"...I have no doubt some serious work went into getting the formula just right because no one flavor dominates, the spice and seasonings all meld together beautifully. I couldn't stop dunking my short ribs into this sauce. I'm convinced it would make just about anything taste good."

– Amy Sherman, Cooking with Amy

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Michele Makes Mole

I love mole. Whenever I hear the word, “mole," I perk-up. Always intrigued by the number of versions and the layers of flavors captured within. It’s a sauce that haunts me. Dares me to make, and then seek other’s approval. Invite friends over, and then wait, hoping for that moment at the table when conversations momentarily stop, and eyes involuntary close. It’s just one of those dishes for me. I love it so. Ridiculously labor intensive, yes. Distinctly regional, yes. Had I ever made one from scratch? No.

Part One: Mole made in Class

I saw a mole class offered in my neighborhood at 18 Reasons, and after googling the teacher, Norma Listman, and reading her background, I immediately signed up. I could feel she had some serious mole street cred. I also looked at her instagram feed, and liked her artistic vibe. Plus, she was cooking one that I’d never had, or even heard of, Mole Chichilo.

Greeting us with her ingredients on display, she explained that this was one of the lesser known moles, and while the finished sauce would be dark, like the more familiar mole negro, it had no chocolate, or cinnamon, so it wouldn't be as rich. This style of mole would be brighter and fruitier, thanks to the addition of tomatillos. I was also happy to discover a new ingredient, toasted avocado leaves.

The finished mole was going to be served with beef, as was tradition, so it began with a homemade beef stock, already made, and simmering on the stove. We were all assigned tasks, and happily for me, I got to toast the chiles. Time flew by very quickly, and the finished dish was soon on the table waiting for us to plate up and experience.

It was very good, but due to the time constraints of the class, Norma explained to us that it could have benefited from a longer cooking time. She mentioned that mole is at its best if cooked at a low heat for at least 5 hours, constantly stirring and paying close attention to it. She said, “If you do not have that kind of time, prepare it the day before, and let the flavors marry. It's not an everyday dish, but one for special occasions, and the reason it's so good, is because all the care and patience you've to put into it. Never rush a mole, or you will end with a weak sauce.”

Hearing her say that inspired me, and I knew that I needed to recreate this at home, where I could take my time. A feat made possible, thanks to her guidance, and good cheer walking me through my first mole sauce.

Part Two: Shopping for Ingredients

I first needed to find the dried chiles used in Mole Chichilo, which are the real stars of the dish. In this case, chilhuatle negro. It gives the dish its backbone, and is considered by some to be the tastiest chile, therefore highly desired, and expensive.

Lucky for me, living in San Francisco, I knew exactly where to go, which made me smile, and gave me a quick flashback to the early nineties. Back then, I worked at the Ferry Plaza Harvest Market, located in a parking lot on Green Street, before it found its permanent home at the Ferry Building.

I was fortunate to sell one-of-a-kind, handmade cheese from Andante Dairy. It was an amazing market, and much smaller then. Circular in shape, vendors could literally wave to each other before the crowds came. It was there I first met many early food industry influencers.

One such kindred spirit was Evie, with Tierra Vegetables. During the market, when given a break, I would trade a piece of cheese for an item sold at another stall. It was a great way to meet the other vendors, and taste their offerings. I remember when Evie gave me my first taste of chili jam, and that combination of sweetness and heat sparked ideas of layering different chiles together.

So, when I started my mole shopping, I knew finding the best chiles meant going to the Saturday, Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, and seeing Evie. It was as if time stood still, seeing her, and her amazing selection of both fresh and dried chiles. I found what I was after, and bought dried Chilhuacle, Mulato, and Pulla chiles; as well as some red Guajillo, for a future enchilada sauce. I’ve aways loved chiles. Intrigued, and educated by repeated tastings, they must resonate with my Calabrian heritage.

As for the other ingredients involved in the recipe, the only other special shopping trip, was to find Mexican avocado leaves. Again, easy enough, as I live in the Mission district of San Francisco. So, done, and done.

