November 16, 2022. Let’s be clear. Quickly. This is about turkey in one of the world’s great sauces. Mole, pronounced mo-lay, like olé but with the accent on the first syllable. It has nothing to do with the small, burrowing animal. In fact, the sauce is vegan. And it may be the richest, most explosively flavorful sauce you’ll ever have. In Mexico, it elevates turkey to greatness.
In all my life, I’ve had just one true turkey love. The Turkey Mole at Bar Alfonso in Mexico City. Yes, I thought it was all about the mole, not the turkey. But thinking back now, the turkey was important. The dish was better than the much more common chicken mole. Maybe because the turkey is somehow more substantial. Not more flavorful. Not more juicy or tender. Just more … substantial. And it takes a lot of substance to stand up to a great mole sauce.
Mine may not be great. But I figured if it was just half as good as Bar Alfonso’s – or Cafe Pascual‘s in Santa Fe, New Mexico – it would still be terrific. And the thing that would let me love turkey again, if only for a Thanksgiving day.
And it is terrific. Make it days in advance and refrigerate. Make it months in advance and freeze and thaw. No technique or experience required. A lot of ingredients makes the real thing fantastically rich, interesting and action-packed. Every mouthful is explosive, and not because it’s extremely spicy-hot. Yes, it should be moderately spicy-hot, but the explosiveness comes from the full range of flavors. This is a broadband sauce. So much going on in every mouthful. Excites every tastebud you’ve got. This is the all-time big vegan flavor hit.
Making it easy
All the “authentic” mole recipes call for at least three or four kinds of chile peppers. Nuts and seeds. The signature ingredient: chocolate. Cinnamon, sugar and ginger. Tomatoes and/or tomatillos. Bread and bananas. Garlic and onion. Never less than 20 ingredients.
So I worked on shortcuts that wouldn’t compromise quality. The big time saver is, no surprise, at Amazon.com: Dave’s Gourmet 6 Pure Dried Chiles, already ground. Chipotle and ancho, plus de arbol, New Mexico, habanero and cayenne. Now there’s a complex flavor profile in a $7 jar. The other magic ingredient: Rancho Gordo’s Mexican chocolate. It’s got the Mexican cinnamon and a little unrefined cane sugar already built in.
The magic realization: the base of a great mole sauce is a deep, dark version of a salsa verde. A “dark roast” salsa verde. So I started with something I knew how to make: salsa verde, but different. Instead of flash-searing tomatillos, onion, chiles and garlic in a pan, I roasted them in the oven. For 45 minutes. What came out was deeply flavorful. With a much lower water content. When I pureed them in the food processor, the salsa was thick and viscous. The color: deep reddish brown. The flavor: rich, dark, almost caramelized. What every Thanksgiving turkey aspires to. Ready?
Mole Sauce Ingredients
Enough to sauce two legs and a breast. Just multiply if you’re going whole bird.
1 cup of dark roast salsa verde
1 ounce of Mexican chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 tablespoon of the ground dried chile pepper combination
3 tablespoons of walnuts, ground or crushed
1 tablespoon of peanut oil
1/2 of a banana, sliced
1/2-cup of water
Make the Dark Roast Salsa Verde
To make 1 heaping cup. But make much more and refrigerate or freeze.
4 cups of tomatillos, sliced in halves
1 large onion, sliced thick
2 jalapeño peppers, cored, de-seeded and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 lime, juiced
1/2-cup of fresh cilantro
Salt to taste
Put the tomatillos, onion, garlic and chiles on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Then into a 375 F preheated oven for 45 minutes, until deeply browned. Now into your food processor for a 1-minute spin cycle. Add the lime juice, cilantro and salt to taste. Process for 1 minute more. You should have a very thick, dark salsa. Same ingredients as a traditional salsa verde, but the long roasting produces a very different result. Make a big batch of this; it’s fine in the fridge for days and perfect in the freezer for months. It’s not just for Mole. Great as is with vegetables, fish, chicken and tortilla chips. Mind-expanding with homemade tortillas.
There are dozens of mole versions in Mexico. This one is closest to the original from Puebla, Mole Poblano.
We’ll add complex spiciness and fruitiness to the Dark Roast Salsa Verde by preparing a thick paste. In a high-sided pan or pot, toast the walnuts over low heat. About five minutes, until the aroma of toasted walnuts is everywhere. Then add the chile pepper mixture, the peanut oil and Mexican chocolate (or bittersweet chocolate and a quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon). Stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate melts and you’ve got a very thick paste.
Now add the bananas; stir and and crush them into the paste. Add water and stir until you’ve got something that looks a lot like a thick chocolate fudge sauce. Finally, stir in your Dark Roast Salsa Verde. Stir for at least a minute, until everything is completely blended. Put the lid on your pan, reduce the heat to low, and let your dark, rich, thick sauce become even darker, richer and thicker. Let it barely simmer for at least an hour. I suspect more is better. And much more is much better. After 4 hours, mine was fantastic.
Make Turkey Mole
This is the easy part. No roasting a whole turkey. Just the parts you like. On the stovetop. In a pan with olive oil or a neutral oil like canola. Over medium-high heat.
Put the turkey parts (already thawed if they were frozen) in the pan, skin side down. Sizzle for 5 – 10 minutes, until the skin is browned. Salt and pepper to taste on the top side, then turn them over and cook for 5 minutes more.
Now spoon the thick, delicious mole sauce on and around the turkey parts. Turn the heat down to medium, put the lid on the pan and come back in 10 minutes to adjust the heat to an active simmer. The sauce should be bubbling gently. Come back 20 minutes later to turn the turkey. And again 20 minutes later to see if its cooked through. If it’s not quite ready, give it 10 more minutes of heat and check again. Do NOT overcook this. Parts other than the breast should be juicy. Personally, I think the thighs and drumsticks are the perfect parts for this preparation. But the breast will be elevated to greatness, too.
Less than $5 per person for a turkey course that’s actually exciting and memorable. More flavor than you can shake a drumstick at. A sauce that’s exceptionally thick and rich – but ultimately light. Remarkably, it’s vegan.
$5.69 for in my local supermarket for Stouffer’s 9.6-ounce frozen Roast Turkey with mashed potatoes, gravy and cornbread stuffing. The 2 ounces of turkey tenderloins are the 14th ingredient, after potato, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and ten more. Yikes. Pay Way less per ounce for the whole turkey part of your choice: about $1 for 5 ounces of actual turkey, no bones. Better is Cheaper.
Let’s Do The Math
Less than 1 hour to walk off all 280 calories in this beyond-satisfying 5-ounce serving of turkey simmered in 6 tablespoons of fantastic mole sauce. A great walk with a great taste in your mouth.
And just the kind of calories you want to be slowly digesting. Remember: all calories are not created equal! This Turkey Mole probably has the highest ratio ever of flavor to Glycemic Load. Because the Glycemic Load of turkey is zero. And the Glycemic Load of this spectacularly rich and amazingly vegan sauce is, well, about zero.
On the side. Or bottom.
Now, it’s Thanksgiving and this won’t be the only thing on your plate. You might put it right on top of a pillow of low GL, whole-grain corn polenta. Or mashed potatoes. A GL of less than 10 for 4 ounces of either. Both are great with the mole sauce as gravy.
Like chile peppers, tomatoes and tomatillos, corn and potatoes are original foods of the Americas, first cultivated by the Indians of South and Central America. Not historically accurate if you’re celebrating the 1621 Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation. But if you’re open to chowing down with the Aztecs and Spaniards, this is the Way to love turkey.