Grateful for Going to Ilsa Espiritu Santo: Chicken Mole

With Mark in San Diego visiting a friend, Daniel and I are left to our own devices given the arduous task of safeguarding the boat. Our mission is clear, don’t sink the boat while it rests at the dock of the nicest marina in La Paz. With that said, we develop plans to have a raucous good time. The final Baja Ha Ha party is scheduled to explode down by the Marina de La Paz. After weeks and weeks of dressing like a shaggy haired boy, I decide to dress up a little bit with every intention of getting my mac daddy swagger on. On the way to the party, the shuttle bus comes to a halt to assist a gentleman on a foldable bicycle who would rather not bike the twelve mile narrow road back to La Paz. Never in my dizziest day dreams would I ever attempt to bike that road, especially with dark approaching. To begin with, there is no bike lane, which comes as no surprise considering we are in Mexico. The road winds around the cliffs of the bay with the Sea of Cortez crashing into the rocks below. Despite the frequent speed bumps, the Mexican drivers whiz around the corners as though their lives depend on their punctuality. However, once you reach the Malécon, all danger die away drawing any cyclist into the plush waterside walkway. Then it’s just a matter of weaving through the slow absent minded tourists meandering the promenade. Therefore, the cosmic cycling forces draw together Daniel, myself and our new savvy cyclist friend, Dan.

Dan came down on the Baja Ha Ha as well on his brand new Jeaneau 490 aptly named Kinipōpō. When he was a child in Hawaii, he would ride on the canoes with the locals. He’d grip the bow of the boat as it soared through the tropical waters. They began to call him, “Kinipōpō,” which means “on the nose” (or the more colloquial meaning “right on” However, upon looking up the correct spelling just now on google, I am informed that Kinipōpō in fact means balls…? Moving on. Turns out, Dan emanates kindness. Daniel and I needed to find a bike pump in the hopes of attempting some kind of MacGyver inspired fix to our water maker. Given a cyclist just appeared out of nowhere, we were obliged to beg the question as to where we may procure one. His response came as swift as the changes in the wind, “right here.” He opened up his backpack and pulled out a mini bike pump, perfect for the one time use project we would later be attempting.

Yet again, I was overcome with gratitude to be a part of a community so quick to help their fellow sailor. Of course, conversation continued as we rode the winding road back to town. Moreover, he would be joining us at the fiesta so our conversation could continue. After walking all the way down the Malècon, we finally arrived at the party. We were given drink tickets and a bracelet for a buffet dinner. The food was your usual Mexican cantina fare: tostadas, tacos dorados, beans, rice, etc. To be honest, the food left a sad little whole in my over privileged foodie stomach. It just tasted as though they had been cooking for white people. To the best of my knowledge, my fellow Ha-Ha sailors must have felt the same way, because the party soon broke out into a field of drunken debauchery. Well, at least it did as soon as the old geezers left. In the beginning, I found Dan. He was quick to introduce me to his compatriots. And then the drinking began.

I only had enough pesos to buy one margarita. The drink tickets only covered a short rather shitty pour of slightly warm Pacifico. But Jesus, these old people can party! I mean, if these folks would come into my bar every night, we’d strike gold (Note to Future Self: open up a bar aimed at serving the sailing community because these folks can just keep going like its nobody’s business). I thought I could keep up with a bunch of dudes in their forties and fifties. After seeing these seasoned sailors in action, I decided not even to attempt to keep up. Especially after tasting the one margarita I could afford on my pauper’s budget, it tasted like straight rocket fuel! I mean, come one. Clearly, this establishment had somewhat dubious intentions.

While I was buying my one margarita, another Dan offered to buy me another. I thought about it for a moment. I decided I would buy my margarita for Señor Valencia, and would accept New Dan’s offer of a drink. Well, let me tell you. The one margarita did me in a bit. Shortly after finishing my cocktail, I was up on stage singing with the band. While I struggled with the first song (“Hit the Road Jack”), I nailed the second (“Red House” by Jimi Hendrix). More importantly, I had a blast.

Later at the party, Dan told me of his plans to go to the Islands that weekend. He said, he would be single-handing the voyage, which means he’d be going by himself. Given my consumption of liquid courage, I quickly offered myself as crew. After reading about the islands, my excitement boiled over into my over presumptuous mouth. Luckily, Dan is an emblem of chill. He seemed pleased to have some help and I was ecstatic at the opportunity to enjoy the jewel of the Sea of Cortez.

I asked Dan what I could bring to contribute to the expedition. He said food. Well, food I do well. I decided to do up one of my favorite dishes, Chicken Mole. I spent the whole next day planning and preparing this legendary meal. And I do mean legendary. However, two legends compete to define the origin of this truly delicious dish. The first takes place in the 16th Century. Upon discovering the Archbishop would be arriving for a visit, the nuns of the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla de los Angeles went into a frenzy unsure of what to serve his eminence. Being nuns, they started to pray. Either through divine miracle or anxiety induced schizophrenia, an angel came to inspire them. Quickly they began to work: chopping and grinding and roasting, mixing different types of chilies with spices, day-old bread, nuts, a little cocoa and roughly every other ingredient that could probably have been found in their pantry. This concoction boiled for hours and was reduced to the thick, sweet, rich and fragrant sauce. Of course, how could they serve an archbishop a sauce with nothing to put it on? An old turkey strutted around in the garden of the convent, it was the only meat they could offer his eminence with the strange sauce was poured over it. If anyone in their right mind ever actually tried mole, they’d be thrilled. I have only yet one person to ever dislike this magical dish, and he was crazy.

