Friday, August 3, 2012

Smoky Peanut Mole with Pork Tenderloin

Mole (molay) is a sauce that originated in Mexico's colonial period that typically contains one or more types of chiles, ground nuts, tomatoes, spices, and sometimes chocolate.  (The word "mole" actually means sauce in Nahuatl so saying "mole sauce" is actually saying "sauce sauce".)  A mole can have 20, 30, or even more ingredients and is one of the classic sauces of the world.  I've tried mole a few times and was never that fond of the chocolate element in the sauce, plus some moles can be very heavy and smother the meat flavor. But I was watching a food network special the other day on "the best sauce I ever had" and Michael Chiarello (a famous chef from the Napa Valley) chose the mole served with pork at Rick Bayless' restaurant Frontera Grill in Chicago as his favorite sauce.  I'm a big admirer of Rick Bayless' Mexican cuisine so I was immediately curious.  After a few minutes of surfing I found the exact recipe and was happy to discover his version didn't contain chocolate and it "only" had 16 ingredients.  And it was served over grilled pork tenderloin, one of my favorite meats.  So I had to try it.  Of course.

First you should know that this sauce took a little over 90 minutes to prepare so plan accordingly.  It wasn't at all hard, it was just time consuming.  Thirty minutes are occupied with letting some chiles soak in water and another 45 minutes are spent letting the sauce reduce and stirring it once in a while.  I would estimate active prep time at around 40 minutes. Having said all that, it was SO worth it.  The sauce has a warm smoky richness without being heavy or overly spicy.  It complemented the grilled pork perfectly but it would also be great with chicken or turkey.  Rick Bayless scores again!

I wanted to pass along a few things I learned along the way.  First, the recipe doesn't specify whether the peanuts should be salted or not, and whether the chicken broth should be low-sodium or not.  I always err on the side of less salt so I used unsalted peanuts and unsalted broth.  You add salt at the end and I found 1 teaspoon to be the right amount with the unsalted products.

Second, I found dried ancho chiles in my regular store with other dried chiles.  You might also check the Mexican food aisle.  They look like this.

The recipe tells you to stem and seed the chiles, then tear them into flat pieces so you can toast them briefly in a dry skillet to develop a smoky flavor.  The torn chiles look like this.
The other chile in the recipe is canned chipotles in adobo, which is readily found in most stores' Mexican aisle.

The final tip I wanted to pass along is my new favorite "how did I ever live without this" gadget called a Thermapen.  I stumbled across it on another food blog and learned it's the instant thermometer of choice for most competitive BBQ enthusiasts and many professional chefs, so I had to have one. What makes it so great is the really thin probe that can measure the temperature of even the thinnest piece of fish, plus the fact that it reads temperature in 3 seconds flat.   The Lawyer uses it every time he grills and thinks it really helps take the guesswork out of grilling.  He used it for the pork tenderloin in this recipe and it came out absolutely perfect - tender, moist, and slightly pink in the center. 

The thermometer turns on when the probe is opened, then turns off when it's folded back into the body for storage - couldn't be easier.  If you're a serious food person or you've ever had trouble deciding whether a chicken or turkey or roast was done, you need this.  You might not know it, but you do.  You can check it out at   I don't receive anything by endorsing it but I highly recommend it anyway. 

Try the mole.  It's one of the famous, classic dishes of the world, and rightly so. Now is a good time if you have tomatoes in your garden, plus it's another one of those food adventures we like to have.

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Smoky Peanut Mole with Pork Tenderloin
Serves 6

2 medium dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ small white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled
8 ounces (1 medium-large round or 3-4 plum) ripe tomatoes
1 cup dry roasted peanuts, plus additional chopped for garnish
2 slices firm white bread, torn into pieces
2 canned chipotle chiles en adobo, seeded
½ teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican
1/3 teaspoon allspice, preferably freshly ground
About 3 ½ cups chicken broth
½ cup fruity red wine
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
Salt to taste
2 (1-lb) pork tenderloins
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Cilantro for garnish

Tear the dried ancho chiles into flat pieces. Heat an ungreased skilled over medium heat and add the chile pieces. Briefly press the chiles down with a spatula. Listen for a crackling noise and watch for the color to change. Do not allow the chiles to start smoking – a burnt taste will significantly change the flavor of the mole. Place the toasted chiles in a small bowl, cover with hot water, and let soak for 30 minutes. Pour off the water.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add white onion and garlic cloves. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions and garlic are browned, about 10 minutes. Scoop the onions and garlic into a blender.

Preheat the broiler with a rack at the highest level. Remove the core from the tomatoes and place on a baking sheet lined with foil. Place under the broiler for 5 minutes, turn the tomatoes, and broil for an additional 5 minutes until the skin of the tomatoes is blackened. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the skin off and place the entire tomatoes, juices included, into the blender.

Add the peanuts, bread, chipotles, drained ancho chiles, allspice, and cinnamon to the blender. Add 1 ½ cups chicken broth and blend until the mixture is smooth. Add a little more chicken broth if the blades of the blender aren’t running smoothly. Put the mixture through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl.

In the same large saucepan used to cook the onion and garlic, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the peanut puree. Stir continuously for about 5 minutes as the mixture thickens and darkens. Stir in 2 cups chicken broth, red wine, cider vinegar, and bay leaves. Turn the heat down to medium-low, partially cover the pot, and let the mixture simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring regularly.

Taste the mole and season with salt (1/2 – 1 ½ teaspoons) and sugar. Remove the bay leaves. Keep warm.

Preheat the grill to high heat. Rub pork tenderloins with olive oil and season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Place on the grill and sear each side, about 2 minutes per side. Turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for an additional 7-12 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145-150 degrees. Let the pork rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Serve several pieces of the pork with the mole sauce and garnish with chopped peanuts and cilantro.

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