Let’s deconstruct a recipe.
¡A darle que es mole de olla!
A popular saying of Mexican origin that variously translates to…..
- an expression that means doing something at the moment and looking for the best way to solve it.
- means that something must be done immediately, with good disposition (in good spirits) and without delay.
- we must take advantage of the opportunities that come our way and not let them escape, and that it is best to do things at the moment (in the moment).
Mole de olla (1) is a traditional Mexican soup. It is made of xoconostle, squash, zucchini, green beans, corn, potato (or other vegetables), chambarete and aguja (cuts of meat), submerged into a broth of chile guajillo and chile pasilla seasoned with garlic, onion, and epazote.
- sometimes called clemole or tlemole
I enjoy the process of translating recipes. My primary knowledge of the Spanish language is one of the kitchen and garden (I suppose I could say the same about Nahuatl too). I think that even though my Spanish is rudimentary at best I could operate within a kitchen where only Spanish is spoken without any real dramas (except the usual dramas of working in a restaurant kitchen). Once the chisme begins I get lost though. Spanish is one thing but spoken/slang Spanish is an entirely different beast. Just prop me up en la cocina and get me cooking.
Mole is one of my favourite dishes simply because of its use of spices and chiles. The mole de olla appeals to me for a similar reason. Mole is a thick “sauce” and is a complete dish in and of itself (1). Mole de olla reduces the mole to its basics by removing all of the seeds/nuts (2) and most of the fruit (3) and replaces these ingredients with a plethora of vegetables. It is also a much “thinner” sauce than the normal mole and is at its very heart a type of soup (sopa).
- needing nothing more than a tortilla for scooping/mopping up the sauce
- which are used to thicken the mole
- xoconostles (tuna agria – a sour type of nopal fruit) are an ubiquitous ingredient recipes for mole de olla though
This is a fairly common recipe for mole de olla. For my own education and edification I have broken down the individual ingredients from Spanish into English and supplied images where I can. Mexican butchery (and I only go into beef/res here) can be quite different to the “American” cuts we might be used to. I go into more detail on this at the bottom of the Post (although each cut is deserving of a Post of its own). There are also translations of the various processes and terms used en español.
Mole de olla
(Para 6 personas)
- 1/2 kilo de chambarete (shank – osso buco cut) de res (beef) en trozos (pieces/chunks)
- 1/2 kilo de empuje (beef loin/sirloin/tri-tips) de res en trozos
- 1/2 kilo de agujas (rib) cargadas (loaded)
- 2 huesos de tuétano (marrow bones)
- 2 litros de agua (I don’t need to explain this one do I? Please say no.)
- 1 cebolla (onion) mediana (medium)
- 1 ramita (sprig) de epazote
- 4 xoconostles pelados (peeled), sin el centro (without the centre), partidos (“parted” – cut into pieces) en trozos (pieces)
- 2 dientes (teeth = cloves of) de ajo (garlic)
- 2 cubitos de consomé de res (beef stock cubes)
- 3 elotes (corncob/sweetcorn) tiernos (tender) partidos
- 3 zanahorias (carrots) partidas en trozos
- 5 calabacitas rebanadas (sliced) en rodajas (round slices) gruesas (thick) (rodajas gruesas = thick round slices)
- 1/2 kilo de ejotes (green beans) limpios (cleaned)
- 3 chiles anchos asados (roasted), despepitados (seeds removed) y remojados (soaked) en agua muy caliente (very hot water)
- 3 chiles pasilla asados, despepitados y remojados en agua muy caliente
To confuse the matter, in some places the poblano chile (the fresh incarnation of the dried ancho) is called a pasilla chile. The pasilla is the name for a dried chile. When a poblano is dried it becomes an ancho chile (wide chile). When a chilaca chile is dried it becomes a pasilla (little raisin) chile.
