Mole Chicken Chili / by Chelsea Zwieg

Real talk: It is freezing. Technically the weather app says it's 1 degree. But it then follows that up with 'feels like -23'. If it feels like -23, then how is it not actually just -23? I'm sure there is some strong science backing that up, but all I have to go off of is no feeling in my toes and a car that won't start and neither respond to me telling them that it's not actually below zero, it just feels like it. Bottom line: It's cold.

And when it's cold, there is nothing I want more than to stay inside all day cooking and eating chili. Luckily the two go hand in hand, because, as anyone who has hiberanted from the cold in the warm confines of the kitchen knows, chili only gets better than longer you cook it. I've shared my go-to chili recipe on here before (along with beer bread that will literally change your life) but this time I wanted to try something different. Not changing the beer bread though, that should definitely still make an appearance.  

I love mole sauce, and I have stirred dark chocolate or cocoa powder into my chili before. But I really wanted to start with a base that had more mole to it than just chocolate, and build the chili around that sauce. Typically mole sauces take like three days to make and, while I do love to hide from the cold, I also have a job and probably shouldn't spend half a week making sauce. So I streamlined the flavors into a sauce that comes together in 10 minutes. Rather than rehydrating dried ancho chiles I sautéed poblanos (the undried version of anchos) with garlic and green chiles. In place of the toasted almonds and sesame seeds, I used a few spoonfuls of almond butter which give it a toasty nutty flavor and a little bit of thickness. This is all pureed with cinnamon, red pepper flakes, tomato sauce and, of course, dark chocolate. It might not pass as legit by a trained sauce professional, but for unrefined mole-craving palates like mine, it works beautifully. 

After the sauce is made, the chicken breasts and veggies get braised in it (unless you opt for the slow cooker method listed below) and then combined with diced tomatoes, beans and hominy. Then everything gets simmered with stock until the flavors meld, the chili thickens and you have the perfect bowl of warmth to forget the fact that it is so far below zero it hurts. 

Mole Chicken Chili

| Ingredients

  • 1 poblano pepper, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 4 oz. can diced green chiles 
  • 1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 tbsp. almond butter
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 oz. dark chocolate
  • 1 15 oz. can chili beans (mine were in hot chili sauce, but you can go mild or medium depending on how much heat you want)
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. can hominy  
  • 4 cups chicken stock 

| Instructions

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium skillet, heat a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add poblano pepper and garlic and sauté until soft and beginning to blister. Remove from heat and transfer to a food processor or blender. Add green chiles, tomato sauce, almond butter, red pepper and cinnamon. Pulse until smooth.

In a 4qt. or larger dutch oven, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add chicken breasts and brown on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Add mole sauce and turn chicken breasts to coat. Add carrots and red onion, stirring to coat the veggies in sauce. Add dark chocolate and heat until chocolate melts and the sauce just begins to bubble. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Bake 20-25 minutes until chicken breasts are cooked through. Transfer chicken breasts to a cutting board and allow them to cool. Once the chicken has cooled, shred the chicken using two forks. Set aside. 

Meanwhile, return the pot to the stovetop over medium heat. Add chili beans, diced tomatoes, hominy and 2 cups stock. Stir to combine. Bring chili to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Keep chili at a gentle simmer. Cook until carrots and onions are tender, at least 30 minutes. At this point, the longer you let it simmer, the better the flavor will be. I let mine simmer for two hours, adding more stock every 30 minutes or so and used 4 cups stock total. If you aren't going to cook it for as long, you may no need much more than 2 cups of stock. In the last 20 minutes before serving, add the chicken back to the pot and cook until chicken is heated through. 

Serve with guacamole, red onion and jalapeño. And lots of cheese. Obviously. 

Slow Cooker method: Prepare mole sauce, as directed above. Add sauce, chicken and remaining ingredients to the slow cooker along with 4 cups stock. Cook 6-8 hours on low. Once chicken is cooked through, remove and shred. Transfer back to slow cooker and allow the chicken to cook in the sauce a little bit longer.