Mast Brothers Mole
The recent signs of spring are so small that, if I wasn’t desperate, I might not have noticed them at all. A little more light, a little later in the day, and I’m a completely different person. Once a layer comes off, I find it impossible to put it back on. Even with the frequent temperature drops, I stubbornly leave my gloves at home and my puffy coat is not coming out again until next year. All of which leaves me cold but determined. I’m also taking advantage of the break in the weather to enjoy my neighborhood in a way that I haven’t for a very, very long time. I reference Brooklyn in my posts often but the changes in the last few years can sometimes feel like a cautionary tale about getting everything you wish for.
When I first moved to Cobble Hill after college, most of my friends were still committed to 2-year runs in Manhattan shoe boxes. My family who only passed through the borough on their way from the airport were convinced I was living in a cross between Saturday Night Fever and a Children of Men dystopia. When I met them in the city for a trip to museum or show, I’d tell them about the tree-lined streets surrounding Edith Wharton-brownstones in Brooklyn Heights, the middle eastern shops and restaurants on Atlantic Avenue, the fruit peddler with a horse drawn cart working his way past the Italian butcher shops and markets in Carrol Gardens, and the bodegas on Smith Street where I could get almost everything I was missing from home. They’d smile politely and give me $20 so I could take a cab instead of risking a dangerous subway ride home – at 3 o’clock in the afternoon – on a Wednesday. Brooklyn was a hard sell, but people eventually bought it. And then, they bought everything in sight. Where it was once all neighborhood standbys, there’s now a revolving roster or new shops, cafes, and restaurants. It some times feels like all of Smith Street is playing a round of musical chairs for highly curated home stores, artisanal food shops, and crafty bars.
The Mast Brothers would seemingly be part of the very beard-and-bell jar Brooklyn I’m so conflicted about – if it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve been doing it for so long, and so well. Reading about their beginnings in their Williamsburg apartment – husking cacao nibs with a hair dryer, sourcing from small cacao farmers, creating their bean to bar chocolate with their distinctive wrapping, and sailing a 70-foot cargo ship with 20 tons of Dominican organic cocoa beans into Red Hook – I felt very nostalgic for the recent past. The years when I couldn’t turn a corner without coming across something new, interesting, and thoughtfully produced.
I was looking for the challenge of a long ingredient crawl and their recipe for mole was really more map than recipe. I started by seeing what chiles I had then set out Saturday to gather the rest. My last resort was the new solar-wind powered Whole Foods on 3rd Avenue which I was desperately hoped to avoid on a weekend – pretty day or not. It turned out to be unnecessary. Between Sahadi’s and the Two for the Pot – a tea store with both an extensive British cookie (excuse me biscuit) and dried chiles selection – I was able to find everything I needed. Exactly where it had always been.
Mast Brothers Mole Sauce
Adapted from the Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook by Rick Mast and Michael Mast. I’ve skirted around trying a full-on mole recipe for years. There was something open ended about this version which falls somewhere between a mole Poblano and dark mole Oaxaca. Full disclosure, I did not use Mast Brothers chocolate which is a little too dear (as in pricey) to have any other way than on its own. Also, I had actual artisinal chocolate from Oaxaca which almost never happens. Unlike more traditional recipes, it doesn’t call for setting the seeds on fire or burning the tortilla to a crisp but I did roast the chiles and vegetables. Instead of bananas, I went with ripe, nearly black plantains. Next time, I’ll definitely be more prepared to play with fire.
Whenever a recipe pairs with poached chicken and calls for large amounts of stock, I kill two birds (or 1 bird) and make my own stock. It renders the perfect amount of shredded chicken that can be quickly simmered with the mole. I’ve included the recipe below.
1 pound plum tomatoes, rinsed, trimmed, and scored
3 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
½ large white onion, cut in thick rounds
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
8 mulato chiles, stemmed and wiped clean
6 pasilla chiles, stemmed and wiped clean
6 ancho chiles, stemmed and wiped clean
2 chipotle chiles, stemmed and wiped clean
½ cup whole sesame seeds plus more for garnish
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon whole allspice berries
¼ teaspoon whole cloves
1 to 3 tablespoons best-quality lard
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup whole natural almonds
¼ cup whole natural pecans
1 white corn tortilla
1 large ripe plantain, mostly brown or black spots, sliced
8 to 9 cups chicken stock
5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon sea salt
4 cups shredded poached or rotisserie chicken
Preheat the oven to 500°F. Line two large baking sheets with aluminum foil.
Spread the mulato and pasilla chiles on a foil lined baking sheet in the preheated oven. Check regularly and turn until puffed and black on all sides, about 5 to 7 minutes. Place the roasted chiles, ancho, and chipotle chiles in a large bowl with water to cover. Soak for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, place the tomatoes, tomatillos, onion, and garlic on a foiled baking sheet. Check regularly and turn until charred and cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes. This can also be done in a broiler but should be watched closely. Set aside until ready to use.
In a cast-iron skillet, toast the sesame seeds, peppercorns, thyme, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves over low-heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool. Grind in a spice grinder to a fine powder and set aside.
Melt the lard in the same skillet over low heat. Add the raisins, almonds, pecans, and tortilla and cook over low heat until the almonds are toasted and raisins are plump. Remove from the skillet and set aside until ready to use.
Add the remaining lard to the to skillet and cook over high heat until melted. Add the plantains and cook until blackened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Blend in the spices and set aside until ready to use.
Drain the chiles. Combine the chiles and 4 cups of chicken broth in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Strain the chile mixture into a large pot and simmer over medium heat, partially covered, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Combine the roasted vegetables, nut mixture, and plantains in a blender of food processor with 4 cups of chicken broth. Pulse until smooth and add to the chile mixture. Simmer covered over low heat until thickened slightly, about 45 minutes. Stir in the chocolate and whisk until melted and well incorporated, about 5 minutes. Use remaining chicken broth to thin the sauce to taste. Stir in salt and adjust the seasoning to taste.
Toast additional seeds in a dry skillet and toast. Use to garnish.
When ready to serve, heat up poached chicken with mole to taste and cook over medium heat until warmed through. Serve with warm corn tortillas or over rice.
1 whole bone-in, skin-on chicken breast, divided in half
4 large plum tomatoes, quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and halved crosswise
1 medium yellow onion, quartered
1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, trimmed 1-inch above the stems, tender leaves reserved for garnish
4 sprigs fresh oregano, plus more to garnish
4 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
1 dried bay leaf
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
To prepare the stock, line a fine-mesh sieve with a double thickness of cheese cloth. Freeze the lined strainer until ready to use.
Place the chicken breast, tomatoes, carrot, onion, fresh herbs, garlic, bay leaf, salt, peppercorns in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot with 8 cups of water. Bring to a steady simmer over medium heat, and cook covered for 20 to 25 minutes. Allow the chicken to cool in the broth.
Carefully lift the chicken pieces out of the pot and transfer to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken and set aside.
Pass the stock through the chilled sieve into a large mixing bowl. Discard the solids. Return the stock to the pot and set aside.