Watching The Hundred-Foot Journey has had me thinking quite a bit about the way we cook these days. The story is about an Indian family who lands in the southwest of France, where they open a restaurant and are confronted by stubborn locals who are not interested in cultural inclusion. The young Indian chef then goes on to learn the French classics, a culinary education that’s wrapped up in a matinee-friendly narrative of romance, connection, and love. The film has its cheesy moments, sure, but it’s a story that I have seen many times in the un-Disney-fied life of the kitchen.
I know a chef, Shelley Wiseman, who has traveled and cooked all over the world. Now that she and I run a cooking school together, I get to see the multicultural point of view that she employs every day.
Shelley has cooked in France, where she learned classic French technique, and in Mexico, where she learned the complexity of that cuisine (and owned a school where she taught French cuisine). She has cooked in New York City, where I met her a decade ago. Today, it seems that every meal she makes includes the sum of that knowledge.
Yesterday, after I handed her a rooster from the farm that had seen its last day, she combined the French technique of poaching with classic aromatics with the most complex Mexican sauce: mole poblano. The rooster, potentially tough and stringy, became tender and succulent after it simmered away with carrots, celery, shallots, and parsley. The resulting broth became the base of the multilayered mole, and the final dish combined the best of both cooking cultures.
We ate the mole for dinner with friends, and before long the party ended in singing. This is the power of great food. Shelley, and the way she prepares food, is a perfect example of the way cuisines can combine, bringing together the best from around the world at one simple farm table—even if that table is in New Jersey.
Shelley’s Coq Au Mole
Serves 15 to 20
Shelley learned this version of the classic Mexican sauce from Elivra Rosas, a marvelous cook from the city of Puebla.
For the poached rooster or chicken:
2 roosters, cut into pieces
4 celery sticks
1 bunch parsley
1 small bunch thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
14 cups water
For the mole poblano:
2 corn tortillas
1/2-inch-thick slice white onion
10 cloves garlic
6 ounces mulato chiles (cleaned, stemmed, deveined, and split open)
4 ounces ancho chiles (cleaned, stemmed, deveined, and split open)
2 ounces pasilla chiles (cleaned, stemmed, deveined, and split open)
1/2 ounce whole chipotle meco chiles (cleaned, stemmed, deveined, and split open)
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2/3 cup raw or blanched almonds
2/3 cup raw shelled peanuts
1/3 cup raisins
2 small ripe plantains, cut into pieces
2/3 cup unhulled sesame seeds, plus more for garnish
1/4 teaspoon coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon whole allspice
2 (3-inch) sticks Mexican cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon anise seed
6 to 8 cups chicken or rooster stock
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 1/2 ounces Mexican chocolate
2 poached chickens or roosters
Place the roosters in a large heavy pot along with the rest of the poaching ingredients, including the water and 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Bring the liquid to a gentle boil and cook, uncovered, until the roosters are tender, about 2 hours. Turn off the heat, and let the roosters sit in the poaching liquid until warm. Shred the roosters, discarding the bones, and strain and reserve the liquid.
Make the mole poblano: Hold the tortillas over an open flame until they ignite, then let them burn until the flame is extinguished. Heat a comal or griddle, then toast the onion and garlic, turning until blackened and softened, 8 to 10 minutes for the garlic and 15 to 20 minutes for the onion. Lightly toast the chiles (except the chipotles) on the comal, turning with tongs until they are fragrant, about 45 seconds. Place the chiles and tortillas in a large bowl of water to soak until softened, about 25 minutes.
Heat the 1/2 cup oil in a medium-heavy skillet until it shimmers, then fry the almonds and peanuts until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Fry the chipotles until puffy, about 3 minutes, and transfer to the bowl. Fry the raisins until puffy, about 1 minute, and transfer to the bowl. Fry the plantains until golden, about 3 minutes, and transfer to the bowl. Fry the sesame seeds and spices in the remaining oil until the sesame seeds are golden, about 1 minute, and transfer to the bowl.
Drain the soaked chiles and tortillas, and puree them with the onion and garlic in a blender with 2 cups of stock until smooth. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat until hot. Then fry the puree, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Puree the onion, garlic, and all the fried ingredients along with 4 more cups of stock in the blender until smooth, then add to the chile mixture in the pot. Stir in the chocolate until melted, then season with salt to taste and thin with additional stock for a lighter consistency. Cook, stirring occasionally, until smooth but not gloppy, about 45 minutes. Stir the shredded rooster into the mole and heat until hot. Serve with rice, hot sauce, and cilantro.