Homemade mole and smoked pork overwhelm Ska's latest Local Series beer

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I've always loved mole for its spicy, chocolatey uniqueness. In fact, if I were forced to pick a favorite sauce, it might very well be mole (though Hollandaise holds a special place in my heart). Making it has always seemed like a daunting task, but the more I cook, the more I crave a challenge. So after reading Lori Midson's recent pick for her 100 favorite dishes countdown, I decided to tackle a recipe.

In doing some quick research, I discovered that recipes for mole vary quite a bit. I pieced one together that seemed fun and that included readily available ingredients. Still, I don't think I've ever had to buy more ingredients in one trip.

As for beers, I had something dark in mind. Based on the variety and number of ingredients for the mole, a roasty Belgian ale seemed a fitting accompaniment. At the liquor store, I happened upon a lonely bottle of Ska Brewing's latest Local Series, a Belgian-style dubbel dubbed Sethvleteren 8. The nineteenth installment of the brewery's limited-edition, locally inspired line of beers is based on a recipe from homebrewer Seth Townsend, who won Ska's 3rd Annual Homebrew Competition with it. (You may recall number eighteen in the series, Big Shikes, an imperial pilsner brewed with orange-blossom honey and the help of Westword's managing editor and Beer Man, Jonathan Shikes).

The story got me thinking about how mole itself is a home brew of sorts, a seemingly random concoction clearly born out of experimentation. That correlation, and the fact that the beer was brewed with organic malt and hops, sealed the deal for me.

Turns out, mole isn't all that difficult to make, and it's quite entertaining in its combination of numerous, otherwise unrelated ingredients. In retrospect, I spent more time checking off the grocery list than actually cooking it. I don't have a food processor, which probably would have made things easier, but my hand-held blender worked well enough, as I find it usually does (one of the best purchases I've ever made).

Halfway through the process, however, I realized that I didn't have anything with which to serve the mole. I was so preoccupied with the sauce that I totally spaced on what to put with it.

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As karma would have it, my neighbor happened to be smoking a pork shoulder that night and needed an objective opinion of his efforts. I accepted the invitation, but only on the condition that he and his fiancee try my mole as well.

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Come to find out, it was a perfect condiment for pulled, smoked pork sandwiches. I had made the mole especially spicy, which cut straight through the wonderfully fatty meat, while the smokiness in the pork complemented the complexity in the sauce.

Unfortunately, my luck ended there. The beer had trouble holding up to the complexity of the food. Flavor-wise, it was okay, though not great, and it lacked body. Nonetheless, I love that Ska embraces the home-brewing community, and I hope they continue to do so. As I continue to find in cooking, practice trumps outcome every time.

Here's the mole recipe...

1 1/2 pound ancho chiles
2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
1 pound tomatillo, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 slices white bread, broken into small pieces
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
5 whole peppercorns
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup shelled peanuts
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup small raisins
2 corn tortillas
1 bar semisweet chocolate
4 cups chicken stock
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. De-stem and seed chiles and set aside.
2. In a large skillet, bring tomatoes and tomatillos to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until it starts to thicken (about 30 minutes).
3. In a large pot, saute onions and garlic in olive oil until soft.
4. Add bread, cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns, thyme, cumin, sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds and raisins, and stir to combine, adding more oil if necessary.
5. Cook bread/spice/nut mixture for 20 minutes over medium heat, stirring often.
6. Add tomato/tomatillo mixture and chocolate to pot and stir until chocolate melts.
7. Add chiles and chicken stock and bring to a boil.
8. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes.
9. Using either a hand-held blender or a food processor, blend until smooth, adding water if mixture is too thick.
10. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

...and for the smoked pork (courtesy of my neighbor and fellow Southerner, John):

4 1/2 pounds pork shoulder
1/4 cup paprika
1/8 cup ground black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
Blend of applewood and mesquite wood
A smoker

This part is pretty simple, really. Rub the meat with the spice mixture, turn on the smoker, throw the meat in, smoke it for 10 to 12 hours at 225 degrees, and enjoy a beer -- or two -- while you're waiting.


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