How to Make Mole Negro Paste

Oaxacan-style Mole Negro is a complex, multi-ingredient sauce that is well worth the time and effort to make.

{a breath…}

I saw a video today done by a local news station shot from a helicopter. It panned up and down the coast and into our downtown areas. Where Petco Park should have been filled with people rooting for the Padres, seats were empty and the surrounding downtown areas deserted. Beaches normally filled with families and surfers on a sunny day like today showed off instead long stretches of pristine sand with waves crashing onto shore, potentially spraying a silent killer into the air before rolling back out to sea. Highways were virtually empty, parking lots closed. Most people here in the county have taken the stay at home orders to heart, accepting the severity of our new reality of life during a global pandemic. Those that haven’t are getting fined by police officers who, like all the other essential workers, are putting their lives at risk to make sure we are safe, feed and taken care. My heart, respect and profound gratitude goes out to all of them. 

I’m trying really hard these days not to fall down the news updates rabbit hole. I try to check for updates in the morning and then again in the evening, opting to let my days be filled with work. As most longtime readers know, I’m in print journalism and the media has been deemed an “essential industry.” I'm lucky enough to work for a company who already had work from home structures in place albeit not for such high volumes so there were a few hiccups in the beginning. Still, I am so grateful to have a job. I am currently in week 5 of working from home and it has been about 10 days since I ventured out to a grocery store, opting to supplement with delivery when necessary. That of course means trying to push my cart through every hour for up to 24 hours trying to catch an open delivery window. Or staying up until just past midnight to attempt to score a delivery date from grocers that say "windows open every morning.” Mostly, we’re getting through with pantry staples. 

Since I do so much recipe developing for the blog, we have a fairly well stocked pantry of spices, dried chiles, canned goods and whole grains, dried beans and pasta as well as a decently stocked freezer of frozen fruit and veg, meat and seafood. So I’m still able to develop recipes for the blog and make recipes to shoot for work when the need arises. 

I took the first week of March off for vacation. It was when the virus was still something that was happening elsewhere and we were so sure it wasn’t going to come into “our” communities. How naive! But I digress… I took some days off because I wanted to spend some time with my parents and have a day or two to develop some recipes for this space. Looking back now, I’m so grateful to have been able to spend that time with my family. I had a mom and me day one day, took my dad some food for a birthday lunch on another, had family dinner twice that week, once for my Dad’s birthday then a few days later for my sister D’s birthday. I haven’t visited with my parents in a month now. Considering they live 8 minutes from me, that feels really weird. I’ve dropped items off on their porch for them, seen them briefly through the window but haven’t wanted to risk their health by having them open the door to me.

We haven't seen the worst of this virus yet which means I can't see California lifting stay at home orders for at least another month. So I’m doing what everyone else is doing: I’m trying to re-frame this time.

Instead of focusing on what we don’t have access to right now, I’m focusing on what I do have and what I can do. Right now, I and my loved ones all have their health. Right now, I can slow down. I can do the organizational projects that I have put off because there were other things that needed doing. I’m rediscovering old passions. I’m relishing the quiet. I’m cooking. I’m baking. I’m writing. I’m cleaning. I’m lining up crafting projects that I’ve been wanting to do but hadn’t been able to find the time to do.

Most of all, I'm taking a deep breath and praying for the world. 

{Mole Negro}

I grew up eating mole (pronounced moe-leh). It was part of Mom’s rotation of more special recipes that made an appearance every couple of months. She used a jar of pre-made mole paste from our local grocer and combined it with homemade chicken stock, peanut butter and sometimes a small triangle of Ibarra (Mexican drinking chocolate). She'd then cook the chicken in the mole until it was fall off the bone tender.  

My maternal grandmother would make mole several times a year with chicken and for her tamales for my auntie’s Syl's birthday and at Christmas time. Her mole featured sesame seeds and she thickened it with masa harina or tamale masa if she was making it for tamales. She used a combination of chiles that changed according to what she had on hand but mostly it was guajillos, chile California, chile ancho, New Mexico chile, chile negro and sometimes chile mulato. With five to six chiles, sesame seeds, coriander seeds and the seeds from the chiles, it’s a complex, slightly spicy mole that’s thick with a slight smoky flavor. 