Part Three: Making Mole at Home

With shopping done, and beef broth made the night before simmering on the stove, I rested and got ready for the full day of prep ahead. I began by toasting each of the chiles separately in cast iron skillets, enjoying their scents as they turned soft and dark, then, with gloves on, peeling the charred skin off each, carefully liberating seeds from flesh. I was getting in the mole mood.

Next was the heady experience of toasting avocado leaves. Their scent, reminiscent of anise seed, perfumed the air. My kitchen smelled fantastic. With my cast iron pans on the stove, still warm from the avocado leaves, I toasted each of the spices, and finished by lightly charring the tomatillos, tomatoes, and garlic. The dish slowly began to unfold in front of me. Stirring the pot stirred other memories too. I felt like “Tita” in “Like Water for Chocolate.”

The finished dish was wonderful, and all I wanted it to be. Describing the finished sauce, I’d say it was both luxurious and tart; my dueling cravings were satisfied. The heat from the chiles both balanced, and warmed the dish, and the tender, succulent beef was a perfect companion to the tomatillos. 

So, an authentic mole is officially off my bucket list, and will be made again soon. Once in a while, someone will mention the flavor profile of SFQ reminds them of mole, thanks to its kiss of chocolate, and heat from the chiles, and for me, this is the greatest compliment possible. Thank you for letting me share my experience. It took almost as long to wax poetic about, than it did to make.

Mole Chichilo

Ingredients for 10 portions:

Beef Broth, Made a Day in Advance
1 white onion
1 lb. beef bones
8 cups water

Also, in advance, remove 2 corn tortillas from the package, and leave out overnight to dry. Day-old, dry tortillas are best for the sauce’s consistency.

The Chilies
12 Chilhuatle Negro chiles
6 Mulato chiles
3 Pulla chiles
Note: You will see many variations of chiles used in other recipes, this is what I used, and was very happy with the results. Of the 3 listed here, only the Pulla is spicy.

The Sauce
6 cups beef broth
10 tomatoes 
10 tomatillos
3 garlic cloves, separated but not peeled 
3 *Mexican avocado leaves
4  cloves
5  black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mexican oregano
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cumin seed 
1 teaspoon of marjoram
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup lard, or duck fat
salt to taste

The Beef
5 lbs. boneless beef chuck (well-marbled), cut into 1” pieces
salt to season the meat
lard, or duck fat for frying the meat

The Vegetables and Tortillas
6 chayote squash
1 lb. dried garbanzos, or 1 can of beans
1 or 2 corn tortillas (grilled and slightly blackened)

sliced white onion
diced avocado

Instructions For The Beef Broth

Place the beef bones and the onion, cut in half, in a stockpot and add the 8 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, then cook over low heat  6-8 hours or overnight. Strain, and defat in the morning. Have ready and warm on stove.

Instructions For The Chiles

Heat up a cast iron pan and toast your chiles, be careful not to burn them, as their flavor can become bitter. When cool, put on some gloves and remove the seeds and stems. Rehydrate your chiles in very warm beef stock, or water for at least an hour. Use only enough liquid to cover.

In a blender, add the chiles and liquid and blend adding as little stock as possible to make a smooth paste.

Instructions For The Sauce

Preheat lard in a stock pot (this is where you will cook your mole.) Add the blended pepper mix, it might splash and spit back if your heat is too high, so be careful and prepared. Keep it at a low heat, stirring the pot with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.

Broil, under high heat, the tomatillos, tomatoes and garlic. Make sure they have some parts charred. Once cool, separate the garlic from the peel.

Add 1 cup of beef broth to the blender and blend the roasted tomatoes, tomatillos and the garlic until smooth. Add this along with the rest of the reserved beef broth to the chili mix in the stock pot, and bring up to a simmer at medium heat, then lower heat.

