Mexico may not seem like a destination for duck yet it is the home of the muscovy duck (the one with the red superhero eye band) which in the wild, ranges from Central America to Northern South America. The muscovy duck was found domesticated and living happily amongst the Indians when the Spanish arrived/ invaded. Popular back in Europe as a farmyard duck and embraced by the French to breed a bigger duck for foie gras the muscovy was not so popular with the Spanish in the new world for food and was replaced with ducks brought from Spain. The turkey though, another pre hispanic domesticated bird, is celebrated in what is often called the national dish of Mexico, mole poblano de guajolote, the famous sauce of chillies, spices, nuts, fruits and chocolate which I happen to think is also superb with duck.
Today duck is quite a star on restaurant menus in Mexico and refreshingly is not Westernised but is showcased with indigenous ingredients in the form of anything from duck quesadillas to escabeche duck. Duck ‘three ways’ in a restaurant in Mexico city is a roast leg, grilled breast and thigh in cactus paddle salad with mole poblano sauce, pato pibil is duck marinated in achiote and sour orange juice, wrapped in banana leaves and slowly roasted in coals. Again in Mexico city a pibil style duck is served with x’nipec sauce spheres, black beans and habenero salsa.
Mole (mixture or sauce) Poblano (Puebla, a beautiful Spanish tiled city South East of the capital) is probably the most notorious of all the Mexican moles or sauces outside of Mexico. Maybe because of its alluring combination of the rich, sweet, earthy chillies of Mexico combined with chocolate, a combination known elsewhere in savoury dishes only in Spain with the likes of rabbit in chocolate sauce. I think also it is the availability of the ingredients outside Mexico for mole poblano that make it more well known than other moles such as the Oaxaca moles, seven in all, that use specific local ingredients. Of the Oaxaca moles I find the mole negro the most intriguing with its mixture of 5 chillies, the seeds of which are roasted on top of a tortilla, set alight and ground, sesame seeds and spices are also roasted and ground and an avocado leaf is blackened and added to the smooth rich black sauce at the end for an aniseed flavour.
Mole Poblano is also famous for its fabled beginnings, a dubious story of nuns at the Convent of Santa Rosa trying to impress a visiting Viceroy with a dish containing such an elaborate mixture of ingredients. Said to be the original mole actually mole poblano is the newest of Mexico’s moles the Oaxaca moles were being made long before the Spanish arrived. Mole poblano is a symbol of the harmonious mixture of pre hispanic and Spanish ingredients representing the merging of the two cultures, it is this merger that essentially sums up Mexican cuisine as a whole.
Chocolate is such an important product to the Mexicans they have a fourteen day festival to honour Saint Isadore and ensure the harvest runs smoothly. Farmers sing, dance and haul offerings to a church in procession every day for two weeks, then its party time. Apart from offerings of the cacao pods themselves (shown below) apparently the Saint requires spaghetti, washing liquid, toilet paper, beans, a cow and a horse.
Chillies are the cornerstone of Mexican cuisine, rarely is there a recipe without them, and there are so many varieties. Mole Poblano uses a combination of ancho, pasilla and mulato.
My other favourite chilli is the chipotle, used in the mole negro of Oaxaca.
The dried chillies always need toasting and soaking before use. Then, with toasted and ground spices, nuts and sesame seeds, raisins and plantain, the mole is simmered together and stock from the cooking of the turkey or in this case, duck, is added to thin and round the sauce together.
The Spanish influence on mole poblano is the nuts, raisins, cinnamon, aniseed and sesame seed. The chocolate is clearly Mexican but was only used in a cold drink when the Spanish arrived, it was never added to sauces. That is the invention of the Spanish, may be in their excitement at finding a new product, or may be it really was those nuns in Puebla trying to impress their boss. The other spice, pimento, is also local and was called ‘pepper’ in Spanish after Columbas’ enthusiasm to find pepper (the most expensive and prized spice at the time) in the new world.
