Shortcut Mole Sauce

published Nov 22, 2021
Shortcut Mole Sauce Recipe

Mole is traditionally a special-occasion dish, but this easy version can be made on weeknights with a roasted chicken breast or alongside some rice and charred corn tortillas.

Makes4 1/2 cups

Prep5 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook10 minutes to 20 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Eric Kleinberg; Food Stylist: Kristina Vanni

Mole is typically eaten with turkey and corn tortillas in Mexico during Christmas or big celebrations. So, after my parents moved to the U.S. from Mexico via Tokyo, it was a tradition they readily melded with Thanksgiving turkey. Our Thanksgiving table would have an enormous golden turkey, mashed potatoes, tomato-laced Mexican-style rice, cornbread stuffing, corn tortillas, and a bowl of steaming hot mole poblano instead of gravy.

But my parents didn’t just reserve mole for special occasions. For a lighter meal, they served mole on weeknights with a roasted or poached chicken breast, alongside mixed vegetables and corn tortillas charred over the open gas grates on our stove. When my maternal grandmother would visit my mother from Mexico City, part of her suitcase haul would include all sorts of dried chilies in various shapes in hues of red, brown, and black. As I came in and out from activities or school, I’d watch them in some stage of preparation, from deseeding the chilies to blending the sauce. The end result was an abundance of steaming Tupperware soldiers, all lined up and filled to the brim with freshly blended chilies, bread, chocolate, and all the other mysterious stuff I didn’t write down. Now that I’m old enough and curious enough, my grandmother is too old to travel from Mexico to make her mole. 

When I asked my mom to share the recipe, she declined, explaining that even with the same recipe, everyone’s mole will taste different because chiles are different based on how, when, and where they were grown and stored. “Chilies have almost a terroir like wine grapes,” she explained. “What was the wind doing? It’s like when you buy serranos, the taste and heat level is different.”

Credit: Photo: Eric Kleinberg; Food Stylist: Kristina Vanni

Even though I’m long overdue in learning how to make this ancestral dish, I confess I take shortcuts when I don’t have a batch of my mother or grandmother’s mole in the freezer. I buy it from local artisans, restaurants, and Mexican markets, then doctor it up with fresh tomatoes, onion, and a little brown sugar. You can add more chilies, a block of chocolate, or finish the sauce with sesame seeds. The most important thing is finding something that works for your family and timeline.

Exploring pastes at your local Mexican markets is a great way to decide which style is your family’s favorite. I prefer the pastes you buy by weight over brands with added preservatives, so if you have a local Mexican market, that’s the move. But Target and other stores sell Rick Bayless’ Frontera brand in pouches if this option doesn’t work.

If you’re not yet convinced to make mole on Thanksgiving, know that leftover mole and turkey is a godsend because you can use it in so many ways. My favorites are mixing shredded turkey meat with hot mole to fill a turkey torta made on Mexican sub rolls. I also like to make enchiladas: Warm corn tortillas until pliable, then fill with shredded turkey, chicken, or cheese and top with hot mole. 

Shortcut Mole Sauce Recipe

Mole is traditionally a special-occasion dish, but this easy version can be made on weeknights with a roasted chicken breast or alongside some rice and charred corn tortillas.

Prep time 5 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes to 20 minutes

Makes 4 1/2 cups

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    medium plum or Roma tomato

  • 1

    large white onion

  • 2 tablespoons

    neutral oil, such as canola

  • 1 cup

    mole paste (see Recipe Notes)

  • 2 cups

    homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth, plus more as needed

  • Salt or brown sugar as needed

Instructions

  1. Finely dice 1 medium Roma tomato (scant 1 cup) and 1 large white onion (about 3 1/2 cups). Heat 2 tablespoons neutral oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the tomato and onion and cook until softened, 5 to 10 minutes.

  2. Add 1 cup mole paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups chicken stock or broth and whisk until combined and the consistency of chocolate sauce, adding more broth as needed to thin. For a super-smooth sauce, blend with an immersion blender or in a stand blender. Taste and season with salt or brown sugar as desired.

Recipe Notes

Mole paste: I prefer the pastes you buy by weight over brands with added preservatives. So, if you have a local Mexican market, that’s the move.

Vegan or vegetarian: You can use water or vegetable stock instead of chicken if you’d like to keep it meat-free.

Storage: The mole can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 1 year. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave.