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Dec 15, 2007 07:03 AM

Turkey in Mole [split from Chicago]

[Note, this thread was split from a discussion of where to find Turkey in Mole in Chicago at: -- The Chowhound Team].

Hi Argus,
Yes, turkey is quite common, and is featured not just in the famous elaborate festive moles of Puebla or Oaxaca but also in simpler, rustic versions that might be called mole corriente or mole ranchero. In specific ethnic communities, turkey in mole is referred to with such local names as totolmole or totoltlakuali. Beyond mole, turkey might also be used in various types of pepian and adobo (the ingredients list of such recipes would have "chicken OR turkey" as alternate possibilities). Turkey of course spans recorded history-from Hernan Cortes' account of the great market of Tenochtitlan (in his letters to Carlos V) to the meticulous catalogues of Sahagun through the recetarios antiguos that have come down to us through the centuries. In the famous Nuevo Cocinero Mexicano en forma de Diccionario of 1888 (published in Paris), there is a long list of possible dishes made with turkey: both "Mexican" as well as "European".

A recent trip (2007) to Tehuacan (Puebla) to observe the renowned annual mass-massacre of goats (the Matanzas de Tehuacan) took me very close to some of those towns that not just keep the ancient tradition of turkey in mole but eat this (virtually) on an everyday basis. I had the opportunity to try the famous mole of Miahuatlan, made with the distinctive, local chile miahuateco (there is an account of this mole and of this chile in Diana Kennedy's My Mexico) as well as that of Ajalpan nearby which is sharper, less sweet and which I prefer. These are moles that are still prepared the painstaking traditional way, in massive earthenware cazuelas (or "moleras"), each chile and spice carefully toasted and ground and added in its own time. These moles are not necessarily available everyday (since the whole process of preparing the mole is so time-consuming) but neither are they merely fiesta fare. They can be enjoyed at least once a week at humble food stalls of the weekly markets (Wed in Ajalpan, Sunday in Miahuatlan) of these towns. The price for a portion (which always includes the requisite black beans spooned on top) is certainly not beyond the reach of the poorest peasant.

In little villages throughout Mexico, it is not uncommon to see turkeys gobbling about freely. There is an image in Diana Kennedy in the piece on mole miahuateco mentioned above of a little boy sent out to bring back a turkey and coming back with a bird seemingly bigger than its captor. And this brings us to two different possible explanations of why turkey is so rarely used in Mexican dishes in the US and why, if a restaurant wanted to put forward what they think might be perceived as a more "upscale" version of a mole that tradtionally takes bird, they would turn to cornish game hens instead of working with turkey.

First of all, there is the question of size. A whole turkey renders 20, perhaps up to 30 portions, and that might be hard to justify even in the most bustling restaurant. Then there is the question of taste. Bland American supermarket turkeys raised and slaughtered in industrial conditions taste nothing like those free-range Mexican birds, which are closer to what we today call heirloom varieties. These turkeys tend to be scrawnier and tend to have tougher but more flavorful meat which might have even a hint of something gamey to it.

But there is another issue. And that is the status of the famous mole poblano (mole of the city of Puebla) as an iconic, so-called "national" dish. During a period of Nation-building, mole poblano was promoted to represent a simplified, homogenized vision of what the national cuisine is (or should be). A series of attendant myths (the famous story of the "invention" of the mole poblano for the nuns of the convent of Sta. Rosa) emerged and was carefully cultivated. We might say, following the Mexican writer Roger Bartra, that these were legitimizing mechanisms that emerged to shape the national Imaginary. In our own postmodern times (with its special feel for heterogeneity, microregional affirmations, forgotten discourses), there is a sense that such dishes as mole poblano or the chile en nogada (with its vaunting of national colors) have more than just a whiff of something "confected" about them, something of a codified stereotype (we might say "entelequia artificial" after Bartra). This is why we find older accounts of mole poblano (say the Latin America volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series) a little quaint today-a little out of touch. This is not to say that this mole or the chile en nogada do not have an origin in indigenous culinary practices (for instance in the marvellous array of stuffed chile dishes that could be found throughout the country); but these seem to have become tokens that now resound with a little hollowness. There is story that remains to be written about the ascendance of this particular turkey in mole: we would trace it from the moment of its acceptance by the gentry (a moment marked perhaps by the legend of its "invention" or elaboration by the nuns?) to its widespread use to pander to tourists. As "high" symbols, these seem to have very little to do with the rich messy multiple realities of immigrant lives and this may be why people today tend to steer away from it-as they do those other tired old constructs and stereotypes (that of the "pelado", that of the Mexican "macho" etc) that used to define Mexicanidad.

