Turkey mole is a Mexican classic, one with thousands of variations. This is mine.
You should know at the start that this is not a true, authentic Mole Poblano, although it is similar. That mole (pronounced mole-ay) is darker and sweeter and uses more Mexican chocolate. My mole is a hybrid between that one and a mole rojo, a red mole from Oaxaca.
This mole is rich, warming, only a tiny bit picante, and very smooth. The sauce surrounds food like a velvet blanket. It takes some doing to make, but my mole, indeed all moles, keeps for a week or two in the fridge and freezes well. Use leftover sauce on enmoladas (enchiladas covered in mole) or to coat taco meat.
But for the first meal you really ought to make turkey mole. Why? Mole in general — a layered, complex sauce — is thought to originate among the Maya in southern Mexico, and, as it happens, that is where the turkey was first domesticated, too.
Yes, really. I am surprised at how few people know that domesticated turkeys are a Central American thing. So are Muscovy ducks, for what it’s worth. At any rate, pairing an ancient sauce with a meat it was likely matched with seems like a good thing. And it is.
Wild or domesticated turkeys work well here, but the key with either is to not overcook them. I achieve this by simmering turkey in the mole with a meat thermometer stuck in the fattest part of the breast. When it hits 150°F, I remove it, slice and serve.
You’ll notice that this mole, really all moles, have a lot of ingredients. Don’t let this put you off. Most are easily available in regular supermarkets, and even the Mexican bittersweet chocolate can be switched out for any dark, bittersweet chocolate; just don’t use milk chocolate, OK?
Chile choice really makes a mole yours. My choices are a significant part of what makes this “Hank’s Mole,” and if you choose others, it’ll be your mole. Anchos are smoky and raisiny and not very hot, pasilla are mellow and also not too hot, guajillos are bright red and are moderately hot, and chipotles tend to be beige and roaring hot.
Chile choice largely determines the classic moles, too. I have recipes for most of them on this site, from mole negro — the queen of them all — to it’s almost equally dark mole chichilo, to the lighter, brighter and easier moles, mole amarillo and mole coloradito.
And while I prefer my turkey mole with the sauce in the recipe below, you can absolutely serve turkey with mole negro, chichilo and coloradito. It might be a little weird with amarillo, but go for it if you like.
As I said, once made, your mole with keep for a couple weeks in the fridge, and it freezes well.
Hank's Turkey Mole
- 6 anchos
- 6 pasilla or mulatto chiles
- 6 guajillo chiles
- 1 chipotle
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup pumpkin or squash seeds (pepitas)
- 1/3 cup pecans or walnuts
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 2 ounces Mexican bittersweet chocolate, crushed up
- 1/4 cup lard, duck fat or vegetable oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/3 cup raisins, about 2 ounces
- 3 small corn tortillas, or 1 large, slightly charred
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 8 cloves, about 1/2 teaspoon ground
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 large tomato, charred under a broiler
- 1/2 cup roasted and pureed tomatillos, about 3 large ones
- 1 quart chicken or turkey broth
- 2 pounds turkey breast
- Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles. Flatten them out as best you can and toast them on a comal or cast iron pan set over high heat. You'll want a spatula to hold them down. You'll only need to toast the chiles for a few seconds on either side; watch for blistering, and when you see it, you're good.
- Toss the toasted dried chiles into some warm water to soak, and, when they're soft, puree in a blender with some turkey or chicken broth. You want a consistency like thick BBQ sauce. Set aside.
- In a large, dry pan, toast - one at a time - the sesame seeds, pepitas, pecans and coriander seeds. Set them all in a bowl to cool, then grind into a paste in a spice grinder. Set aside.
- Put the 1/4 cup of lard into a large, heavy pot like a Dutch oven. Set the heat to medium-high and sauté the onions until they begin to brown a bit. Add the garlic and raisins, then sauté another minute. Turn off the heat and let this mixture cool a bit, then put it in the blender.
