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Culinary Creations

Fool your taste buds, try a sweet and savory mole sauce

Hey, your shoe’s untied! April Fools! One of my favorite days of the year is soon upon us, and I could not be more excited. I’ve long considered myself a prankster, and now that I’m an “adult,” not much has changed.

I can remember it vividly: Dec. 31, 1999. I was 13, and for many years my parents held a New Year’s Eve party for my whole family. As a budding culinarian, it was a great place to try new recipes on people who would say it was good, even when it wasn’t.

But on this New Year’s Eve, my mind was only on one thing: Y2K. At the time there were a lot of people who thought that when the clock struck midnight, our way of life would end. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. But at the stroke of midnight at my parents’ house, Y2K was momentarily all too real.

My dad and I waited by the breaker box, and we killed all of the power right as the ball was dropping in Times Square. To this day my dad and I still find this pretty hilarious, but for some of my older relatives, it did not go over very well.

That is the problem with practical jokes, not everyone has a good sense of humor. Take my wife for instance. Last week I was slicing beets when I saw how red and juicy my hand was. I grabbed a paper towel, wrapped it around my finger and let out my most believable cry for help and a bone-chilling scream. She ran into the kitchen ready to call 911, and despite my efforts to keep a straight face, her reaction was too funny not to laugh. Just typing this has elicited a chuckle from me, but my wife found zero humor in my attempted amputation.

Despite my im-practical beet joke, I have found working in restaurants is a great venue for harmless pranks. Whether it be a back-and-forth battle of salting someone’s drink or freezing someone’s car keys in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket, a good practical joke can be a way to bring a team together or pass the time during slow periods.

My favorite trick to play on new employees is to make them think what they are eating is not what they are actually eating. For example, pastry chefs will mix food coloring and other ingredients with shortening, then scoop it to look like ice cream for a display plate that won’t melt. If I had a dollar for every time I got a newbie to eat shortening, I would have enough to buy them a gallon of real ice cream.

It is in this spirit of good-natured trickery that, a week before April Fools’ Day, I have chosen a recipe with chocolate that will tease your taste buds and leave your palate wondering, “Is this savory or is this sweet?”

When most of us think of chocolate, the ubiquitous Hershey bar comes to mind, but for centuries before Milton made us mad for milk chocolate, the indigenous peoples of Mexico were using the cocoa plant for savory and ceremonial purposes. That tradition continues today in many forms, my favorite of which is “mole negro.”

Mole is a type of sauce in Mexican cuisine typified by its use of fruit, nuts, chilies and, in the case of mole negro, chocolate. This sweet, spicy and savory sauce goes great on beef, chicken or pork and can be made ahead, frozen and thawed as needed.

So this year on April 1, try this recipe, then you can make your friends and family full instead of making a fool of them. Cheers!

Mole negro sauce

Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours

Recipe makes about 1 quart of sauce

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 dried ancho chilies, stem and seeds removed

2 dried chipotles, stem and seeds removed

2 dried guajillo chilies, stem and seeds removed

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup shelled peanuts

1/4 cup pecans

2 stalks of celery, rough chopped

1 large yellow onion, rough chopped

2 medium-sized carrots, rough chopped

5 cloves garlic

1 cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1/2 cup dark raisins

2 flour tortillas, baked until crisp

2 whole tomatoes, diced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced

2 quarts chicken stock

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or discs

Kosher salt to taste

Ground black pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chilies and nuts. Saute until the nuts and chilies are lightly toasted (about 5 minutes), then add the celery, onions, carrots and garlic. Saute until they are heavily caramelized. The idea is to get them very close to being burnt. The darkness of the items in this part of the process will contribute to the darkness of the final product.

After the vegetables, chilies and nuts are sufficiently darkened, add cinnamon stick, peppercorns, cloves, raisins, crisped tortillas, tomatoes and herbs to the pot. Saute for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often until the newly added ingredients are also darkened.

Add 1 quart of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. The vegetables will soften during this period, and the liquid will reduce slightly. Add more chicken stock or water if it gets too dry.

Puree the sauce with a handheld stick blender or a traditional blender. Either way, you will need to add more chicken stock to adjust the consistency so that it can be blended properly. The sauce should have a smooth consistency without any chunks.

Transfer the pureed sauce back to a sauce pot and bring back to a simmer. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Allow the sauce to lightly simmer for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper and adjust consistency with more stock or water if needed. The final sauce should have the consistency to coat the back of a spoon.

This can be served hot right away or cooled and stored for later use.

— Culinary Creations is a partnership with Pennsylvania College of Technology’s School of Business & Hospitality and its Le Jeune Chef restaurant, a column by Christopher R. Grove, Sous Chef II at Le Jeune Chef. Watch for Grove’s culinary tips and advice the last Wednesday of each month in The Taste.

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