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April 8, 2009

Chocolate and Chicken? Say Hurray for Mole!


Most of us know chocolate as the light, happy little character from a children’s story. It prances, dances and frolics to and fro with its good friend sugar cookie and marshmallow. Children eat it in the form of bunny rabbits near Easter, drink it in diluted melted form during winter. It brings a smile to every cavity-filled mouth, and plays a critical role in helping children bridge the sometimes frightening gap between Oct. 30 and Nov. 1.


Yet, once you get to know chocolate, have a conversation or two with it, you come to know the deep bitterness felt only by someone who feels typecast into a role that is beneath him. Chocolate is deep and rich, and it cuts an exotic figure in your kitchen.


Its best work is brought out with a cast of characters as exotic and misunderstood as chocolate itself.


We start with boneless chicken thighs, with skin still on. Brown these in olive oil to release the fats in the skin. Once brown, remove and discard the skin and cut up the meat. Leave to the side for a moment.


Into the fat on the bottom of the skillet, add some olive oil, and begin with chocolate’s supporting cast, as rich and exotic as chocolate itself – garlic, cumin and cinnamon. Spread these thoroughly through the oil and melted chicken fat until all is moist and allow to heat to where it just begins to smoke. The spices will bubble a little and turn a very dark color.


Your inclination here might be to turn off the heat and scrape the bottom of the pan into the garbage can. Resist the urge. You will have to push envelopes you always thought best kept closed here.


Instead, add some chicken broth into the bottom and some chopped Roma tomatoes. Deglaze the bottom of the pan, which is a fancy way of saying that you should scrape up all of the previously heated herbs up into the broth and tomatoes.


Stir this thoroughly and add chipotle peppers as you mix everything. A chipotle pepper is a dried and smoked jalapeno pepper. Or, it is a canned and smoked jalapeno pepper. Either way, it is a smoked jalapeno pepper. Once you add the chocolate, these peppers will give it a profound sense of cool.


That happens now. Add a chunk of unsweetened chocolate. It is unrefined. The combination of chocolate and chipotle pepper is like pairing together James Dean and a cigarette back before doctors ruined smoking.


Stir the chocolate round and round, mixing it with the spices, tomatoes and peppers. Add the chicken, and allow to cook down. This will not allow chocolate to show its true acting chops. What you assumed was a happy, mindless children’s act is revealed to instead be an incredibly complicated, deep personality called mole. If you have a teenaged daughter, send her away.


For everyone else, once the sauce is thickened and properly salted, serve chocolate over warm rice. Applause is not unwarranted.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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