Deep, deep in the highlands of the Mexican state of Guerrero, a place known more for the cruise ships that ply the city of Acapulco and the silver stands of inland Taxco, lies one of the gastronomic destinations of Mexico: Teloloapan, the home of mole rojo guerrerense.
While the states of Oaxaca and Puebla garner all the glory for the complex, thick sauces known worldwide for their smoky, rich flavor and the improbable amount of work that goes into making them, they do not have a Mexico-wide monopoly on the term. Sure, Oaxaca has its famed seven moles, and mole poblano finds its way onto menus even at Americanized eateries, but the mole rojo of Teloloapan is a hidden gem.
The downtown Santa Ana door of Mole Teloloapan is kept locked; rattle it gently or tap quietly on the window, and one of the family will let you in. Step inside the door, and your sense of smell will be assaulted with the odor of smoky chiles, rich spices and the slight acrid tang of bitter chocolate. This is a utilitarian space, where the Rivas family re-create the famed sauces of its hometown and a few fried snacks, such as duritos and plantains.
There are two sauces here: The mole rojo contains dried chiles, sesame seeds, bitter chocolate, and a pantry's worth of herbs and spices. The mole verde is more like a pipián, a fresh greenish sauce made with pumpkin seeds and salt. Both have the same directions: heat in a pan with enough chicken or turkey stock to make the sauce have the correct, thick texture--but due to the higher salt content of the mole verde, it'd be best to use plain water.
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The mole rojo was a stunning burgundy color when thinned with chicken stock and, like its Pueblan and Oaxacan cousins, went over the meat like satin. The sauce has an immediate burn reminiscent of pasilla chiles, followed by a slightly tannic, slightly bitter aftertaste that complements dark-meat poultry perfectly and could even be spread on thick slices of steak.
The mole verde was much, much thicker and required much more liquid; it was not completely smooth, but lapped over the meat it covered in a very appealing manner. This is a sauce to eat with the less-flavorful parts of the chicken, such as the breast or wing--not overwhelming, but strong enough to lend its taste even to a very thick piece of meat.
Most people making mole at home use the yellow jars of Doña María (the most popular brand of prepared mole, available in any Mexican market), but there's simply no comparison. The Rivas' moles are as close as a home cook will get to the moles abuelita makes without recourse to a comal and grinding stone. As an added bonus, if you buy straight from the factory, it's cheaper--$4 per pound for the mole rojo and $6 per pound for the mole verde, each of which makes enough with chicken or turkey to serve 8 to 10 people.
Mole Teloloapan (Rivas Food Co.), 413 N. Broadway, Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 972-0607; molerojo.com.