Instructions For The Spices and Avocado Leaves
Toast your spices, in a dry cast iron skillet, one by one, until fragrant,  Do the same for the avocado leaves. Set aside to cool and combine. In a molcajete or electric coffee grinder, grind your spices and avocado leaves into a fine powder. Add this to your sauce. Low heat.

Instructions For The Dried Garbanzos And Beef

Begin cooking the dried beans at the same time as the beef.

Place dried beans in a pot, cover with 3 inches of water. Bring to boil. Let boil for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let rest in the hot water for 1 hour. Drain, add to sauce. Bring back up to a low simmer. Adjust heat as necessary.

Place a couple of spoons of lard or duck fat in a large frying pan and brown all sides of the seasoned beef. Once done, add the beef to the sauce.

Instructions For The Tortillas And Vegetables

Toast the tortillas directly on the stove's flame, a few charred spots are fine. When cool to the touch, tear them into a few pieces, and add them to the sauce, they will dissolve and thicken the mole.

Chayotes, peel and dice 6 squash into 1” pieces. Place in a bowl with cold water and set aside.

One hour before you are ready to serve the mole, at the 4 hour mark, remove the bay leaves. Drain water from squash and add to the sauce. If using a can of beans. Rinse beans and add them to sauce. Cook everything together.

- Remember Norma’s advise. “Cooked at a low heat for at least 5 hours, constantly stirring and playing close attention to it. If you do not have that kind of time, prepare it the day before and let the flavors marry.” I think it tastes even better the next day, the vegetables will hold up just fine.

- Serve in bowls garnished with sliced white onions and diced avocado.

- This mole keeps for more than a week in the fridge, or you can freeze for later.

*(FYI, I used Mexican avocado leaves in this recipe.) http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/articles/detail/avocado-leaves

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

You can get your sauce at Bi-Rite in San Francisco
(pictured here)
I wanted to wish you all a Happy Memorial Day Weekend! I hope you’ve been grilling and barbecuing already, but this is the traditional kick-off to cookout season, and to honor the occasion, I thought I would share a few of our favorite tips and tricks.

SFQ is amazing brushed on grilled vegetables, but be careful of brushing them with oil before placing over the coals. A little rubbed on the grates is okay, but oily vegetables can cause flare-ups, which will give your veggies a gasoline-like aftertaste. Just grill as is, and then toss with whatever dressing you like.

Smoky, grilled shrimp is another favorite for pairing with the sauce, and since it cooks so fast, we can break the rules and marinate with SFQ, instead of just brushing it on at the end. The sauce should be nicely caramelized by the time their cooked, and the bitterness from the random charred spots really brings out the shrimp’s sweetness.

And if you grilling steaks, SFQ makes for a surprisingly great steak sauce to serve along side. We know, “they” say a great steak doesn’t need a sauce, but try it sometime anyway, and see for yourself. Have a safe and fun holiday, and no matter what you’re eating, please enjoy!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Too Small To Be That Big

A recent 4th of July display at Bi-Rite Market
We have some news to pass along, as we’re making a major change to how we sell our sauce. We’re no longer going to be selling SFQ at the larger grocery chains, but instead are going to focus on selling directly to the public through our online store, as well as the occasional festival. 

The sauce will still be available at a few select neighborhood markets in San Francisco, like Bi-Rite, but the margins were just too low to continue selling at the Whole Foods of the world. When we created SFQ, we knew selling retail would be a challenge, since it was an expensive sauce to produce, and we weren’t prepared to sacrifice the quality to make it less expensive to make. When you tack on the distributor costs, selling retail just didn’t add up. 

We’ll continue to sell and ship the sauce from here, as well as do the occasional pubic event, and hope to enjoy your continued support. Feel free to drop us a line about larger orders, and if you live in the Bay Area, we’ve been known to sell a little SFQ right from our garage…I mean, warehouse. Happy barbequing, and we hope to hear from you soon!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Breaking News: SFQ Has Been Featured in Martha Stewart Living!

We’re very proud to announce that SFQ has just been featured in the February issue of Martha Stewart Living! For an artisan food producer to make her editor’s picks is a little bit like being knighted. As Martha would say, 'it's a good thing.'

