File Mexican chirmol sauce as one of those damn cool things you can make from random ingredients. Chirmol is basically a simplified mole, which is a good thing since mole can be an all-day affair.
Chirmol is not. Pronounced “cheer-moll,” it is a specialty of the Mexican state of Tabasco. Keep in mind this is not the Guatemalan version of pico de gallo, which is also called chirmol.
It hinges on chiles, ground up pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, onion and garlic, as well as various herbs and spices. You will also want some stale tortillas or tostadas lying around.
This sauce is very often paired with crab, which is what I did here. I used Dungeness crab, a) because I had it, and b) because the original dish calls for cangrejo, not jaiba. In Latin American Spanish, cangrejo is typically a walking crab, often a land crab, where jaiba is basically the blue crab we see in the Chesapeake and the Gulf. That said, the crab police won’t come to your door if you use blue crab.
No crab? Well, chirmol is great on basically everything. I’ve seen it put on beef, chicken and pork, as well as lobster and fish. So yeah, have at it.
The core of my chirmol recipe is from the book Cocina Familiar En El Estado De Tabasco, which can be hard to find. I’ve also seen other versions here and there, and this is an amalgam of them all.
There are a few unusual ingredients in chirmol to make it truly authentic, but I’m listing these as optional because not everyone has, say, hoja santa lying around.
Once made, chirmol will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks. It also freezes well. I like to triple this recipe, so I can have pint tubs of it in the freezer for when I happen to have crab… or pheasant, turkey, venison, etc., etc. Like I said, this stuff is great on everything!
- 3 stale tortillas (or tostadas)
- 3 to 5 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 1 head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
- 1 white onion, peeled and quartered
- 1/2 pound Roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise
- 1/3 pound pepitas or pumpkin seeds
- 3 cloves
- 1 tablespoon achiote paste (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds (optional)
- 1 hoja santa leaf or small bunch of epazote (optional)
- 2 tablespoons lard or olive oil
- 1 pound crabmeat, or whatever else you want this sauce on.
- Get a large, heavy frying pan or comal very hot. Partially char the stale tortillas; you want lots of black marks, but don't blacken them totally. If you are using tostadas, no need for this.
- Briefly toast the ancho chiles, pressing down on them with a spatula. You want to just see some blistering, so maybe 10 to 30 seconds per side. Submerge all the toasted chiles in warm water.
- Arrange the onions, garlic and tomatoes on the hot pan to char them. You want serious blackening here. The tomatoes will take the longest, and don't be tempted to move them too soon or you'll leave all the good blackened bits in the pan. If that happens, scrape it up immediately and set the scrapings aside.
- In another pan, toast the pumpkin seeds over medium-high heat until they start to pop. Move to the bowl of a blender. Crush up the toasted tortillas and put them in the blender, too, along with the cloves, achiote and anise seeds, if using. Add enough water to the blender to turn this all into a runny paste. TIP: If you happen to be braising some meats, use some of the broth instead of water. Pour the contents of the blender into a large bowl.
- When the vegetables are nicely charred, peel the garlic, then add everything to the blender with the soaked chiles and the hoja santa leaf, if using. Add some of the chile soaking water and blend this to a puree, too. Add it to the bowl and mix well. Add salt to taste.
- Heat the lard in a pot over medium-high heat, and when it's hot, add the chirmol. Stir well to combine and drop the heat to low. Let this simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Serve over cooked crabmeat or whatever meat you have, garnished with cilantro or chives.