Friday, August 8, 2014

Mango Molé Braised Pork Ribs & Old Guardian Barley Wine

My sister in-law's mother, Petra, is a native Oaxacan and makes some of the most incredible molé I've ever had.  Rich and velvety and layered with flavors upon flavors, it's like the culinary equivalent of gold.  Every year she makes the trip from her home in Mexico to California to visit relatives and every year a brick of her prized molé makes the journey with her.  That's right, she actually carries the brick onto the plane and travels with it tucked protectively into her carry-on baggage.  Take note my friends because THAT is true dedication to one's culinary craft!

And every year Sarah and I beg and plead with my sister in-law to save just a sliver of that brick for our annual visit to California.  On the occasion a sliver is saved, we savor it with the respect it deserves, musing at its complex notes. Then, a couple years ago, I the got the offer most chefs would kill for (and the offer I'd been not so subtly hinting at from my first bite of that molé) ... A cooking lesson with Petra herself and the chance to learn the secrets of traditional molé making!  Score!

Hold your excitement, dear readers because the recipe I'm about to share isn't Petra's famed molè.  Much to my chagrin, I've not actually made it to this cooking lesson yet.  Shameful, I know.  Frankly though, even if I did possess the coveted recipe, I'm not sure I could share it here.  Chef-to-chef etiquette dictates that some secrets be left untold.

What I CAN offer is my own version of Perra's molè.  It is a recipe cobbled together from years of sampling the real thing and guessing at its ingredients but a pretty good one all the same.  Let me be very clear, I would never be so bold as to claim that this recipe is an authentic Oaxacan molé.  It's not.  And obviously pork ribs are a fairly untraditional vehicle for molé.  No, traditional this isn't!   Instead I will call this my ode to the 7 molés of Oaxaca.  I think it most embodies the Negro and Rojo varietals but with the addition of fresh tomatilos and corn tortillas it also gives a nod to Molé Verde and Molé Chichilo. 

I was salivating just looking at these ingredients but after I toasted the chiles, mangos and raisins I knew we were in for a special treat.  Toasting (and roasting) ingredients is the stuff that creates cooking magic!  It matures an ingredient and coaxes out all its subtleties, bringing the flavors to the next level.  Whatever you do, don't skip this step!  

In another original twist, I chose some tart dried mangos as the fruit component.  They certainly added some complexity and some zing and they elevated the pairing with Stone Brewery's Old Guardian from good to nearly perfect!  

I must say, unconventional as it may be, if you haven't had ribs glazed in molé, you're missing out.  It takes some work - molé done correctly is an investment for sure - but it's well worth it!    

Mango Molé Braised Pork Ribs

For Molé Sauce:

2 ancho chiles dried
1 pasilla chili dried
3 oz. dried mango
2 oz. raisens
1 slice stale bread, large dice
1 corn tortilla
1Tbsp. seasame seeds
1/4 cinnamon stick (cut or break)
1/4 star anise  (cut or break)
2 tomatillos
3 cloves garlic
1Tbsp. coriander 
4 peppercorns
12 cashews
4 oz. dark chocolate
1/2 C. oil (8Tbsp.)
1 C. chicken stock
3 lbs. baby back pork ribs

  • Heat 4 Tbsp. of oil in a sauté pan on high.  Deseed the dried chilis.  Toast the chilis in hot oil, 1 minute on each side.  Set aside.  Repeat with the dried mango (toast 1 minute on each side).  Set aside.  Finally, toast the raisins in the same hot oil.   Place toasted chills  mangos and raisins in a medium sized bowl and add 2 C. hot water and rehydrate for 30 minutes.  Remove the mangos, chills, and raisins, reserving the water.   Puree in a blender with some of the reserved water until it is very smooth.  Set aside.  
  • Heat remaing 4 Tbsp. of oil in a sauté pan on high.  Toast the bread, tortillas, cashews, garlic, and sesame seeds for 3-4 minutes.  Strain ingredients out of the oil and place into the blender. Add spices to remaining hot oil and toast for 2 minutes.  Add the spices to the blender and the fresh tomatillos.  Blend well and add 1 C. of chicken stock to throughly blend this mixture.
  • In a enamaled cast iron pot place the chili puree, nut and spice puree, and the chocolate on a low simmer.  Cook slowly for 1 hour on low heat, stirring regularly.
Tip:  Use the best quality chocolate you can find.  The flavor found in the cacao of good chocolate is what adds so much depth to sauce.  I used Scharffen Berger 62% bittersweet as I prefer a molé that has deeper cacao notes and that is more savory than sweet.  If you prefer a sweeter sauce, try a chocolate with 50% or less cacao.

For Ribs:

  • Pre heat the oven to 300 degrees.  Place the individual slab of ribs on a large sheet of foil. Season well with salt and pepper. Wrap the ribs tight in foil.  Place the ribs on a sheet tray and bake for 2 hours.  
  • After the two hours turn the oven up to 400 degrees.  Unwrap the ribs from the foil and brush generously with molé. Bake for 10 minutes. Re brush ribs with molé and continue this process 3 times for a total of 40 minutes.

Pairing Notes

Stone Old Guardian
American Barleywine 11.6% ABV

This beer pours mahogany in color with a little head, leaving a great lace.  Make no mistake, it is a beast of a barley wine.  The nose gives off notes of toffee, vanilla, and hints of tropical fruits from aggressive amounts of American hops.  The taste and aromatics are on par with one another via a great balance of sweet malts and bitter hops.  Note the flavors of caramel, toffee, orange, and mango.  

This large American style barley wine pairs well with the Mango Molé Ribs because they complement each other so well.  The flavors of the toasted nuts, bread, tortilla and caramelized sugars in the dried fruit match the notes that the sweet malts lend to the beer.  Further, the mango in the mole greatly accentuates the tropical notes that the hops give off.  

Perhaps what the beer and the molé have most in common is that they are both crafted to show layers of complex flavors.  Each ingredient is purposeful and balanced.  For that reason it is especially important with this pairing to eat and drink slowly, taking the time to fully grasp and appreciate the beer's and food's complexities.  Here, the sum is truly greater than the individual parts.


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