There are hundreds of different kinds of moles as each state, each village, has slightly different ingredients according to what is available seasonally. The state of Oaxaca has seven distinct moles that are likened to the French tradition of mother sauces. The best comparison I read once is that the difference between traditional French mother sauces and mole is that unlike mother sauces with their adherence to technique and specific ingredients, mole is more of a concept that is adapted family to family, village to village, city to city, state to state. 

So what’s the difference between a salsa and a mole?

Salsa means sauce so technically, since mole is a sauce it can be called a salsa. However, it is different and that distinction comes from the ingredients, mainly that a mole incorporates seeds and or nuts to thicken and flavor the sauce. It also requires that each ingredient be prepared separately for maximum flavor before being combined in the end.

Also, I know this recipe has a ton of ingredients which can seem a little overwhelming. Please! Don’t freak out! Look, you have all this time on your hands now, right? Now’s as good a time as any to spend two days working on a recipe that will pay you back in many, many meals. We’re basically making a base that can be divided up to use now, keep some in the fridge to use for enchiladas or to smother fried eggs in and you’ll have plenty to freeze for later use. It’s batch cooking at its best!

Ready to get started?

For this recipe we're using four kinds of dried chiles. They are, from left to right: chile mulato (often confused for an ancho, it has mild to medium heat, chocolate undertones, meaty texture when rehydrated); chile negro (a dried chilaca pepper it's sometimes also labeled as a pasilla negro, medium heat, smoky flavor); ancho chile (dried version of a poblano, mild heat, sweetest of all the dried chiles, slight chocolate notes); and morita (the dried version of a red jalapeƱo, medium to just barely hot heat, adds a fruity, smoky note and a hint of acidity).

The acidity in the sauce will come from roma tomatoes, tomatillos, white onion and garlic cloves. These will be dry roasted on a hot cast iron griddle.

The spices are clockwise from top left: whole cumin, thyme, raw sesame seeds, canela (Mexican cinnamon), coriander seeds, whole cloves, whole allspice berries, whole Mexican oregano, seeds from the dried chiles. These will also be dry toasted.

For flavor and thickening, we're using, clockwise from top left: raw almonds, raw walnuts, raw pecans, raisins, raw peanuts, a bolillo (or any small roll), and a plantain. These will all be fried individually.

The stock will be used to blend everything together. After the mole is blended together, it will be cooked for an hour at low heat and that's when the salt, brown sugar and dark chocolate will be incorporated.

Let's head to the stove

Before we can toast the chiles, they need to be cleaned. First use a stiff brush to clean the dust off the exterior. Then cut the tops off and discard the stems. Slit the chile up one side and open, removing the seeds and veins. Reserve the seeds. Repeat until all the chiles are cleaned.

On a medium hot grill, toast the chiles in batches. You need to watch these carefully. Although some recipes call for blackening the dried chiles, I don't like them burnt. I find it gives the mole a slightly bitter flavor that needs to be counteracted with much more sugar than I call for. Toast for about 30 seconds on each side, removing them to a bowl of boiling hot water. Work in batches as needed. Allow the chiles to steep while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Toasting sesame seeds can be tricky because they are going to jump all over the place and they'll burn quickly so they need to be continuously stirred. Remove from the griddle as soon as they start to get color. A large spatula or bench scraper works best to quickly get these off the griddle. Add them to a large bowl where all the ingredients will be mixed before blending. Next, place all the spices on the griddle and toast them for 30 to 40 seconds – just long enough to heat up, bloom and become fragrant. Remove them to the ingredient bowl.

The tomatoes, husked and well-rinsed tomatillos, onion and the garlic still with their skins go on the griddle next. Keep turning them until they are charred on all sides. Remove them to the ingredient bowl as they get the right color, peeling the garlic and cutting the tomatoes and tomatillos into quarters first. 

