The same trip to Chicago that I visited Girl and the Goat, we also ate lunch at Frontera Grill. I’ve been a huge fan of Rick Bayless from seeing him on Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. He’s one of the most genial guys in the business and treats Mexican culture and cuisine with such a reverence. I ordered his chicken mole enchiladas, completely cleaned my plate, and they haven’t left my mind since.
Mole is a rich Mexican sauce, usually flavored with chiles, spices, seeds, fruit, and chocolate. I am for real. It sounds strange, but the spicy, sweet, and bitter notes come together in a thick dark sauce that just sings. Authentic mole is no joke–I’m talking 36 hours and 40 ingredients kind of tough. I was pretty stoked to find a well, completely bastardized version in the Chopped cookbook, made from pantry staples like peanut butter, soy sauce, cocoa powder, and chili powder. Somehow the peanut butter mimics the rich and complex sweetness you’d get from traditional sesame seeds and dried fruits normally used, and the soy sauce give the sauce a hit of umami flavor. It’s nowhere near the version an Abuelita would make, but my modifications made a tasty approximation, especially when compared to the freaky motor oil concoctions sold in jars at the grocery store.
The poblano rice is visually stunning and will keep well for several days. Save time and upcycle what’s in your fridge by using a rotisserie or leftover grilled chicken.
For the Poblano Rice
- 1 cup or basmati, jasmine, or any long-grain white rice
- 3 poblano peppers
- One bunch of cilantro
- A shallot or half of a small onion
- A clove of garlic (hell, use the pre-chopped stuff in a jar, whatever)
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Like wedges for garnish
For the Chicken Mole
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (or save a step and use whatever chicken is leftover in your fridge)
- Olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of Chili powder (ancho is preferred but regular is fine)
- 1/2 tablespoon of Chinese 5 Spice (can sub for cinnamon instead)
- A clove of garlic, minced (or use a small scoop of the jarred version, it’s cool)
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 3 tablespoons peanut butter
- A heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder
- Several big shakes of soy sauce
- A big dash of sugar
- A couple big squeezes of honey (optional)
- Kosher salt
- First we’re going to prep the poblanos. The peppers have a thick skin that tastes best when charred and removed (treat Hatch chiles the same way). Turn the oven up on a high broil, coat the poblanos in olive oil, set in a foil-lined roasting pan, then place directly under the broiler until they’re blistered and black, 8-10 minutes. Flip the poblanos over and broil the other side until they’re good and charred. Let the poblanos sit on you kitchen counter until they’re cool enough to handle, 10-15 minutes.
- While the poblanos cook, start the chicken. Toss in kosher salt and a dash of th Chinese 5 Spice and chili powder, then sear in a skillet with a little oil over medium high heat for about 3 minutes on each side. Remove and set to the side on a plate (they won’t be cooked through yet). Don’t wipe out your skillet, those leftover browned bits of chicken are a flavor goldmine! Obvi, skip this step if you’re using leftover chicken.
- Toss a little more oil into your skillet, and over medium heat, toast the 1 1/2 tablespoons of chili powder, 1/2 a tablespoon of Chinese 5 Spice, and minced garlic, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 a cup of water and use your spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Whisk in the peanut butter, cocoa powder, soy sauce, sugar, and a dash of kosher salt, and let bubble and thicken over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. THIS IS IMPORTANT: you must taste the sauce at this point and use your spidey senses to figure out what it needs to make it taste balanced and delicious. Needs more spice? Add more chili powder or some cayenne. Lacking in flavor? Add more kosher salt. Mine was a little thin and I couldn’t taste the sweetness, so I drizzled in honey and it made it perfect. If you’re cooking fresh chicken, add them and any accumulated juices back to the skillet and coat in the sauce. Turn on low and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Back to the poblanos. Use your hands to gently peel the skin off the peppers and remove the bulk of the seeds. Throw them in the carafe of a blender, along with a clove of garlic, a peeled shallot, and a dash of kosher salt. Chop off the stem base from the bundle of cilantro and toss into the blender as well, then blend until smooth (scrape down the sides of the blender if you need to). You’ve now got yourself some bangin’ green soffrito! Pour half into a jar to store in the fridge and use later (we’ll get to that) and set the other half aside to use in the rice.
- Pour a couple teaspoons of olive oil and the rice into a small saucepan and turn to medium heat. Stir the dry rice constantly, toasting it but watching to make sure it doesn’t scorch. You’re done when the rice turns opaque white, about 2-3 minute in. Toasting the rice gives it a toothsome texture and helps keep the granules separated, not sticky. This technique is what makes a rice pilaf a pilaf–it’s not just “rice with stuff in it” as that poor girl on Food Network Star believed. Once the rice is good n’ toasty, pour in 1 1/2 cups of water, a big dash of salt, and the rest of the poblano soffrito. Turn to low, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Cut the heat and let it steam covered for another 5-10 minutes. Remove the lid and stir, so the poblano soffrito is well incorporated.
- Put the rice and chicken on a plate, and enjoy! Garnish with lime wedges and sour cream.
Remix The Dish: the next day I tossed some chopped chicken up with the leftover mole sauce, rolled them up in corn tortillas, and baked on 375 degrees for 20 minutes. BOOM insta enchiladas. The soffrito is great to have in the fridge as well–stir into eggs before scrambling, whiz in the blender with some Greek yogurt and a splash of water for a tasty sauce/salad dressing, mix with sour cream as a dip, or spoon over goat/cream cheese and spread over bread.