I spoke to Enrique Olvera—the chef of Pujol in Mexico City and Cosme in New York City—with the hope of learning about the mother sauces of Mexico. Instead, Enrique talked to me about a “mother sauce” of his own creation: the mole madre he serves at Pujol. —Ryan Healey
People think mole varies from state to state, but in my experience every house in Mexico has a different way of making it. It’s a painstaking process—you would never say, “Oh, it’s Friday. Let’s have mole.” Most people buy their mole and enchiladas at a mercado. It’s sold in a paste and you fix it up to your liking. You might add a little chili if you like it spicier, or a banana to make it sweeter. The only time it’s really made from scratch is for special occasions like weddings or birthdays.
I learned to make mole from a friend of mine, chef Ricardo Muñoz. It was very intimidating—there was so much tradition and history behind it. I always say that you shouldn’t fuck with the classics. But at the same time, I’m also the guy who is known for screwing with Mexican grandma recipes. So when it came to making mole, I knew we had to put our spin on it.
That’s how we arrived at mole madre, one of the signature dishes of Pujol, my restaurant in Mexico City. We started with a recipe for seven-day mole that Ricardo gave me. The genius of that recipe was recognizing that everyone thought that mole was better the day after you made it—the flavors settle and blend together better when you reheat it—and then pushing it for a whole week. We thought we’d take it a step further and go for fifteen days to see what happened.
I wanted to take out all the oil from a traditional mole, so instead of frying all of the ingredients, we charred them. That way you wouldn’t feel so bloated the next day. And when we got to fifteen days, the mole was only getting deeper and more complex—so we didn’t see why we should stop. We’ve kept it going for almost seven hundred days now.
What started as a fairly traditional mole negro has now become simply mole madre—it is its own living organism in a sense. The name comes from the baking world, the idea of mother doughs. There will always be a base of tomatoes, onions, and garlic, but since we’re constantly making new moles from whatever is in season—tamarind, bananas, hibiscus, apples—and adding it to the mole madre, it’s always evolving.
At Pujol, we just serve it with tortillas, nothing else. I refuse to serve it with chicken because it wouldn’t benefit from it. And chicken definitely doesn’t benefit from mole because the mole overpowers it. I understand why it’s traditionally served that way: since it’s a ceremonial food and people only ate meat on ceremonial days, it makes sense that they’re served together. But since we have tasting menu, we can get away with serving it by itself.
Mole madre is a breathing, living being. I think it’s beautiful to have something that we have nurtured for these past few years and will continue to nurture in the years to come. It’s like a tree in that sense: we’ve watched it grow strong and branch out in many directions we could never have imagined.