Making Mole with Cueva Bar Chef Oz Blackaller
Chef Oz Blackaller’s Cueva Bar in University Heights serves one of my favorite dishes in San Diego, his Torta Azteca—chicken layered between corn tortillas and slathered with what really makes the dish sing: Oz’s mole poblano.
When I expressed interest in learning how to make his version of this famous Mexican sauce, Oz offered to teach me the process. “Now, my recipe will be for future generations,” he told me with great sincerity. I spent an afternoon in the compact kitchen of Cueva Bar, doing a sort of dance with many ingredients, bowls, pots, pans and Chef Oz.
When everything was cooked, it was time to blend and puree the various components and mix them together, followed by what I thought was the most labor intensive part of the process: the sieving. We pressed the mixture—and there was a lot—through fine mesh sieves. When we had sieved it once, Oz wanted to do it again. “The more you sieve, the smoother the sauce,” he said. The sieved sauce went into a pot; spices, cocoa and nut oils were added and the mixture stirred. It looked glorious at this point—dark, rich and decadent.
Oz either simmers the sauce for two hours to bring it all together, or reduces it into a paste that can be kept for a month unrefrigerated and then reconstituted with water, beer or stock.
A few days later I attempted the mole, on a smaller scale, in my own kitchen. Oz cut his restaurant recipe down to a quarter of what we had made in the restaurant. It took me hours to shop; some ingredients were not so easy to find (cocoa nibs, which I eventually bought at Sprouts) and other stores had ingredients that I was sure were not what Oz had intended (like the La Fiesta brand of “ancho pasilla peppers” which according to a quick Google search are maybe ancho, maybe pasilla, but not both.) In the end, the best place to buy all the peppers was the wholesaler Specialty Produce, which thankfully is open to the general public.
I must have sent Oz at least 10 texts the first time I made the mole at home. First came the shopping questions. “Is it OK to use Negro Modelo beer?” (No.) “Is chocolate stout OK?” (Yes.) Then in the kitchen—“how long do the nuts have to cook?” (A long time.) Oz had told me when his kitchen staff makes the mole his kitchen is a mess. After I did my own sieving I saw what he meant. I may find splatterings of mole in dark corners of my kitchen for some time.
Oz is a good teacher. Between the kitchen session and his prompt answering of texts and calls, I got the job done and took him a sample. He tried it and smiled broadly. “You nailed it,” he told me. All my friends that tried the mole loved it.
If you want to attempt Oz’s mole yourself, set aside a day or two, especially if you want to reduce the sauce into a paste. Or, take the easy route and buy some of the paste from Oz, and reconstitute it into a sauce for meat, chicken or enchiladas at home. At the very least go in and try the Torte Azteca at Cueva Bar. This is a dish with a sauce that speaks to the heart, made by a chef with heart.