 Next, comes the frying. Pour enough oil into an 8- or 10-inch heavy bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) to cover by about a ½ inch. Heat on medium heat until shimmering then, fry the nuts, stirring to keep from burning. Don't be tempted to toss them all in to fry at the same time. Each kind of nut will brown at a different time so they need to be done separately. Remove them to the ingredient bowl as they get color, anywhere between 1 to 2 minutes of frying.

Next you'll slice and fry the plantain until it just starts to turn golden and caramelize. Remove them to the ingredient bowl. Next add the raisins and fry until they are plump. Remove them to the ingredient bowl.

Slice the bread and add it to the hot skillet. Fry on each side until golden. Remove to a chopping board.

Cut the bread into thirds and then add them to the ingredient bowl.

Drain the chiles, coarsely chop them and add them to the ingredient bowl. Mix everything well. Working in batches, add them to a blender with ½ cup of chicken broth with each batch. Blend until smooth, adding more broth if needed to keep the blades running smoothly and stopping to tamp down the sides as needed. Repeat until all the ingredients have been blended.

This is what the mole will look like after blending. It's thick with a peanut butter-like consistency and reddish brown in color.

Next, you'll need a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed soup pot with a lid. Add about 2 tablespoons of oil and heat on medium until shimmering. Carefully add the mole paste, immediately covering the pot to tame the spluttering from the mole hitting the hot oil. After 30 seconds, remove the lid and stir well. Add chicken stock. Lower the heat to medium low. Cook, continuously stirring for the first two minutes. Then, stir once a minute to keep the mole from sticking to the bottom and to make sure that the mole evenly comes into contact with the hot bottom. I like to use a flat top wooden spatula to push the mole from side to side, scrapping the bottom to keep it from sticking. After the first 15 minutes, add the salt, sugar and the chocolate bars that you have first rough chopped. Stir continuously until the chocolate is completely melted. Then stir every 2 minutes. The mole will thicken even more and should darken at least two shades. Minimal total cooking time is at least 1 hour. The longer you cook, the darker and thicker the mole will get. I cooked this one for 2 hours. 

Once the cooking is done, allow to cool completely before portioning out the mole into quart-sized jars or quart-sized resealable freezer bags. Congratulations! You have just made mole paste! Keep a jar or bag in the refrigerator and freeze the rest. The mole will keep in the refrigerator tightly sealed for up to a month and in the freezer virtually indefinitely.

How do you serve mole once you have the paste made?

To serve over chicken, place four leg quarters into a large soup pot. Cover with water by 1 inch. Add half an onion, 2 fat cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves and 1 tablespoon kosher or coarse sea salt. Bring to a boil then immediately lower to a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and internal temp reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove 1 ½ cups of the broth to a medium sauce pan. Add 1 cup of the mole paste and stir until well combined. Heat the mole for 15 minutes. To serve, mound some white rice on a plate, add a leg quarter and smother it with a ladle or two of the mole. Serve with a squeeze of lime add garnish with sesame seeds and chopped cilantro.

Other ways to enjoy your mole paste 

In general, you'll want to dilute the mole paste with an equal amount of chicken stock, or to taste as there might be times when you want a thinner or thicker sauce. Here are a few ideas: 

  • In a small sauce pan, dilute mole paste with equal amount of chicken broth, or to taste and heat until piping, careful not to scorch. Set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in an 8-inch skillet. Once shimmering, add a corn tortilla to the hot oil, cooking on each side for about 1 minute. Remove to a paper lined plate. In the same skillet, crack an egg into it and fry over easy. Place the tortilla on a clean plate. Top with the egg and smother with mole. 
  • Use the chicken stock diluted mole paste (1 to 1 or 1 to 1 ½ ) in place of enchilada sauce in your favorite enchilada recipe. 
  • Put together your favorite taco bowl. Top with stock diluted mole paste
  • Stir fry mushrooms and sliced onions. Stir in a couple tablespoons of the mole paste and add broth or water to taste to create a thick sauce. Use as a stuffing for tacos or a burrito.

Mole Negro 

This recipe makes a paste that can be divided for use now and some to freeze. When ready to use, dilute with an equal amount of chicken stock or broth. 

