Holy Molé! Celebrating Mexico’s Legendary Sauce

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Did San Pascual Bailón (Patron Saint of Cooks & Kitchens) invent mole sauce?

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AS THE PEOPLE OF PUEBLA prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of  El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla (aka Cinco de Mayo), the city’s residents will also honor their legendary, savory chocolate sauce: Mole (mow-lay). Mole sauce, in its many forms, has become so popular it is often referred to as Mexico’s national dish.

Puebla — where the symphony of flavors called Mole originated, and baroque architectural delights remain untouched — hosts the first International Mole Festival on May 2nd and 3rd, 2012.

Internationally recognized chefs and food experts  — including Rick Bayless, Patricia Quintana and Mark Bittman — will demonstrate techniques for making the elaborate mixture of chocolate, chili peppers, raisins, cinnamon and sesame seeds.

Panel discussions will emphasize the sauce’s global reach. Modern Mole lovers around the world can now find the savory stuff at LA’s historic Grand Central Market, via Mole Mojitos in trendy Williamsburg NYC, at a Mole-focused Mexican restaurant located in suburban San Jose, and in the refrigerated food case at a chic Tokyo department store food hall.

SO WHO CAME UP WITH THIS CRAZY, YET HARMONIOUS, COMBO of chocolate and spices celebrated by food lovers around the world?

Scholars have conducted extensive research and cite the first printed Mole recipes appearing in the nineteenth century shortly after Mexican independence (Pilcher).

The Mexican people, however, have been making Mole (or something similar) much longer. One anthropological study describes Mole as “essentially pre-Columbian” and another concludes that Spanish missionaries introduced the recipe to Indian communities (Pilcher).

Whatever the facts may be, such a legendary sauce deserves grand legends — and Mole Poblano has a few whoppers!

SOME BELIEVE 16th-century nuns from the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla de los Angeles prayed to an angel for inspiration, then concocted the intense mixture of more than twenty ingredients.

Another legend places Mole in the time of the Aztec king Moctezuma — with the king serving Mole to Hernándo Cortés (the conquistador Moctezuma may have believed to be a god).

One of the most repeated legends is that of a monk named Brother Pascual (aka San Pascual Bailón the “Patron Saint of Cooks & Kitchens”) who supposedly tripped while cooking and accidentally spilled the multitude of ingredients into a pot.

Author Diana Kennedy tries to clarify by writing that the Brother may have been “scolding his assistants for their untidiness, [and] gathered up all the spices they had been using.” He then put “them together on a tray, [and] a sudden gust of wind swept across the kitchen and they spilled over the cazuelas” (cooking pots).

In the children’s book Holy Molé!: A Folktale from Mexico, the authors add that modern “cooks from the region of Puebla still sing to brother Pascual when they light their stoves in the morning”:

‘San Pascual Bailon, atiza mi fogon

(Saint Pascual Bailon, help me to light my oven).’

LIKE ITS MANY LEGENDS, the sauce called Mole is complex — yet a wee bit folksy — which means you can find creative ways to serve Mole in any situation at any time of the day:

  1. Nestle Turkey in Mole for dinner (the classic, elegant version).
  2. Spread on a chicken (or pulled pork!) sandwich instead of mayo.
  3. Scoop it up with crispy tortilla chips — alongside a cold beer.
  4. Drizzle over scrambled eggs and roasted potatoes at brunch.

TO PARAPHRASE history professor Jeffrey M. Pilcher, the many uses (and varied ingredients) of this iconic sauce represent a gastronomic interpretation of Mole’s home: the city of Puebla during its lavish, baroque period.

Each ingredient in Mole sauce plays a chord in a wild — nearly excessive — symphony of flavors.

So why not listen to this exuberant symphony where it was written?

Visit Puebla’s First International Mole Festival!

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 More information & recipes:

  1. ¡Que vivan los tamales! Food and the making of Mexican Identity, Jeffrey M. Pilcher (University of New Mexico Press, 1998)
  2. Mole (Sauce) (WIKIPEDIA)
  3. All About Puebla (PUEBLA-MEXICO)
  4. Dona Tomas Cookbook: Discovering Authentic Mexican Cooking, Dona Savitsky & Thomas Schnetz, 2006 (Ten Speed Press)
  5. Holy Molé!: A Folktale from Mexico, Caroline McAlister & Stefan Czernecki, 2007 (August House)
  6. The Cuisines of Mexico, Diana Kennedy, 1972 (Harper & Row)
  7. Chicken in Mole, Puebla Style – VIDEO (HISTORY.COM)
  8. Mole Ribs (FOOD52)
  9. Mole Pork (SUNSET/MY RECIPES)
  10. Traditional Mole Poblano (MEXICO FOOD & MORE)
  11. Chicken with Sweet Mole Sauce (MSNBC)
  12. Chocolate Mole Sauce (DAVID LEBOVITZ)