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About Catalan "Moles"

Eat_Nopal Oct 8, 2007 10:42 AM

A recent issue of Food & Wine has a recipe for "Catalan Chicken Picada" which is basically a Chicken Breast braised in what seems to be a relatively simple version of Mole Poblano but without any Chiles. It had toasted bread, nuts, chocolate, tomatoes, onions, garlic, dried herbs, dried fruits.... all the major elements of a Mole with the addition of very Spanish ingredients like Saffron & Tarragon... but it was much less refined (chunky, grainy.... not smooth & silky). It still tasted quite good.

Anybody have insights on this apparent genre of Catalan style Picadas (I assume Picada refers to Pechuga i.e Chicken Breast).... this particular dish etc., Historically there wasn't a strong connection between Catalunya & New Spain.... so I am thinking this is a much more recent concoction.... maybe some guy at Food & Wine made it up... and used Catalan to convey something more appealing to the snobs than Mexican?


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  1. kare_raisu Oct 8, 2007 12:59 PM

    These magazines and chowhound even seem to be borrowing pages out of Casas: The food and wines of spain.

    I have the book checked out right now - I will make a copy for you of the catalonian dish with the chocolate etc. but she uses partridge. She references the Spanish adoption of chocolate as a savory ingredient before sweet...learned from the Aztecs.

    I wonder just how many Catalonians made it to Nueva Espana - I know that the explorer with Junipero Serra (a Mallorcan) - Gaspar de Portola was a Catalan.

    1 Reply
    1. re: kare_raisu
      Eat_Nopal Oct 8, 2007 01:04 PM

      Ah... I guess Portola & Sepulveda are Catalonian last names.... I never really thought about this aspect to Mestizaje.

    2. paulj Oct 8, 2007 02:07 PM

      According to 'The New Spanish Table', p 261, many Catalan stews 'begin with a sofregit and end with a picada'. A sofregit = sofrito in Castillian.
      A picada is 'a mortar-pounded paste', ranging from the simple garlic and parsley, to elaborate versions including 'nuts, fried bread, butter biscuits, chicken or game livers, wine, saffron, even chocolate'. It claims both go back to medieval Catalan cooking.

      Many cuisines have sauces thickened with ground nuts and/or bread. The New World contribution to the Spanish Romesco are the tomatoes and peppers. Some Peruvian sauces are thickened with saltines.

      As to the use of chocolate in savory dishes, many Spanish cookbooks have a recipe for rabbit with chocolate. Then there is toast topped with melted chocolate, olive oil, and coarse salt.


      14 Replies
      1. re: paulj
        kare_raisu Oct 8, 2007 02:45 PM

        The Escabeche a la Navidad in this book exe,plifies the picada technique in this book and is absolutely delicious.

        1. re: paulj
          kare_raisu Oct 8, 2007 02:46 PM

          Chocolate is also sometimes present in Sicilian Caponata preparations.

          1. re: paulj
            Eat_Nopal Oct 8, 2007 03:25 PM

            Interesting.... one of the common sauces in our family (and in the Highlands of Jalisco).... is what we call Molito Blanco (Little White Mole).... similar sauces go by a variety of names in different places... Caldillo Blanco, Sofrito Blanco, Recaudo Blanco, Relleno Blanco, en Blanco etc.,

            Our families version is to sautee some onions, garlic, Mexican oregano, spices of choice, & pickled jalapenos... add bolillo crumbs to thicken then spicy Escabeche (pickling juice from Jalapenos) to glaze.... it gets poured over a variety of foods ranging from Chicken Breast Milanesa to Deep Fried (non-breaded) poultry & fish.

            Seems like a similar technique.

            1. re: paulj
              paulj Oct 8, 2007 04:50 PM

              Here's an article extolling the health benefits of picada

              1. re: paulj
                Craterellus Oct 8, 2007 10:17 PM

                Very similar to Colman Andrews' discussion -- in 'Catalan Cuisine' -- of the four base pastes sometimes employed as sauces or condiments in Catalonian cooking, of which picada and sogregit are 2.

                1. re: Craterellus
                  Eat_Nopal Oct 9, 2007 09:34 AM

                  What are the other two?

