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Monday, July 18, 2011

Mexican Cuisine: Classic Sauces

Mole ChickenImage via Wikipedia
By Robert Nickel


In our previous article "Let's Talk Salsa" we identified the ambiguity surrounding the word 'salsa' and used it describe almost any sauce of Mexican origin (with the exception of Mole sauce). Now, in this discussion we will take a closer look at a few classic sauces in Mexican cuisine that lie beyond the simple category of salsa.



Mole sauce is of course the most widely known Mexican sauce, made in hundreds of variations all over the nation. Ingredients which are always present are almonds, unsweetened chocolate, chili peppers and sesame oil. However even those basic ingredients are disputed in several culinary manuals. The two identifying elements of mole sauce, the things that separate it from all the other sauces is the combination of chili peppers and unsweetened chocolate. Chocolate is added to balance out the heat of the chilies, and to add color. The best known mole sauce is mole poblano, and has even been dubbed the national dish of Mexico.

Chamoy sauce is made from pickled fruit and powdered chilies. The preparation process includes soaking various kinds of fruit (plum, apricot, mango, papaya) in brine and vinegar until the fruit is dry. Once the fruit is removed, the leftover mixture is seasoned with chilies and depending on the desired consistency, thickened or pureed with fresh fruit. Obviously the kind of fruit initially used during the drying process will dictate the color, taste and consistency of the chamoy sauce. Chamoy is a lot like the Japanese umeboshi made from pickled ume fruit, and like umeboshi is definitely an acquired taste.

Mole sauce and chamoy sauce are the two most iconic sauces used on warm dishes. They are both very different in their taste, but it is mole sauce that seems to be made in the diverse ways and used during celebratory meals. Salsa is represented in Mexican culinary literature as a daily part of every meal and made according to the ingredients available. Alternatively, chamoy is marketed as a condiment rather than a meal component, much like salsa. We would therefore assume that mole sauce would not appear in the same meal as salsa and chamoy.

Then again, we can only truly know the wonder of timeless sauces in Mexican cuisine by spending time in the country. Foodies, this is your motive for spending more than three days in Mexico! In order to truly appreciate the proper use of classic sauces one must immerse oneself in the culture. Go big or go home!




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