They are these deeply enigmatic things to many people and the few interlocutors of Mexican Cuisine are not always doing much to roll back the mystery. For instance Diana Kennedy’s cookbooks have progressively become less friendly to Americans cooking in America. She presents an illusion of great variability by including at least six black moles in her book Oaxaca Al Gusto as if each region had a distinct take on black mole. In reality I am sure there is as much variation in how grandmas in a region make mole as there is across regions. It seems hardly worth recording that some make a black mole with pepitas or walnuts (oh my!) or vary the dried fruit used to sweeten the dish. In fact the variegated nuts in the most complex moles seem to venture into the territory of unneeded. In something as complicated as mole, I find it hard to believe anyone will notice the proportions of five different nuts. I find myself a bit more drawn to the simpler moles that have at most two nuts, where the characteristics of each contribute more to the final dish.
Apart from drawing nearly nonexistent distinctions between regional variations on mole, I often find the description of the process of making mole unnecessarily tedious. Often it is a laborious process of toasting or frying chiles, nuts, and spices and then frying other things or making pastes and then frying them. Apart from frying so many things separately, you fry a long time because they add so much liquid that you have to evaporate before you actually start frying things.
You can take shortcuts and I can guarantee it will be at least 95% as good. I see no need to double fry any ingredients. Toasting chiles, nuts and spices and then frying them as a paste is equivalent (it works for Thai curries after all). If you have a stick blender you can fry aromatics and other produce together, throw chile/nut/spice paste in and then fry it and finally blend in the pot. It wont be as smooth as a high powered blender, but it is much simpler and you don’t need as much liquid which means it doesn’t take as long to fry to a nice dark color. You might sacrifice the quality a very tiny bit, but we aren’t all women in a rural village with nothing but domestic duties that allows them to putter around in the kitchen for hours. Again mole is so complex that small differences in preparation aren’t going to be readily apparent.
The final part of this post I want to talk about the distinctions between moles.
Red Mole or Mole Poblano – This is the most common kind of mole noted for its unique combination of nuts, chiles and chocolate. Some try to draw a distinction between Red and Poblano, but there really isn’t, though mole poblano certainly sounds tastier. There are however two classes of red mole. One is more complex with more nuts and a wider variety of spices like anise or allspice. That said, red moles run the gamut between the two classes as well. Mole Teloloapan and other mole also fall into this category.
Black Mole – Black mole is red mole with charred things added. Period. I am not sure why it has become so elevated, I think it is because Bayless won Top Chef Masters with it. You can even see that it bifurcates into simpler and more complex along the same lines as red mole.
Coloradito – This mole is similar to a simple red mole but contains no chocolate, and little to no fruit or nuts. In its simplest incarnation it is redolent of a good Texas chile con carne. That said, some are much closer to a red mole than their spicy Texan cousin.
Xico – A complex red mole with more fruit added resulting in a sweeter taste.
Manchamanteles – This is also a really wide category. I think it is safe to characterize it by the heavy use of pineapple. Otherwise I have seen variations that run from fruity coloradito to almost xico levels of complexity. I don’t really understand the name of this one (“tablecloth stainer”) since there is nothing inherently more stainworthy in it than any other mole.
That covers the red moles. There is also a yellow mole (Amarillo) and two styles of green mole, one characterized by pepitas and the other more of an herbaceous verde.