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal
                    Craterellus Oct 9, 2007 10:01 PM

                    Andrews names the other two allioli and samfaina. He describes allioli as an emulsion of garlic' olive oil, and -he says- (inauthentically but very commonly eggs), and as more frequently a condiment for dipping, slathering, or dabbing, than for stirring into a dish. He claims that the great majority of allioli served in nodays in Catalonia is made with eggs, but goes on to detail the method for a non-egg emulsion. Samfaina is said to be a ratatouille-like vegetable mixture which can be made into a sauce by pureeing (with or without cream or other dilution), but which is also eaten as a side dish or used as a coarse topping for meat, fish, or fowl.

                    1. re: Craterellus
                      Das Ubergeek Oct 11, 2007 02:10 PM

                      I don't know if I'd call samfaina (also commonly xamfaina) one of the "mother sauces". It's usually just served with grilled meat or fish.

                      All i oli (technically, in Catalan, it's three words -- garlic and oil -- look how pedantic I can be!) is the sauce that most people will remember from Catalunya, because it tends to go on a lot of things as the last item -- so you would have espàrrecs amb all i oli (asparagus with all i oli), you may have cold fish "amb all i oli", etc. When it's made from strictly olive oil and garlic, it is one of the most pungent sauces on the planet -- moreso than undiluted fish sauce, far moreso -- and must be eaten with a very strongly-flavoured food.

                      Sofregit, though, goes in EVERYTHING -- my Catalonian friends make sofregit before they've necessarily even decided what to cook -- and picada is often added at the end. It may be mole-like but it doesn't taste remotely like mole.

                      My argument for the missing "fourth sauce" would have to be romesc (pronounced "roo-MESK" in Catalan) or romesco, which is a dip made from almonds, garlic, oil, and little red "nyora" peppers. It's practically compulsory when you eat grilled calçots (green onions with a longer-than-normal white portion, grilled in huge quantities at street festivals). If you add grilled tomatoes (the sweet kind called "tomàquets xerry") you turn the romesc into salvitxada (sahl-vee-CHAH-dhuh), also very popular for calçotada.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek
                        Eat_Nopal Oct 11, 2007 03:40 PM

                        The version of Picada I had was quite similar to a simple Mole. I guess any sauce that combined tomatoes, garlic, onions, toasted bread, chocolate, dried herbs & "moorish" spices would inevitably taste like Mole.

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek
                          Craterellus Oct 12, 2007 09:40 AM

                          I'll pass this on to the author.

                  2. re: paulj
                    Steve Oct 9, 2007 05:23 PM

                    According to a French website I visited, Catalan cooking is one of the oldest in Europe. The first Catalan cuisine manuscript, Sent Soui, dates from the end of the 13th Century.

                    Also, I want to point out that Catalonia is not just Spanish, but French as well. The Palace of the Kings of Catalonia is located in Perpignan, one of the twin capitals of Catalonia. And when I visited friends in Perpignan, I was surprised by the newspapers and the tv stations not in French but in Catalan.

                    1. re: Steve
                      Das Ubergeek Oct 11, 2007 02:15 PM

                      Perpinyà (to give it its Catalan name) is one of a few places in southern France where a "langue d'oc" remains alive, however tenuously. Toulouse (Tolosa) has its own language, Occitan, and flavours of Occitan are spoken with various accents across by mostly older people.

                      I've never seen a menu in France be published in Catalan, Occitan, Provençal or any of the related languages. Other than menus destined for tourists (English, German, Castilian, etc.) the only languages I've ever seen besides French on menus are Breton and Basque.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek
                        hungry_pangolin Oct 12, 2007 05:38 PM

                        Just out of curiosity... I've never been in the extreme north-west of Italy, but I have been told that there are villages there where Occitan is still spoken. Has anyone been there, heard the lingo, and noticed something unusual about the cuisine (for Italy)?

                        1. re: hungry_pangolin
                          Das Ubergeek Oct 12, 2007 06:54 PM

                          The Italian part of my family (roughly a quarter) comes from Domodossola, which is so far north in Piemonte that it might as well be in Switzerland. While Domodossola is pretty well Italian-speaking (thanks to centuries of "siamo tutti Italiani" flag-waving nationalism), the local dialect is actually piemontèis and is mutually intelligible, supposedly, with Provençal, Occitan and even Catalan.

                          The only people you hear speaking piemontèis, though, are very old or are celebrating something traditional (such as induction into a brotherhood).

                          How this ties into food -- the two words in Piemontèis most known by outsiders are "bagna cauda". :) Piemonte is where all the truffles grow, so risotto with truffles is traditional, and my grandmother always swore that vitello tonnato was a Piemontese invention, but I don't know if I believe her.

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