Such is the breadth of Mexican cuisine that I struggle to suggest a single dish that typifies it. After discussing this in great detail with my two brothers-in-law, who live in Mexico City, we came to the conclusion that chicken mole would be our choice.
The sauce – a tantalising fusion of chilli, spices, stock and bitter chocolate – may not be pretty but don't let this deter you. It's the smell that first grabs you – sweet and aromatic, melting chocolate bouncing off roast chicken - then there's the taste: a heady brew of exotic yet delicate flavours before the chilli kicks in a few seconds later, sending your taste buds into overdrive but not so hot that you're reaching for a glass of water or a slice of bread to cool the palate. While in Mexico earlier this year I was informed by an expert on chillies that a little sugar is the best way to remove the burning sensation. I tried it and it seems to work.
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As with all good food, the secret to this sauce lies in the ingredients, and while all are widely available the chipotle chilli might be harder to track down. You can, though, reasonably expect to find them in good delicatessens and if all else fails the Lupe Pintos shops in Glasgow and Edinburgh stock all manner of Mexican ingredients.
CHICKEN MOLE POBLANO
3 ripe tomatoes
4 x 175g chicken breasts
3tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 hot red chilli (preferably chipotle), finely chopped
1tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1tbsp chopped almonds
Quarter tsp ground cinnamon
Quarter tsp ground clove
Quarter tsp cumin powder
300ml good-quality chicken stock
1tbsp peanut butter
30g dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa content)
Set the oven to 190C/gas mark 5.
Place the tomatoes into boiling water for 10 seconds then transfer them to a bowl of cold water. Peel the skin from each then chop the flesh into a rough pulp. Put the pulp in a bowl and set aside.
Cut each breast of chicken into four even pieces. Heat 2tbsp of the olive oil in a heavy saucepan or casserole dish. Season the chicken with a little salt, place the chicken in the hot pan and brown each piece evenly. Once the chicken is sauteed, turn down the heat then remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
Add the butter to the pan then, when it starts to foam, add the onion, chilli and garlic and gently cook for 5 minutes. Add the sesame seeds, almonds and spices and cook for 2-3 minutes stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Next, add the tomatoes, raisins, chicken stock, peanut butter and chocolate. Mix well, check the seasoning and simmer for 5 minutes.
Transfer the mixture into a liquidiser and blend for 3 minutes or until smooth.
Place the chicken pieces in a large oven-proof dish, cover with the sauce then cook in the oven for 30-45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and tender, and the sauce has thickened.
Sprinkle the top of the dish with a few sesame seeds and a little grated chocolate and serve.
2005, Seghesio, Sangiovese, Sonoma Valley, US, £30, Villeneuve Wines.
An aroma of dried violets leads to flavours of cherries, blackberries and blueberries, supported by fine tannins and a long finish.
The Honours, 58a North Castle Street, Edinburgh. Visit www.thehonours.co.uk or call 0131 220 2513.