- 1 trozo de cebolla para la salsa de chile
Other ingredients (not in original recipe but are included in others I referenced whilst researching this Post)
- 1 Chayote , pelado (peeled) y en cubos (cubes) medianos (medium sized) (large dice)
- 1 Papa (potato) grande (large), en cubos medianos
Para acompañar (To accompany the dish – Garnishes)
- Cebolla picada (chopped/diced)
- Limón (literally = “lemon” but in México it means “lime”) en mitades (halves)
• El chambarete, el empuje, las agujas y los huesos de tuétano se cuecen en el agua con la cebolla, el epazote, los xoconostles, los ajos y el consomé de res; hay que espumar hasta que las carnes estén bien cocidas. Mientras, los elotes, las zanahorias, las calabacitas y los ejotes se cuecen aparte en un poco de agua con sal. Los chiles se muelen en la licuadora con el agua en que se remojaron y un pedacito de cebolla, se cuela y se vacían en la olla de las carnes y se dejan hervir 10 minutos.
• Se incorporan las verduras y se deja hervir durante cinco minutos más.
• Se sirve el mole muy caliente en platos soperos, y se acompaña con la cebolla picada y el limón partido.
- The chambarete, empuje, agujas and the marrow bones are cooked in the water with the onion, the epazote, the xoconostles, the garlic and the beef stock (and the mint if using – see MariCarmens notes below); skim off any foam that rises to the surface of the cooking liquid. Simmer the meat until it is tender and falling off the bone (you can remove the meat from the bones, shred it and add it back to the pot – if you don’t want any bones in your dish).
- In another pot, briefly cook the corn, carrots, calabacita, and green beans (or any other vegetable being used i.e. chayote, potato) in a little salted water (no more than 5 minutes or so. You still want some freshness and “bite” to the vegetables).
- Deseed and devein the dried chiles and rehydrate in hot water. Blend together the rehydrated chiles, the roasted jitomate (if using), the spices and oregano (if using) and a little of the onion until smooth.
- Strain this mix into the meat/broth mix. Cook for 10 minutes to amalgamate the flavours.
- Add your blanched vegetables into the pot. Cook for another 5 minutes.
- Add the chochoyotes (if using) to the pot for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Cook at a low simmer once the chochoyotes are added. They are somewhat delicate and boiling will destroy them.
- Serve in bowls and accompany with diced onion and cilantro and wedges of limón
Chilanga MariCarmen Ortiz Conway (now living in St. Louis) from the Familia Kitchen Blog presents her tia Consuelas recipe for mole de olla and she offers up some ingredient substitutions for the recipe for some of the harder to find (outside of Mexico anyway) ingredients and has some other interesting takes on the recipe.
First step : Make the beef broth. Simmer until the meat is falling apart/off the bone. The simmered herbs and veggies are then removed, as by then they will be extremely mushy and most of their flavour has already transferred to the broth. MariCarmen likes to add mint to her broth.
The second step is to elevate the flavour profile of this stock. A seasoning sauce is made with ancho and pasilla chiles, toasted sesame seeds, and tomatoes. This is quite similar to the use of a sofrito (1). In most recipes xoconostles are used, but they may be quite hard to find outside of Mexico. MariCarmen substitutes tomate verde (tomatillos), which are tart (although not as sour as xoconostles). The meat broth then simmers a second time as it marries with the flavours of the seasoning sauce.
At the third step the fresh veggies are added and cooked just until tender and crisp
- Sofrito is used in cooking throughout the Caribbean and especially in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It’s a fragrant blend of herbs and spices used to season countless dishes, such as stews, beans, rice, alcapurrias, and occasionally meat. In most cases, sofrito is the foundation upon which the rest of a recipe is built.
A nice addition to this type of soup are masa based dumplings called chochoyotes.
Chochoyotes (masa dumplings)
- 200 gr Masa de maíz (corn masa dough – you could use rehydrated masa harina if you can’t get fresh masa)
- 1 cucharadita (teaspoon) Aceite (cooking oil)
- 1 cucharada (tablespoon) epazote finamente (finely) picado (chopped)
- Sal al gusto (al gusto = to taste or to your liking)
- Mix together the masa, oil, epazote and salt. Form 2-centimeter balls of the dough.
- Make a dent/hole with the tip of your finger in your masa dumpling
- Add the chochoyotes to the dish for the final 10 minutes of cooking. Simmer, DO NOT boil the chochoyotes.
