Recently, I toured the High Plains around Brownfield, Texas, as a guest of the Texas Peanut Board, renewing my delight in this nutritious groundnut. And although Georgia is the top peanut-producing state in the nation, Texas is currently the No. 2 peanut-producing state and New Mexico comes in at No. 10, so why not, I thought, explore the peanut’s savory side with a silky Southwestern-style peanut mole?
Mole is among my favorite meat sauces, and one that pairs exquisitely with wild game. You could also pair this peanut mole with wild hog—perhaps laying medallions of seared pork tenderloin upon it. This peanut mole is of the mole poblano type—not because it has poblano chiles in it, but because it hails from the Pueblo region of Mexico—and is also known as a mole rojo. Other styles of mole sauces include mole negro, which has more chocolate and spice in addition to hoja santa, a licorice-like Mexican herb; mole verde, which calls for pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and relies on herbs instead of chocolate; mole chichilo, using beef stock and several types of chiles; mole amarillo, a spicy yellow, non-chocolate mole; mole coloradito, which includes mashed plantains; and mole manchamantel, a concoction of chorizo, tomato, and pineapple.
This easy, showy dish is just as well-suited for stylish entertaining as it is for a simple supper—I like to serve it with a simple green salad and a side of rice. Making the mole a day ahead and refrigerating it will allow the spices to bloom, heightening the flavor, and also allow you plenty of time to enjoy your guests come suppertime—talk about a win-win!
QUAIL IN RED PEANUT MOLE
Codoniz en Mole Rojo de Cacahuate
For the mole
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and torn into 5 or 6 flat pieces
1/2 cup white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) diced fire-roasted tomatoes in juice
1 cup dry-roasted peanuts
2 small corn tortillas, roughly torn into pieces
2 chipotle chiles en adobo
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 1/2 to 4 cups chicken stock (divided use)
1 disc Taza Chipotle Chile Chocolate, chopped (can substitute 1 1/2 ounces dark semisweet chocolate)
Salt and sugar, for seasoning
For the quail
4 semi-boneless quail (all bones removed except for wings and drumsticks; if you don’t have wild quail, I recommend ordering the semi-boneless Bandera quail from Broken Arrow Ranch at brokenarrowranch.com)
Peanut oil and salt
Sprigs of cilantro, for garnish
For the spicy peanut topping
2 tablespoons red onion, finely chopped
1 serrano chile, seeds removed, finely chopped
Zest and juice of 1 Key lime
Sea salt (I like pink Himalayan sea salt for this)
3/4 cup salted, dry-roasted skin-on Spanish peanuts
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
A day or two ahead, make the mole: Heat the peanut oil in a medium-large (4 to 6 quart) stock pot over medium heat. Add the dried chiles, onion, and garlic and sauté for 6 or 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion and garlic are translucent and golden, and the chiles are fragrant. Scrape into a blender jar.
To the blender jar, add the fire-roasted tomatoes, peanuts, tortillas, chipotles, allspice, cinnamon, and 1 1/2 cups of the chicken stock. Process on high speed, scraping down the sides of the blender jar several times, until the texture is silky and uniform.
Add the mixture from the blender back into your cooking pot, and stir constantly for 8 minutes until it has reduced by more than half of its original volume and darkened to a thick, deep orange paste (about the consistency of tomato paste); this will help marry the flavors and protect your mole from separating later. Then, slowly stir in 2 cups of chicken stock and add the Mexican chocolate, stirring to blend. Partially cover the pot, turn the heat to low and simmer for an hour; if necessary, you can thin the sauce with a bit more stock or water. Taste and season with salt and about 1/2 teaspoon sugar (to highlight the fruitiness of the chiles). Let cool and refrigerate overnight, or up to two days. (This will make more mole than you need for this dish, so freeze the remainder for later use.)
About 30 minutes before mealtime: Remove the mole from the refrigerator and warm it over low heat, tasting and adjusting seasonings if necessary.
Prepare the spicy peanut topping: Combine all ingredients and toss until well-blended. Place the peanuts in a bowl with a small serving spoon.
Prepare the quail: Heat a cast iron skillet to between medium and medium-high. Pat the quail dry with a paper towel and arrange them, breast up, in a uniform position. Drizzle with peanut oil and sprinkle with salt.
Lay the quail breast-side down in the hot skillet and cook 4 to 5 minutes, checking once or twice to ensure that they are not browning too quickly. Flip the quail and continue cooking until the quail are golden and just barely firm, about 3 to 4 minutes more.
Spoon a generous amount of the mole onto a warm platter and place quail atop the sauce. Garnish with the spicy peanut topping and sprigs of cilantro.