Mole sauce isn’t easy to make, but it’s worth the effort. This version is redolent of cumin, oregano, and chocolate, which play off the gentle spice of dried guajillo and ancho chiles commonly found in Oaxaca, Mexico.
What to buy: The more exotic ingredients such as dried guajillo chiles, Mexican drinking chocolate, and Mexican oregano (a relative of lemon verbena) can be found in Latin markets or the Latin section of your supermarket.
Game plan: If you’re going to use this sauce to make tamales, keep the pork and sauce separate. When you are ready to fill the tamales, just shred as much pork as you’ll need.
This recipe was featured as part of our Tamales for the Holidays project.
- Yield: 6 1/2 cups (about 8 to 10 servings)
- Difficulty: Hard
- Total: 4 hrs 30 mins
- Active: 1 hr 30 mins
For the pork:
- 1 (6-pound) pork shoulder, cut into 3-inch chunks
- 1 medium white onion, quartered
- 3 medium garlic cloves
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
For the sauce:
- 9 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
- 4 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
- 3 medium, unpeeled garlic cloves
- 1/2 medium white onion, cut in half lengthwise
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 4 1/2 to 5 cups reserved pork cooking liquid
- 12 ounces Roma tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or lard
- 1/3 cup whole, raw pecans
- 1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
- 1/2 ripe yellow plantain, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
- 4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices sweet yeast roll
- 3/4 ounce Mexican drinking chocolate, such as Abuelita
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
For the pork:
- Place all ingredients in an 8-quart pot and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until pork is fork tender, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
- Remove pork to a dish; set aside. Reserve the cooking liquid.
For the sauce:
- Place guajillo chiles in a large, dry cast iron skillet over medium heat and toast until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; set aside. Place ancho chiles in the skillet over medium heat and toast until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl; set aside. Pour enough very hot tap water over each bowl of chiles to cover, and let soak until softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain both bowls and remove any tough stems; set chiles aside.
- Meanwhile, place garlic and onion in the dry cast iron skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally until they’re translucent and slightly charred, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and when the garlic is cool enough to handle, peel it; set garlic and onion aside.
- Place sesame seeds in the skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until they’re evenly toasted. Let cool, then grind to a powder in a coffee or spice grinder (do not overgrind); set aside.
- Combine reserved garlic and onion, ground sesame seeds, oregano, thyme, and 3/4 cup of the reserved pork cooking liquid in a blender. Cover and blend on low until smooth, about 1 minute. With the blender running, remove the cover and add reserved ancho chiles one by one, blending after each addition. (Add more pork cooking liquid only if needed to release the blender blade.) Blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
- Place tomatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until tomatoes are soft but not falling apart, about 5 minutes. Drain; set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil or lard in a Dutch oven or a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tightfitting lid over low heat. When the oil shimmers, add the blended ingredients and scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking. Let the sauce cook while the rest of the ingredients are prepared, scraping and stirring often.
- Add reserved guajillo chiles and 3/4 cup pork cooking liquid to the blender (there’s no need to clean the blender first), cover, and blend on low until smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour blended chiles through a fine mesh strainer into the sauce, pushing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids and rinse out the strainer and blender.
- Place the strainer over a medium bowl. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil or lard in the cast iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add pecans and fry, stirring often, until toasted, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the strainer with a slotted spoon. Add pumpkin seeds and fry, stirring often, until toasted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the strainer with a slotted spoon. Add plantain slices and fry until golden brown on each side, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to the strainer with a slotted spoon. Place bread slices in the skillet and fry until lightly toasted on each side, about 3 minutes total. Transfer to the strainer with a slotted spoon.
- Add 1 cup pork cooking liquid and the fried ingredients from the strainer to the blender. Cover and blend on low until a textured paste forms, about 30 seconds. With the blender running, remove the cover, add the reserved tomatoes one at a time, and blend until almost smooth. Add the blended ingredients to the sauce and stir to combine.
- Add the chocolate, 2 more cups of the pork cooking liquid, and the salt to the sauce. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce has slightly thickened and the flavors have melded, about 15 minutes. To use the sauce in Pork Mole Tamales, shred as much pork as you’ll need for each tamale and top with sauce. Otherwise, add the reserved pork to the sauce and cook until the pork is warmed through, about 10 minutes. Serve with tortillas.