Mexican Cuts of Beef
Mexican butchers (carnicero/a’s) process animals into a range of cuts some of which are unknown outside of México (except by Mexicans of course). The cuts required for this recipe are outlined in the notes below.
Rather than just list individual cuts (although the cuts used in this recipe are shown in the ingredient list at the top of the Post) I (briefly) demonstrate below how México treats the processing of carne de res (also carne de vaca).
1. Pescuezo (neck)
2. Diezmillo (blade)
3. Paleta (shoulder)
4. Diezmillo (cross rib roast)
This is the topmost part of the forequarter. The upper part of the chuck, directly behind the head, is called the pescuezo (neck), used for making the broth called jugo de res. The paleta (shoulder) is used for chuck steaks and pot roasts. The rest of this cut is simply called diezmillo.
5. Res para guisar (beef for stewing)
6. Pecho (brisket)
This is located under the chuck. The front part of the chest, (above the fore shank), is generally used for res para guisar (stewing). The back part of the chest is the cut typically called brisket.
7. Costillar (rib roast)
8. Agujas cortas (short ribs)
This is directly behind the chuck. Bone-in rib roast is cut from the upper part of the rib section and might be called trozo de rosbif or costillar. Rib eye steaks and boneless rib roasts, are cut from the lower part. Other rib steaks are called costillas chuletas. The lowermost part of the rib yields part of the agujas cortas (short ribs).
9. Agujas cortas (short ribs)
10. Arrachera (skirt steak)
Under the rib cut, the lower short ribs, are called agujas cortas. Although the entire cut goes by this name, the lower part of it is the skirt steak, or arrachera. This is sometimes mistakenly called flank steak, because it does run along the flank, but the skirt steak is the diaphragm muscle and is the cut of choice for fajitas.
Agujas cargadas – The meatier version of the typical ribs is the loaded rib which, as its name suggests, is packed with meat. The loaded rib, also known as short rib, is famous for its intense flavour and tenderness. The middle quarter, where the ribs are found, is recognized as a muscular area of the beef where the muscles are not used as much, and the resulting cuts are the most tender and with the best marbling. The loaded rib comes from the bottom and side of the brisket ribs. This cut of ribs differs from the top cut by its length and the amount of meat that is attached to the bones. Typically, a loaded rib cut is 3 ribs with one side being meatier and the other side covered with a layer of fat (that produces excellent flavour when cooked).
11. Chuleta de filete (top loin steak)
13. Chuleta de dos lomos (porterhouse or filet mignon cut be cut from either of these)
14. Retazo con hueso (soup bones)
Located behind the rib section, this is usually the tenderest cut of beef. From it comes the filete (filet mignon), also called tenderloin in English and solomillo in Spanish. Puntas de filete are beef tips. This cut also yields the T-bone steaks (the same in both languages), as well as porterhouse steak, called chuleta de dos lomos. Tenderloin (filet mignon) can be cut from either of these. The lowest part of this cut is mostly bone and sold as retazo con hueso (soup bones)
15. Chuleta de aguayon (sirloin steak)
16. Aguayon de trozo (sirloin tip roast)
The section of beef behind both the short loin and the flank. A sirloin steak will often go by the same name in Mexico, but may also be called a chuleta de aguayón or a chuleta de aguayón solomillo. The lower portion of the sirloin, called the sirloin tip, is used for tip steaks or tip roast, but this is not a common cut in Mexico.
17. Tapa (top round)
18. Cuete (bottom round/eye of round)
19. Bola or empuje (tip roast/tip steaks)
Although the entire cut is referred to as the tapa, this term is also used for the top of the cut, source of rump roast. The middle section is called the cuete, which yields bottom round roast and eye of round. Cuete is one of the few cuts cooked as a whole roast in Mexico. The lower part of this cut is called the bola, and less frequently empuje, which yields tip roast and tip steaks. The bola is also the source of the cut called churrasco in Mexico, although the same name is used in other Latin American countries for other cuts. The round is also the source of cuts labelled carne para asar (meat for grilling) and pulpa (boneless meat.)
