Traditionally, there are 7 main types of mole sauce in Mexico. If you've been following this blog for a while now, you know I don't often make things traditionally. So, don't be mad that this sauce isn't exactly authentic. If I had to put a label on this mole, I'd say it's closest to mole poblano because of the quantity chiles used and the addition of dark chocolate.
While this recipe may not be traditional, there are a few rules I've learned along the way that are essential to making a good mole sauce.
Rules for Making Mole:
1. Chiles: Use a variety and use a lot of them. Each chile lends a unique flavor profile to the sauce. I used guajillo, pasilla, and New Mexico chiles.
2. Spices: Use a variety of sweet (cinnamon, cloves) and savory (oregano, cumin, etc.) spices.
3. Acid: Mole is so rich, it needs something acidic to brighten it up. In this case, tomatillos and tomatoes.
4. Sweet: Mole is known for being on the sweeter side. Plantain, dried cherries, honey, and chocolate were used here.
5. Starchy: Something starchy is needed to give mole that thick texture. I used a corn tortilla but numerous bread products are acceptable.
6. Fat: This is where part of the richness comes from. Nuts, seeds, and lard are used frequently.
7. Toast/Roast EVERYTHING. This is essential for providing that complex flavor mole is known for.
8. Low and slow: The longer it cooks, the more flavor develops.
9. Strain the sauce: This one seems to be skipped a lot but it's the key to getting that velvety smooth texture.
10. I can't think of another rule but I couldn't end the list at 9.
Is there chocolate in mole?
Most people think of mole as being a chocolate based sauce. Chocolate is a key ingredient in this sauce, but isn't the star in terms of the ratio of chocolate:sauce. However, it's still important to use a high quality chocolate for the best flavor.
Side note: my mom is a pretty cool lady and likes to buy cocoa beans and make her own chocolate. If you don't know how chocolate is made, here is the short version: it's a lot of dang work to turn cocoa beans into the beautiful bars of chocolate you buy at the grocery store. If you're looking for a new (time-consuming but rewarding) hobby, you can find everything you need here. I'm fortunate enough to be able to reap the benefits of my mom's hobbies and I used a single origin bar made with Catongo beans from Brazil. This bean naturally has flavors of green peppers and tobacco so we both thought it would work well for a mole sauce. It did work, by the way.
I mentioned this above, but here's a little note about straining the sauce: DO IT. The difference in texture before and after the sauce is strained is night and day. The picture on the left shows all the grainy bits you don't want in your sauce. Even my Vitamix can't blend all those seeds completely. The picture on the right shows the smooth, velvety deliciousness that you get when you strain it. Trust me, it's worth your time. I suggest you make the sauce a day ahead of time. The flavor really changes and develops after being refrigerated for a day.
What is venison eye of round?
Now onto the steak, the easy part of the recipe. I used the eye of round from this year's mule deer but this recipe would work with any of your favorite steak cuts. Eye of round is often called the "hidden tenderloin." It's not quite as tender as the tenderloin but it still makes a darn good steak. If you're not careful during butchering, you might just miss it! It is a long muscle similar to the tenderloin located in between the top and bottom rounds in the hind quarter.
I rubbed the steak with a little of the mole sauce and let it marinate for a couple hours. Then I seared it in a cast iron pan and finished it in the oven. I sliced it up and finished it with some flaked sea salt. Easy peasy! (says the woman who just spent the good part of a day making glorified steak sauce) This dish is very rich in terms of flavor, so I suggest pairing it with something light and refreshing like my shaved jicama and blood orange salad. Enjoy!
Mole Rubbed Venison Eye of Round
- 2 venison eye of round steaks (or your favorite steak cut)
- 1 tablespoon lard or other high smoke point cooking fat (canola, avocado, etc.)
- flaked sea salt, to taste
- 8 tomatillos, cored and cut in half
- 6 campari tomatoes, cored and cut in half
- 1 ripe plantain, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
- 1 head garlic, top cut off
- 1 onion, peeled and quartered
- 10 guajillo chiles
- 4 pasilla chiles
- 2 New Mexico chiles
- 1 corn tortilla
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon marjoram
- 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
- ¼ cup sesame seeds
- ½ cup dry roasted peanuts
- ½ cup dried cherries
- 3 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 cups stock, divided
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 whole cloves
- 10 whole peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ¼ cup lard
- 4 oz dark chocolate, broken into chunks
- 2 tablespoon butter
- Sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead of when you want to serve the steak. This will make way more sauce than you need for 2 steaks so I suggest freezing it or planning another use for it.
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place tomatillos, tomatoes, plantain, garlic, and onion on sheet pan cut side down. Roast for 2 hours or until browned and juices begin to caramelize.
- While vegetables are roasting, prepare other ingredients.
- Place chiles in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute or until soft and pliable. Remove seeds and stems. Reserve seeds.
- Heat a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Toast chiles in dutch oven until starting to blister, about 5 minutes. Place in blender.
- Toast tortilla until blackened, about 5-10 minutes. Add to blender.
- Toast cumin, marjoram, oregano, and reserved chile seeds in the dutch oven until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add to blender
- Toast sesame seeds and peanuts in dutch oven until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add to blender.
- Once vegetables are roasted, add them to the blender as well. Your blender should have the chiles, blackened tortilla, toasted spices and chile seeds, and toasted sesame seeds and peanuts. Add in cherries, honey, salt and 2 cups stock. Blend until smooth.
- Heat lard over medium-low heat in dutch oven. Add in blender contents. Cook, stirring frequently, until sauce begins to brown and becomes fragrant, about 5-10 minutes. Add in remaining 3 cups stock, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, and cinnamon stick. Stir until well combined. Turn heat down to low, partially, cover the pot, and let simmer for 1-2 hours. Stir occasionally. Watch carefully so it doesn't burn.
- Remove cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Discard. Add contents back into the blender. Use a fine mesh strainer to strain the sauce back into the dutch oven. Use a rubber spatula to help push the sauce through the strainer. You should be left with a gritty paste in the strainer and smooth sauce in the pot.
- Return dutch oven to stove and heat on medium-low heat. Add in chocolate and 2 tablespoon butter. Simmer 10 minutes or until heated through.
- Cool and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Leftovers can also be frozen in quart size freezer zipper bags.
- Rub each steak with 3 tablespoon mole sauce. Let marinate for 2 hours. Let sit at room temperature for the 2nd hour.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add in lard and swirl to coat the pan well. Add in steak. Cook 3 minutes per side on all sides. Since an eye of round steak is round, I cook it on 4 sides plus a minute on each end. Place skillet in the oven until internal temperature reaches 120°F. The steak should rest to medium-rare. Remove steak from pan and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice into ½" slices. Sprinkle with flaked sea salt and serve with hot mole sauce on the side.