The other legend states that mole came prior to the colonization of México. Believing cocoa to be a most holy substance, the Aztec king, Moctezuma served mole to Cortez and his conquistadors at a banquet to receive them under the unfortunate notion that they were gods. This story probably gained credibility because the word mole comes from the Nahuatl word “milli” which means sauce or “concoction”. Another connection could be that chocolate was widely used in pre-columbian Mexico, so people jumped to that conclusion. However, Sophie and Michael Coe detail their objection to this hypothesis in their book The True History of Chocolate (1996).

The idea of using chocolate as a flavoring in cooked food would have been horrifying to the Aztecs—just as Christians could not conceive of using communion wine to make, say, coq au vin. In all the pages of Sahagun that deal with Aztec cuisine and with chocolate, there is not a hint that it ever entered into an Aztec dish. Yet, today many food writers and gourmets consider one particular dish, the famous pavo in mole poblano, which contains chocolate, to represent the pinnacle of the Mexican cooking tradition. …the place of origin of the dish and its sauce, the Colonial Puebla de los Angeles; this beautiful city, unlike others in central Mexico, has no Aztec foundations – and neither does the dish, regardless of what food writers may say (p.216-7).

The reality is who knows? Each Mexican woman has her own mole recipe, passed down through generations of women. Despite my pleading, my dear friend, Rocio, refused to disclose the secrets behind her dark creamy sauce. So, I had to make up my own recipe. Due to the fact mole takes so much time to prepare, it is usually made in huge batches, too large for the home blender to handle. Therefore, women take their mole ingredients, all cooked and ready to blend, to large “molinos” or grinders in their neighborhood. The mole is passed through the grinders and comes out smoother than you could get from your home blender. It is not unusual to see women walking home from the molinos with buckets of mole for a fiesta. However, I have no such luxuries on a boat. I must make do with my pressure cooker and nutribullet.

Pressure Cooker Chicken Molé

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tbsp ancho chili powder

1 tbsp chili powder

2 tbsp unsweetened dark cocoa powder

6 poblano chilies

3 anaheim chilies

6 cloves garlic

1 onion, quarted

2 tomatoes

1 jalapeño

½ cup pine nuts

½ cup shelled pumpkin seeds

1 cup diced dried plums, rehydrated by boiling for 10 minutes

1⁄4 cup creamy peanut butter

1 can chipotle chili in adobo sauce

1 can pumpkin purée

2 tbsp agave syrup

1 – 4 inch cinnamon stick split in two

1/8 tsp ground cloves

2 1⁄2 cups beef broth

1⁄4 cup water

5 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


Broil poblanos, jalapeños and anaheims until the skin on the peppers begins to puff. Remove from heat, and peel off the skin and pull the flesh from the seeded core. Turn the oven to bake at 415° or as hot as your oven will heat. Blend with 1 cup of beef broth and can of chipotle chilies. Strain into a big bowl. DSCN0756Set aside. Bake the tomatoes, onions and garlic until they begin to brown. Remove from oven. Blend with ½ cup of beef broth, peanut butter and pumpkin purée. Strain into the same big bowl. Set aside. Toast the nuts in the oven for only a few minutes. Blend with ½ cup of beef broth, agave syrup and rehydrated prunes. Strain into the same big bowl. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoon oil in pressure cooker pot over medium heat. Add both chili powders, cocoa powder and cloves; cook, stirring for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the contents of the big bowl of strained mole base purée. Stir well scraping up bottom of the pan as the mixture simmers for 5 minutes. Add the cinnamon sticks. Season chicken with kosher salt and ground black pepper; add to pot. Lock pressure cooker lid into place following your manufacturer instructions. Bring to HIGH pressure, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 25 minutes. Quick release pressure and remove lid directing the steam away from you. Transfer chicken to a cutting board. Remove the meat and discard the bones. Once the chicken has cooled, shred the meat into bite sized pieces. Add chicken and cilantro back to the pot. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Serves 6 to 8.

Delicious served over rice with traditional chili toppings or wrapped in a warm tortilla. If there are leftovers, sauté with the extra tortillas to make mole chilequiles, which must always be served with an egg on top.


*If a pressure cooker freaks you out then feel free to try this recipe in a slow cooker–maybe 6 to 8 hours




One thought on “Grateful for Going to Ilsa Espiritu Santo: Chicken Mole

  1. “I asked Dan what I could bring to contribute to the expedition. He said food.” Hahaha. That’s me for sure. My sisters are going to bust a seam when they read this.


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