Makes about 2 quarts of paste


8 mulato chiles (about 2 ounces)
8 chiles negro (about 2 ounces)
4 ancho chiles (about 4 ounces)
1 morita chile
3 roma tomatoes
3 small to medium tomatillos, husks removed and well rinsed
½ large onion, peeled
3 fat cloves garlic, leave skins on
1 ½ teaspoons whole dried thyme
½ teaspoon whole Mexican oregano
3 whole cloves
3 whole allspice berries
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon reserved chile seeds
2-inch piece of canela (Mexican cinnamon; can substitute with one regular cinnamon stick)
½ cup sesame seeds
⅓ cup safflower or other neutral oil
⅓ cup raw peanuts
¼ cup whole raw almonds
¼ cup whole raw walnuts
¼ cup whole raw pecans
3 tablespoons black raisins
1 plantain (aka, platano macho), peeled and sliced into ½-inch coins
1 bolillo or other sandwich-sized roll, sliced
4-6 cups chicken stock, or as needed
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (at least 70% cacoa), chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar


Use a hard bristled brush to clean the outside of the chiles. Cut the tops off and discard. Slit the sides and open to reveal the seeds and veins. Discard the veins but reserve the seeds. Bring a medium saucepan filled 3/4 of the way with water to a boil. Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat. Once hot and working in batches, toast the chiles for about 30 seconds on each side. As the chiles are toasted, remove them to the pot of boiling water. Repeat until all the chiles are in the pot. Cover the pot and turn off heat. Allow the chiles to steep while you proceed.

Place the tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and garlic on the hot griddle. Cook, turning and charring on all sides. The onions and the garlic will blacken first. When they're ready, remove them to a large mixing bowl, peeling the garlic before tossing it into the bowl. The tomatoes and tomatillos will take longer to char and soften. As they are ready, quarter them before adding them to the ingredient bowl.

Next, add the thyme, oregano, cloves, allspice, cumin, coriander, reserved chile seeds and the canela to the hot griddle, toasting for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Remove to the ingredient bowl. Add the sesame seeds and working quickly, stir them until they start to change color, about 30 to 45 seconds. (They will pop and jump, but keeping them close together will help to lower loss.) Add them to the ingredient bowl. 

Heat oil in an 8- or 10-inch heavy bottomed skillet, such as cast iron. Once shimmering, add the peanuts. Cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to the ingredient bowl. Repeat with the remaining nuts, frying each type of nut separately. Fry the raisins until plump, about 2 minutes; remove to ingredient bowl. Fry the sliced plantains until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side; remove to ingredient bowl. Fry the bread until golden, about 3-4 minutes on each side; remove to ingredient bowl.

Drain the now hydrated chiles. Rough chop and add to the ingredient bowl. Give the bowl a good stir to mix the ingredients well. 

Working in batches, add the mixture to a blender along with ½ cup chicken stock and blend until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides or add up to ¼ cup more stock to keep everything moving while blending. Remove to a bowl and repeat until all the ingredients are blended. 

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot. Have the lid handy. Add the mole to the hot oil being careful as it will splutter furiously. Quickly cover with the lid to minimize the mess. After 1 minute, lift the lid and stir in 1 ½ cups of chicken stock. Lower the heat to medium low. Cook, continuously stirring for the first two minutes. Then, stir once a minute to keep the mole from sticking to the bottom and to make sure that the mole evenly comes into contact with the hot bottom. If possible, use a wooden or rubber spatula to push the mole from side to side, scrapping the bottom of the pot to keep it from sticking. After the first 15 minutes, add the salt, sugar and chocolate. Stir continuously until the chocolate is completely melted. Then stir well, scrapping the bottom of the pot every 5 minutes. The mole will thicken even more and should darken at least two shades. Minimal total cooking time is at least 1 hour. The longer you cook, the darker and thicker the mole will get. Some mole makers cook their paste for up to 8 hours. I usually stop at 2 hours.

Once the mole has cooled completely, portion it out into your preferred storage container. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month and in the freezer virtually indefinitely. 

To use the mole paste, dilute with equal amounts of chicken stock or broth or to taste and as needed.