Mole Poblano de Pato
for the stock: 1 onion, 1 carrot, 2 stalks celery, 1 clove garlic, 2 bay leaves, pinch of Mexican oregano, 1/4 tsp black peppercorns.
3 ancho, 2 mulato, 2 pasilla chillies
1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 2 ripe tomatoes
1/2 piece stale white bead or preferably 1/2 corn tortilla, 2 tblsp grapeseed oil, 20 seedless raisins or 2 heaped tblsp, 1/2 small, ripe plantain
20 blanched almonds or 2 heaped tblsp, 1/2 cinnamon stick, 1/4 tsp black peppercorns, 1 tsp whole pimento (allspice), 1/2 tsp aniseed
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 piece Mexican chocolate (1/8 of the disk)
You will also need a blender or food processor and a spice grinder.
For the duck:
Put the duck in a stock pot, chop off its tail to fit it in snuggly if you need to. Chop up the vegetables for the stock and add to pot, cover all with cold water, add the garlic, herbs and peppercorns. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until you can see the meat coming away from the bones, skimming the stock as you go.
For the Mole
Leave all your European cooking skills at the door for this recipe, things are just not the same in Mexico. Rip the stems off the chillies and deseed them. Toast the chillies in a dry fry pan over a medium heat for 5-10 until you see blisters form on the skin. Don’t burn them. Soak them in hot water for 30 minutes.
Peel the onion and chop into quarters, peel the garlic. Roast onions, garlic and whole tomatoes in the dry fry pan until charred. This would be done on a comal in Mexico.
Puree the tomatoes, onion and garlic in a blender, adding stock from the pot if you need some liquid. Put tomato puree in a bowl for later.
Toast the bread or tortilla until burnt in a toaster or over a gas flame, it adds a smokey flavour to the mole so burn it well. Add to blender. Heat some oil in a pan and cook the raisins until they plump up a bit. Add to blender. Heat some oil again, peel and slice the plantain into 1 cm disks and fry until browned, the plantain gives the mole a sweetness and a ‘gloss’. Add to blender. Puree the lot adding stock from the pot to get the blades moving. Put the mixture in a bowl for later.
In a dry pan toast the almonds and spices together until the almonds have browned then grind the lot in a spice or coffee grinder. Put in a bowl for later.
Returning some oil to the pan fry the sesame seeds until browned. Grind in a spice grinder then add to the bowl of ground spices.
Take the chillies out of their soaking water and puree in a blender adding some of the water they soaked in to get the blades moving. Put in another bowl for later. OK, what you have now should be 4 bowls of roasted and ground stuff, a duck that is nearly cooked and some really nice duck stock. When the duck is done take it off the heat and leave it in the stock to stay warm.
Skim about 3 tablespoons of the duck fat off the top of the stock and add to a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan. Heat over a low to medium heat and add the chilli puree. Cook, stirring a lot, for 15 minutes or until it comes away from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomato puree and a ladle of stock from the pot and keep stirring until the liquid has evaporated (another 10 minutes). Add the spices and plantain mixture and 2 or 3 ladles more stock and stir a bit longer (about another 15 minutes). The mole should be thick but only to coat the back of a spoon or like runny cream so add enough stock and reduce to this stage. Chop the chocolate finely with a knife and add to the pot, stir until it melts. Add salt bit by bit until the mole is seasoned, you should be able to taste every ingredient you have just added without any one ingredient dominating. The mole should taste like a fiesta in your mouth!
Take the duck out of the stock, gently take the meat off the bone and slice. Cover duck with plenty of sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds. I served the Mole Poblano de Pato with rice cooked in the duck stock with a heap of herbs and leaves from the garden stirred through at the end.
This recipe is enough mole for at least 6 but there is always plenty made for left overs in Mexico so stay tuned for duck enchiladas.
To buy Mexican ingredients in Adelaide go to (and you know what I am going to say here) Jagger fine foods or Chili Mojo on Magill Road.