Molesque Stew

Habaneros showed up in my grocery store this weekend. Exactly what thought process put them in my basket I'll never know, but now I've got 7 extremely spicy little peppers to deal with. Enter Google.

I remain intrigued by the suggestion of cherry pomegranate habanero sauce for salmon, but had more than half of a 1kg turkey breast behemoth waiting to be used up, so I kept hunting. Pavo in mole poblano kept popping up and delighting me with the promise of complex aromatics and spices. Now I have to say quite clearly here that I have never had mole prepared by someone who knows what it is supposed to taste like. That is, I have no idea what end result to aim for in preparing this. To further complicate matters, I compiled a list of all the common and/or interesting ingredients in the various recipes I encountered - without measurements. In my defence I did try to keep them in order of magnitude, the measurements varied by the recipe, and some of those recipes are intended to feed an entire Mexican village fiesta. Plus I didn't want a sauce or a roast, I wanted a stew.

My family may not be picky eaters, but my camera is; there are no batteries in this house that it will even deign to recognise. This is sad, because the pre-prep photo of the towers of spices and herbs I assembled for this dish was astounding. Wikipedia says that the average mole poblano contains 20 ingredients. I don't think I had that many, but I can't be confident about that.

I did read a warning somewhere that the spices must be roasted separately because their oils will react differently and require different times in the pan, and that ignoring this will lead to a "muddy" flavour in the final dish. I am surely guilty of that, but the end dish IS muddy-looking, so what do I care? We ate it happily.

1 habanero chili, roasted and soaked then veined and seeded (with gloves!)
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp peppercorns
1/4 raisins
1/2 c blanched almonds
1 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp (heaping) seaweed
1/2 c (scant) chicken stock
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 c grated zucchini from the freezer
3 capsicum [sweet peppers], sliced or chopped
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/8 tsp each anise and cayenne
1/4 tsp + each nutmeg and allspice
2 sticks + 1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 Tbsp thyme
1/4 tsp + molasses
6 strips of bacon, precut & crisped
600g turkey breast, cubed.
1 1/2 Tbsp cacao

MISSING: 1 can chopped tomatoes or tomatillos, pepitos, oregano.

  1. Roast your chili in a dry pan or pot, then transfer to a glass bowl and cover with hot water while you get on with the cooking. I had to weight mine down with a saucer to keep it in the water.
  2. Toast your whole spices in batches, and put them in the blender. Toast the almonds and add them to the spices. Add some oil to the pan (I used tallow) and fry the raisins until they puff up; throw them in too.
  3. Add the salt, seaweed and chicken stock, and blend to a paste.
  4. Core, devein and finely chop your chili. Add as much as you want to your mole paste and freeze the rest for other uses. Ironically we used exactly no habanero in our mole, becuase the other spices made it hot enough for our toddler and pleasantly zingy for our palettes. I realise that some people from, say, Texas, are laughing at us right now. Just do what you want to get a pot of something you'll like, I say.
  5. Crisp your bacon and remove it for later. Brown the turkey and remove. Top up the oil in the pan (I used my usual clarified butter/expeller-pressed coconut oil mix) and get your onions and garlic going. When they're nice and cooked, add whatever vegetables you're smuggling in - in our case, capsicum and zucchini - and the canned tomatoes or tomatillos that I didn't have.
  6. Give that a few minutes to start cooking before adding the mole paste, vinegar, remaining spices, and molasses. Add turkey. (If you do what I did and make the sauce lumpy with meat before adding molasses, it's really hard to distribute it evenly.) Just before the end of cooking stir in the cacao and bacon.
Wash in hot. soapy water everything that even thought of coming into contact with the habanero(s). Use single-use gloves and discard them inside-out. The oils on this chili will cling to anything and burn the bejeezus out of skin, eyes (ouch!) and tongues of all sizes. Normally mole contains about 3 types of chili. Considering that we coundn't handle one, the fact that I can't source the other kinds isn't terribly tragic.

This might be great with rice, but I don't eat rice right now and this was just fine on its own in a bowl.

The seaweed is in no way traditional and I am wholly to blame if anyone is offended by its inclusion. I simply try to hide it - and its iodine and minerals - in whatever I can. Presently it's dulse that sneaks into random dishes on my stove. Someone brilliant on a forum somewhere suggested mixing it with your pepper right in the grinder, but my grinder can't handle it.

We liked this, and we liked the (scant) leftovers, but I have to wonder if pork wouldn't actually taste better than turkey here. No, I'm not trying to offend any Mexicans!

There is a good possibility that this is under-seasoned. Maybe the oregano would have made a difference, I don't know, but I thought something was missing from the middle strata of flavour. That's how the molasses got in there. Fiddle at will, and leave a comment if you've discovered an improvement!

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