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Sweet and Smoky Mexican Molé Sauce Recipe

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Sweet and smoky Mexican molé sauce recipe

Sweet and smoky Mexican molé sauce recipe

Sweet and Smoky Molé Recipe

Molé (pronounced moh-lay) has increased in popularity all over the world thanks to the culinary genius of chefs such as Rick Bayless, the "King of Mexican cuisine." But what is molé?

Basically, molé is a Mexican sauce with a complex flavor that makes a great complement to both meat and vegetarian dishes. Similar to BBQ sauce, it can be brushed onto grilled beef, pork, or poultry. Although dried chiles are a main ingredient, this sauce is not necessarily spicy. Instead, it is rich, silky, and slightly sweet, with nuances of smoke, fruit, and chocolate.

In contemporary Mexico, recipes abound for black, red, yellow, green, almond, and pepian molé. Ingredients are toasted, ground, and mixed for special occasions. The process is elaborate and can take days. The Oaxaca region is famous for the coveted molé negro, or black molé. Rick Bayless, whose version of this sauce contributed to his title of Top Chef Master, made his Oaxacan black molé for one of Obama's White House state dinners. His sauce had upwards of 20 ingredients and took three days to prepare.

For home cooks short on time, simpler versions can produce equally delicious results. See the Scoville chart when choosing dried chiles for your sauce. Because of availability, I use Peruvian "marisol" chiles and "colorado" chiles for my red molé and throw in a chipotle for extra smokiness. Please see the "tips" section for suggested chile combinations.

Don't trust "quick" recipes which require only half an hour of cooking time. This sauce must be simmered for at least two hours until thick and pungent. But beware: it is extremely addictive!

Dried Chiles

Chile Pepper VarietyAlternate NamesScoville ScoreDescription



narrow, long and dark/spicy flavor

aji marisol

aji amarillo, Peruvian guajillo, marisol chile


orange and wrinkled/fruity, grassy flavor


smoked jalapeno


reddish-brown to brown/smoky flavor



smooth, shiny and reddish-brown/bright, fruity earthy flavor

New Mexico

New Mexico red chile


smooth, shiny and red/crisp, earthy flavor

California chile

dried Anaheim


smooth, shiny, red/crisp, mild flavor


mulatto chile


dark and wrinkly/sweet, smoky flavor


dried Poblano


dark and wrinkly/sweet, raisin-like flavor

aji colorado

aji panca, colorado chile


smooth, shiny, reddish-brown/smoky, berry flavor

costeño amarillo


shiny and amber/crisp, citrus flavor

chilhuacle negro


shiny, dark and fat/deep, intense and fruity flavor


rattle chile, bola chile


small and round with noisy seeds/intense nutty flavor


chile negro, pasilla negro, dried chilaca


long, black and wrinkled/grapey, earthy flavor


  • Choose fragrant, flexible dried chiles. See Scoville chart for help in choosing chiles by flavor and/or heat.
  • If you'd like a dish similar to Rick Bayless's sauce, use 6 mulato chiles, 3 chihualces, 3 pasilla and 1 chipotle chile. If you can't find chihualces chiles, a very respectable substitute would be 7 mulato chiles, 5 pasilla chiles and 3 guajillo chiles.
  • For red molé, choose 6 mulato chiles, 3 ancho chiles and 5 pasilla chiles.
  • If Mexican chocolate isn't available, choose another good quality chocolate. If using Ghiradelli or Lindt, you'll need 3 squares for my recipe.
  • Don't use more than one chipotle unless you like it spicy.
  • Carefully watch chiles while toasting them. Burnt chiles make a bitter sauce.
  • Before simmering, try your sauce. The flavor will be raw, sharp and spicy. Simmering will transform your sauce into a mellow, complex sauce.
  • Use a thick-walled pot so the molé doesn't burn. Simmer on medium-low to medium heat.
  • As the molé simmers, check periodically. Add more water as necessary and stir to keep sauce from scorching.
  • Leftover sauce will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator. Molé also freezes well. Pour it into labeled freezer containers and store for up to six months.
  • Use leftover sauce in burritos, enchiladas, huevos rancheros, as a substitute for BBQ sauce, etc. It will infuse your meal with incredible flavor.

Red Molé With Chicken

Adapted from Rick Bayless's red molé recipe. Yield: 9 servings.


For chicken and broth:

  • 2 to 2 1/2 pound chicken
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 whole onion, peeled
  • 4 garlic cloves

For molé:

  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • vegetable oil
  • 14 chiles, about 6 ounces total weight
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup whole almonds
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin, freshly ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon each black pepper and anise
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 slice white bread, darkly toasted and broken into pieces
  • 1 ounce good quality chocolate, preferably Mexican
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) chicken broth
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar


  1. Fill a stockpot with 12 cups of water. Add chicken and remaining ingredients. Simmer for an hour or until chicken is tender.
  2. Remove chicken from pot and allow to cool. Discard onion and spices. Reserve the broth for the sauce. When the chicken has cooled, remove meat from the bone and shred or chop it. Set aside.
  3. Wipe any visible dust from dried chiles.
  4. Place chiles, sesame seeds, almonds and white bread on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven. Remove chiles and raisins when they are fragrant and puffed, 5 to 6 minutes. Sesame seeds and almonds will need 10 or 15 minutes to turn golden brown. Leave white bread on baking sheet until toasted dark brown.
  5. Seed, devein and stem cooled chiles. Cover with hot tap water and allow to rehydrate, about 30 minutes.
  6. In hot oil, saute garlic cloves until golden brown and soft, about 5 minutes. Set garlic cloves aside with other toasted ingredients.
  7. Pour off and discard water from chiles.
  8. Scoop chiles into a blender jar and, with 3 cups of water, blend until smooth. Press through a strainer and into a large bowl.
  9. Return chile puree to pot with hot oil. Stir every few minutes, simmering for about half an hour or until it reduces and reaches the consistency of tomato paste.
  10. Toss into blender jar the toasted ingredients: sesame seeds, almonds, garlic and raisins. Also add cinnamon, pepper, coriander, cumin, anise, cloves, bread, chocolate and 2 to 3 cups of chicken broth. Blend thoroughly, strain through mesh strainer and add to reduced chile paste.
  11. Add rest of the broth and the tomato paste to the pot and stir. Simmer over medium heat for about 2 1/2 hours, or until flavors marry and mellow. If the sauce has reduced beyond the consistency of cream soup, stir in more water. Season with salt (about 2 teaspoons) and 3 tablespoons of sugar.
Taco with molé sauce

Taco with molé sauce

Serving Ideas

Serve with corn or flour tortillas and shredded chicken. Garnish with crumbled queso fresco and chopped cilantro. Accompany with margaritas and Mexican rice.