Anyway, here's a hilarious little thing I found on the web that seems to echo the above:

It's a campy manifesto (of sorts) from this website:

hemos matado el
guajolote del famoso "Mole de Guajolote" que German List Arzuvide transformó en grito patriótico, nacionalista, irreverente, poético descacofonicado y de rima inexistente. Ya que creemos que cada época proclama y exclama su propio grito estandarte.
Ya no vitoriaremos "Viva el Mole de Guajolote", sino:
"Viva el Mole Miahuateco"
acompañado de otros gritos de fragor regional como:
"Viva el Pulque de San Felipe, los Tempestistles del Valle, las Memelas de Coapan, los Esquites Esquineros de Tehuacán, el Lapo y el Colhecho de San Sebastian"
No más mole de guajolote - poblano y negro, dulce y ahora prefabricado.
Ahora sólo mole miahuateco, de un rojo caoba profundo, picante, orgánico, natural y en compañía de los compadres, padrinos, amigos, cuadernos, los contratados sonideros y varios galones de pulque sin curar con tamales de fijol, arroz colorado, tortillas recien hechas y un montón de ajonjolí.
"Muera el Mole de Guajolote Poblano"
"Viva el Mole Miahuateco"

(sic: should be Arzubide and tempestquixtles


Translation of key phrase:
no more mole de guajolote, that "poblano" stuff: black, sweet, today prefabricated.
Today we call for the mole miahuateco, of a rich mahogany red etc etc

AKA Outis

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  1. Richard-
    Thank you for the knowledge.
    >> rustic versions that might be called mole corriente or mole ranchero.<<
    Can you explain what a typical corriente or ranchero would include? Any realation to mole de la Olla?

    >>the renowned annual mass-massacre of goats (the Matanzas de Tehuacan)<<
    I am very interested in this - it is my favorite part of "My Mexico." I am fascinated by the Spanish Middle Ages origin and its carrying over of this as well as the dance of the defeat of the Moors. The dance of the banishment of the Moors from Spain was described to me by a Proffesor of Anthropology who instructed a class I took this past semester on Mesoamerican Origins of Latino Culture. She witnessed this dance in the state of Puebla.

    Can you please describe your experience witnessing the matanza?

    1 Reply
    1. re: kare_raisu

      In Highlands Jalisco... Mole Ranchero... is basically a stripped down mole... Red or Brownish... with less spices, and/or nuts, and/or dried fruits than the Oaxacan moles (for example). Of course my paternal grandmother's version.... Guajillo Chile with Roux... epitomized the "corriente" genre.

      For what its worth... the Yucatecan moles are similar to what in Central Mexico would be referred to as Mole Ranchero... not bad... just less complex & elaborate.

    2. Fabulous post! You are even starting to write like a Mexican =0

      In our family... it was the truly mediocre state of common American turkey... combined with its ridiculously large frame that kept us from using Turkey more often than a few times a year.

      1. Super post Richard. Thanks for the info and perspective. And how cool to encounter self-described Stridentists (Estridentistas, who I first heard of in Roberto Bolaño's novel The Savage Detectives) in a post on mole de guajolote.

        So far I've only been able to try the dish at Topolobampo in Chicago (great meat--weak mole) but, with such a rich history, I hope that's only a start.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Hundred Eyes

          Hi Argus, or Polyphemus, or whoever you are,

          I've actually also had turkey in lome at the lamented Restaurante Oaxaca (on S Ashland). Senora Guadalupe made it (perhaps once a year? no particular date) in a rich thick mole very fragrant with toasted avocado leaves. She said the bird was from one of the pollos vivos places.

          Hi kare raisu,
          I'll put my notes on the Matanzas together and hopefully be able to put it up on the Mexico Board soon (but then I'm lagging way behind on post: still working on my Yunnan post from Nov 2006). I'll add a link here when I have it posted. Eat Nopal is in town today and we're supposed to go hounding tonight. Maybe we'll go look for turkey in mole.

          Hi Eat Nopal,
          Re: "stripped down version"

          Being leftist, I usually have the other perspective ;0) I'd probably describe it the other way, mole poblano as a "tarted up" version.

          Re: guajillo chile with roux

          :>0 (speechless!!!!!!)


          1. re: RST

            Hi Argus,
            Re: Stridentism

            Here is the manifesto of the old Stridentists (you will find the call "Long Live Turkey in Mole" in it). This is the call that the self-styled new Stridentists of Tehuacan are rejecting, putting forward instead the new call "Long Live Mole Miahuateco"

            Among the ranks of the Stridentists is the poet Jose Juan Tablada who wrote a lovely little book on edible mushrooms in Mexico. Sadly, the list does not contain local names of mushrooms in diff ethnic regions. This work remains to be done.

        2. Richard, as always, a delight to read your comments. Thanks for taking the time to post this.

          1. Mole encacahuatado Tlatlauquitepec de pajaro caripocapote is probably even more scrumptious. I've only been able to find this in a bodega in Ixcaquixtla.