Make This Tonight: Mole Grilled Steak

July 3, 2012

Mole Grilled Steak
Photo by Nicole Franzen; styled by Mariya Yufest

Derived from molli, the Aztec word for "sauce or mixture," "mole" (moh-LAY) remains to this day a generic term for sauces and sauce-like preparations in Mexican cuisine. Indeed, one of our favorite condiments, guacamole, simply means "avocado sauce." But, most often, we equate "mole" with one of Mexico's best-known and historically significant dishes, mole poblano, and that dish's most noteworthy ingredient: chocolate. 

Hailing from Puebla during the colonial era, mole poblano's most credible creation story involves a nun at the Santa Rose Convent who, in an attempt to honor the Archbishop during his visit, created a mole that merged New and Old World flavors. The requisite chiles, spices, nuts, seeds, and tortillas were added (as local cooks had done since pre-colonial times), and then, surprisingly, chocolate, most likely in the form of ground cacao beans.

Until that point, the idea of using cacao and its derivatives as a flavoring landed somewhere between peculiar and horrifying -- until very recently, chocolate had been the food of the gods. As Sophie and Michael Coe relate in their book, The True History of Chocolate, it was the equivalent of a Christian making coq au vin with communion wine. But unlike communion wine, the Spaniards were learning to enjoy this newly discovered chocolate as a drink in its own right during this period, albeit adding sugar to sweeten its spicy, bitter blow. The mole created that day represented more than just a mix of New and Old World ingredients to kowtow to changing tastes -- it became a culinary symbol of the convergence of indigenous and European cultures, the creation of new jointly held traditions.

Given its celebratory origins, it's no surprise that this mole (unlike that cinch of a dish, guacamole) is a labor of love, often containing 20 or more ingredients and involving a few hours of work (not to mention a heap of dishes). Such an involved dish is not well suited to a weeknight meal. Leave that authentic version for a leisurely weekend cooking session. Tonight, try this streamlined version, which succeeds in replicating the key flavors of the storied mole poblano.

Mole Grilled Steak by Michael Kiss

Serves 4

Mole Sauce:

1 teaspoon canola oil
1 onion, diced
4 dried ancho chiles, stem removed, seeded and rough chopped
1/4 cup raisins
2 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons almond butter or peanut butter
1 ounce Mexican-style chocolate
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Mole Grilled Steak:

2 pounds flatiron steak or other flavorful cut
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons high heat oil
Salt and pepper to taste

See full recipe (and save and print it) here.

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Wine Pairings:

Start with a reposado tequila as you heat your grill, as nothing is better then a drink from the native land of a recipe. (It also happens to be a very good palate cleanser!) You could drink tequila all the way through, but if you prefer wine, go big. All the Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) will work here, as well as Tempranillo or Nebbiolo. If you're going for a leaner cut of meat, drink New World wines for their richness. If you're going to use something like rib-eye or NY strip, drink Old World wines for their higher tannins and dryer style.

Top Picks

Espolón Reposado Tequila 750 ml, Jalisco, Mexico
2004 Bodegas Puelles Reserva Rioja, Spain
2002 Matanzas Creek Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California

Jake Rosenbarger

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Have you made mole poblano before? What about other moles? Share your cooking tips and serving suggestions in the comments section below.

Like this post? See the Make This Tonight topic from last week: Shrimp Pad Thai.

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