- Smash up the charred tortillas and put them in the blender. Add the ground nuts, seeds and coriander to the blender. Add the black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, charred tomato and tomatillos to the blender, and turn it on. Add enough turkey stock to make the blades work, and puree this mixture. It should be thick, but pourable.
- Pour this into the Dutch oven. Add a little more broth to the blender to get all the stray sauce sticking to its sides and pour that in the pot. Add the Mexican chocolate and all the pureed chiles, too, mix well and bring to a bare simmer. You want the mole to have the consistency of melted ice cream. Add salt to taste.
- Simmer this mole for 20 minutes. As this is happening, salt the turkey breast well. After 20 minutes has elapsed, submerge the turkey breast in the mole. Simmer gently until it's done. I do this by sticking a meat thermometer into the fattest part of the turkey breast, and I pull the meat when it hits 150°F.
- Remove the turkey from the mole and scrape most of the sauce back into the pot. Slice against the grain, then serve with the mole, some cilantro and sesame seeds as garnish.
Keys to Success
- Put some music on and settle in for a fairly long series of steps when making mole. It's not hard, but you do need to pay attention to detail to make a great mole. Don't make it when rushed.
- All the toasting and charring steps really matter. Don't skip them.
- Other meats that work well with this sauce would be chicken, rabbit, pork, squirrel, pheasant or partridge.
John Briscoe says
Hello, just a quick question did you or can you use a boneless turkey breast for this recipe.
Hank Shaw says
John: Yes, you can.
Kenny Watkins says
Mole sauce made. Check. And it tastes amazing! Thanks Hank.
And a question–when you say the breast should be submerged. Do you mean completely covered? Or is partial OK? I have maybe 1.5-2″ of sauce in a 10″ Dutch oven and don’t want to waste sauce. Or do you reuse the sauce for enmoladas ?? Thanks again.
Hank Shaw says
Kenny: Yes, that sauce will reheat very well several more times, and since it takes a while to make, it’s always used after Night One in things like enmoladas, empanadas and tacos.
This recipe made me LOVE turkey! It was the first thing I tried with my very first wild bird. Easy and full of flavor!
Hank, using a fresh Tom breast. What’s the typical cook time on the simmer? I normally sous vide them when cooking whole breast, 140 for 4 hours.
Hank Shaw says
Jake: At a gentle simmer about 30 minutes should do it. Check then and you can always cook it more.
Matt Ellenthal says
Do you use dried peppers OR fresh peppers in this recipe?
Hank Shaw says
Matt: Always dried. Many of these chiles are only found dried.
Marty Horn says
Did this recipe yesterday! It was the bomb so thanks for another good one Hank. Like Marcia I did not see when to incorporate the chocolate. Added it just after the chilies. Kitchen smelled so good working up the ingredients. On a side note thanks for signing my new book in Columbia Mo. I did not make it but my friend got it for me as a gift. Got the picture of you two as proof 🙂
Bill chlebowski says
Great new small game book!! Going on qual hunt today and plan to try one or the recipes from your new book. Was thinking of Sous Vide whole birds to get the temp correct then crisping, is anything lost in this?
Hank Shaw says
Bill: Your crisp needs to be violently hot in order to not overcook the birds. Or you can cook them to an internal of maybe 135F and then sear? I’ve never done it.
Hi Hank, love your site! I’m in Australia and currently collecting acorns to try your flour recipe 🙂
I’d love to know if this sauce can be canned with a pressure cooker + mason jars, as I’m hoping to be making a big batch with that as the goal. Cheers for any help, and I have to say, the email as new recipes drop idea is EXCELLENT!
Hank Shaw says
Zennan: Yes, it can. My only concern is the crushed charred tortillas. But Google “canned mole recipe” and see what they say.
Marcia Luick says
Am I missing something? I don’t see where I include the chocolate. I can’t wait to try this.