“It’s called mole verde oaxaqueno, and we love it because it’s probably the lightest, simplest and freshest of moles,” says Tamer Hamawi, owner of Gran Eléctrica, in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood.
In this recipe, Hamawi’s beloved mole cooks down with crisped chicken legs and a scattering of plump white beans. This particular mole hails from Oaxaca, in Southwestern Mexico, and possesses all the depth that darker mole poblano is known for, but, thankfully, fewer calories. “Mole poblano is what people generally associate with mole and it is typically thickened by nuts, seeds and raw bread. It’s also seasoned with lot of spices and chocolate,” Hamawi says. “This one is about fresh.”
Enriched with a bit of masa (the corn meal used to make corn tortillas), plenty of stewed tomatillos and fresh herbs, the green braising liquid that slowly simmers down with the chicken legs has a sharp flavor and vivid green color that will all but make you forget about its darker, chocolatey cousin.
To get your hands on masa, if the grocery store does not carry it, a trip to a Mexican market may be required. But this mole will more than make up for any extra effort you invest. A perfect meal with which to celebrate the upcoming Cinco de Mayo holiday, this dish will likely become as popular at your home as it has become at Gran Eléctrica.
Chicken Mole Verde
Masa can be found at specialty Mexican grocery stores.
5 chicken legs
Salt and pepper
Olive oil, to sear meat
1 pound tomatillos, husks removed
1 cup water
5 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 black peppercorns
1 1/3 cups chicken stock, plus more as needed to thin braising liquid
1/3 cup tortilla masa
1/4 cup mint
3/4 cup cooked white beans
Corn tortillas, optional, for serving
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Set a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and slick with a film of olive oil. Once hot, lay in legs, skin sides down, and crisp both sides until legs turn a dark golden brown, about 10 minutes total. Remove from pan and set chicken aside. Turn off heat and pour fat off from pot.
Meanwhile, put the tomatillos in a blender with the water, garlic, onion, oregano, cumin, cloves, peppercorns and jalapenos. Blend until smooth.
Set Dutch oven back over high heat and, once hot, pour in vegetable puree. It should sizzle immediately. Simmer and reduce puree until it thickens and tomatillos no longer taste raw, 5 to 10 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring liquid to a simmer. Return legs to the pot, arranging them skin sides up. Once liquid comes back up to a simmer, carefully transfer pot to oven and braise, on the center rack, until chicken cooks through, about 2 hours.
Remove braise from oven and transfer pot to the stove. Carefully remove 1/3 cup of the braising liquid from the pot and transfer it to a blender. Add the masa and mint and blend until a smooth paste forms.
Stir masa paste and the white beans back into the pot with the chicken. Set pot back over medium heat and simmer until everything coalesces, about 5 minutes. If braising liquid is too thick, thin it with extra chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with warm corn tortillas, if desired. Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Kitty Greenwald is a Brooklyn-based food writer and recipe developer. She eats a lot for work and pleasure. Her column Slow Food Fast appears in the Wall Street Journal.
Photos courtesy of Gran Eléctrica