the heat and add the reserved plantain puree, mixing well. Then add the chocolate and sugar, stirring constantly until the chocolate is fully melted and the sugar completely incorporated. Allow to simmer over low heat for another 20 to 25 minutes. The sauce is now ready, but it will be even better tomorrow.
Cook your chicken however you like it. At Mesones Sacristia, the chef bakes it very simply, without the skin, seasoned only with just salt and pepper. Return the mole to a simmer, then add the cooked chicken, tossing to coat well. Serve with additional sauce. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.