I love it when friends come to visit and bring foodie presents. As that sounds greedy and ungracious, let me re-phrase it. I love it when friends come to visit, full stop. But when they also bring imaginative gifts because they know I love to cook, it’s a bonus.
This is how I acquired a bag of cocoa nibs (thank you, Martha and Chris), an intriguing ingredient I’d never used before. Cocoa or cacao nibs are dried and fermented pieces of cacao bean, slightly crunchy, slightly bitter and deeply chocolatey.
The obvious way to use them would be in a chocolate cake or chocolate brownies but I wanted to try them in a savoury recipe. Chocolate is often used in a Mexican mole sauce so I decided to substitute the nibs for the sweetened end product.
Get your hands on a bagful: this dish is multi-layered and subtle. We kept going back for more and ended up on the sofa like beached whales, which is perhaps not the most enticing image. Anyway, don’t skip the accompaniments, they poke up the flavours like nobody’s business.
Chicken Mole with Cocoa Nibs
800g-1 kg boneless chicken thighs
A little chicken stock or water
For the mole:
1 onion, peeled, cut into 6 wedges
4 fat cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 chipotle chillies
150g roasted peanuts
1 tin chopped tomatoes
15g cocoa nibs (or 25g of the darkest chocolate you can lay your hands on)
2 tspn ancho chilli powder
1 1/2 tspn ground cumin
1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
Red onion pickle made with 1 medium red onion, the juice of 1 lime and a pinch of salt (see below)
Sour cream or crème fraîche
Tear the chipotle chillies into small flat pieces, discarding the stalks and seeds. Briefly dry-fry them, until they soften and turn darker in colour, but be careful not to burn them. Now soak them in hot water for 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile put the frying pan back on the heat and dry-roast the onion wedges and garlic, turning from time to time. Cook until they’re blistered, browned and soft, then slip the skins off the garlic and put the onions and garlic in a food processor, along with the ancho chillies and their soaking water and the remaining mole ingredients. Blitz to a smooth paste and season to taste with salt. You can prepare the sauce to this point and refrigerate it for a day or so.
To make the red onion relish, slice the red onion into very thin half moons, squeeze over the lime juice and add a pinch of salt. Leave it to pickle while you finish the mole. I promise you, you will make this again and again.
Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, heat some oil in a deep frying pan and brown the meat all over. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add a little more oil to the pan, pour in the sauce and cook for a few minutes, stirring all the time so it doesn’t catch.
Thin the sauce with a little stock or water until it has the consistency of double cream. Put the chicken back in. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until it’s cooked through and tender, about 20 minutes. Serve over rice, topped with a dollop of sour cream and scattered with the onions and coriander.
Any leftovers freeze well.