20. Chambarete de pata (rear shank)
21. Copete (for stock)
22. Chambarete de mano (foreshank)
23. Rabo del buey (ox tail)
24. Pata (hoof)
Under the chest is the chambarete de mano (fore shank). It is most often cross cut and makes a good substitute for veal in preparing osso buco, in which case ask for huesos de tuétano (marrow bones) and you will get bone-in shanks. The rear shank is called the chambarete de pata. In some parts of México, the upper part of the shank is called the chamorro, but this term is more frequently applied to pork. The hoof is called the pata. A bony cut at the back of the leg joint is called the copete and is used for stock.
A1. Falda (flank)
The flank is located under the filet, along the sides of the beef. It is a cut of meat that benefits greatly from marinating. It can be used for fajitas, although arrachera is preferred; in Mexico it is the cut of choice for carne deshebrada (shredded meat) used to make the beef salad called salpicon. The fatty piece under the falda is the panza or pancita, sometimes used to make a rather fatty stew called mole de panza. Between the falda and the lower rump is the suadero, not usually found on charts and generally only cut to make tacos de suadero, most often found in Mexico City.
While we are on the subject of pulled pokr I should just mention that the image of the mole de olla at the start of the Post contains pork. The recipe, although it has no preparation instructions, contains some of the spices and herbs you might find in a typical mole (rather than its soupy prima). Cloves, pimienta (allspice), cumin, cinnamon and oregano will add a flavour profile not found in the strictly beef recipe depicted above.
The ingredients for this mole are……
1 kilo de carne para cocido de res
1 chamorro (leg) de cerdo (of pork) en trozos
1 diente de ajo
2 ramas de epazote
2 cucharaditas de consome de pollo en polvo
1 jitomate (red tomato) grande
1 chile ancho desvenado (deveined)
1 chile pasilla desvenado
1 clavo (literally “nail” = clove) (tostado = toasted (in a dry pan) and ground to a powder = “molido”. Do this to all the spices in the recipe.
3 pimientas (pimiento gordo = “fat” pepper = allspice berries) Pimenta does mean pepper though so I guess the recipe could be calling for three peppercorns – which could be called granos de pimienta – but knowing mole as I do and knowing the spices already in the recipe, it makes more sense to me that the reference here is to allspice)
1 rama (branch/stick/twig) chica (small girl) de canela (cinnamon) = 1 small stick of cinnamon
1 pizca (pinch) de oregano (Mexican – if you can get it)
Mediterranean and Mexican oreganos are not the same. They have similar flavour profiles but if you taste them side-by-side the differences are immediately recognisable. the Mediterranean variety is related to mint and the Mexican variety is related to the verbena family.
1 pizca de comino (cumin seed)
1 cucharadita de harina (flour) o fécula (1) de maíz (cornstarch)
- The meaning of fecula is a form of starch obtained by washing the crushed parts of plants (i.e. arrowroot). The word fécule generally refers to potato starch.
6 calabacitas chicas en cubos (any of the “Summer squashes” will be suitable)
2 elotes en rebanadas (sliced/slices)
Sal al gusto
½ cebolla picada
3 Limónes cortados a la mitad
This word comes up often in recipes containing chiles. It means to “remove the veins” of the chile. This can be done to dried, fresh or roasted chiles. Removing the veins (which is the placental tissue of the chile) will remove some of the heat of the chile as capsaicin (the chemical responsible for the heat of the chile) is concentrated in this tissue. You may also see the word “despepitado” (without the seeds) used. So despepitado y desvenado means to remove the veins and seeds of the chile.
- Cadena-Iñiguez, Jorge & Arévalo-Galarza, L. & soto-hernandez, Marcos & Avendaño-Arrazate, Carlos & Ruiz-Posadas, Lucero & Santiago-Osorio, Edelmiro & Ramos, Marcelo & Cisneros, Victor & Aguirre Medina, Juan. (2007). Production, genetics, postharvest management and pharmacological characteristics of Sechium edule (Jacq.) Sw.
- DeWitt, Dave. (2017) : Ancho and Poblano Chiles : Terra Nova Books; 2nd edition; ISBN-10 : 1938288297