Just in case you decided to run out, and get a copy of the magazine, let me save you some time, and tell you it’s on page 56. We just got back from Healdsburg, where we delivered a fresh supply of the sauce to Shed, which the magazine chose to list as the retail source.

A sincere thanks to everyone at MSL for including us in this issue, and we look forward to a new audience learning about, and hopefully tasting the sauce. This is not a sponsored post, but I feel obligated to share the fact I’ve always been a huge fan of the magazine, and used to proudly display tall stacks of all the issues I’d collected. It was the source of so much information, and inspiration.

I met Martha only once, way back in 1996; if you can call giving someone a Bloody Mary as a caterer at a wedding reception, meeting someone. Even though our encounter was brief, and 20 years ago, I can say she was as in control, and gracious in person, as she appears on TV. It goes without saying that women like Martha Stewart helped make what I do now, possible. Here’s a link to the magazine, in case you’d like to start your own stack.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Happy New Year Announcement!

We wanted to wish you all a very Happy New Year, and let you know that SFQ is now available in Southern California! We’ve shipped a fair amount of sauce to our friends down south, but now you can find SFQ at two brand new retail locations.

The sauce is available at Farmshop, 225 26th St, in Santa Monica; as well as The Market Hall, 969 Market St, in San Diego. I haven’t been to Farmshop yet, but thanks to my sister Jennifer getting married on New Year’s Eve, I was able to stop by The Market Hall to see the sauce proudly displayed on both their shelves and butcher counter (pictured here)!

If you’re near either of those stores, I hope you pay them a visit, and not just to pick up a few jars of sauce, but also to see all the other wonderful artisan food products these two great new markets offer. One of our resolutions for 2016 is to make SFQ available in more markets across this great, barbecue-sauce-loving nation.

Which reminds me, if you have a lead on a store in your area that would be a good candidate to carry the sauce, let us know, and we’ll try to make it happen. Thank you, and best wishes in the New Year!

Friday, October 2, 2015

A San Francisco BBQ Festival is Born!

We are proud to announce that on October 24, we’ll be participating in the inaugural San Francisco BBQ Festival! This event is being billed as a celebration of the best in Bay Area barbecue, and we’re beyond thrilled to be involved. 

Of course, the event will include lots of great, smoky barbecued meat, but there’s also going to be games, music, and a beer garden; as well as what the organizers are describing as the latest in barbecue technology. We’re not exactly sure what that’s going to be, but hey, you can’t have a festival around these parts without including some cutting-edge tech.

If you’d like to check it out, you can get more info on the official event website. By the way, tickets are limited, so if you think you’d like to go, don’t wait too long to order yours. We hope to see you there, and if you mention this blog post, we're going to send you home with a complimentary jar of SFQ. So, come by, and say hi! 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Good Food Awards Go Into the Pantry

Last year around this time, I had a few fans of the sauce wish me good luck in the Good Food Awards. It was very flattering, but also a little awkward, since SFQ wasn’t actually entered. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but the awards simply didn’t have a category that our barbecue sauce fit into. Well, I’m happy to announce that has changed this year!

They’ve added a Pantry category, and not only that, but I’ve been asked to serve on the committee for this new group of products. My friend, and local artisan food maven, Alli Ball, is chairing the committee, and being able to participate with her and the other members, is quite an honor. In case your wondering, even though I'm on the committee, we can still enter SFQ, since I don’t have anything to do with the voting.

My main duty is to hunt down similar producers, and encourage them to enter their fine products. Basically, I’m trying to help assemble the toughest competition imaginable, knowing full well that the real winner is the buying public, who hopefully learns about many great, new companies by following these awards.

You can read all about it at the Good Food Awards website, and if you know of any worthy participants, please let me know! You can leave a comment here, or tweet me: @MicheleManfredi. I’m really looking forward to this celebration of authentic, and responsibly produced food, and will keep you updated as news breaks. Stay tuned!