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The Sauces of Mexico - Oaxacan Coloradito

Oaxaca’s Mole Coloradito is much bigger than its name which translates quite simply as Little Coloured Sauce, or Little Red Sauce. Habitually referred to as just Coloradito, it is life-sized and powerful, gutsy and spicy, rich and deep. There are of course versions of some kind of red mole all over the country, but the Oaxaqueño edition is the best known and has earned its place among the state’s famous seven moles. Furthermore, there is not just one Coloradito in the Oaxaca region but many, according to the specific area itself, and the ingredients. The 21st century has also infected mole cookery and Mole Coloradito in paste form can be found in any market; needless to say, it cannot hold a candle to the real thing!

The chilli combination almost invariably includes anchos, partnered with either the local chilcostles, which are not widely available, or guajillos. All three have a strong shade of brick in them, which dye the mole its distinctive red. Chocolate can be included, as can sesame seeds and almonds, as well as raisins, plantains and bread, sometimes sweet, sometimes savoury. However, the key to this kind of complex mole is an exquisite balance of flavours, and using all of these additions often results in sugariness, even toffeeness. I therefore tend to include bitter chocolate to add the necessary depth and exoticism, plantain and a bit of sweet brioche bread for barely enough sweetness to offset the heat, and sesame (in the form of very inauthentic but very effective Middle Eastern tahini or toasted sesame seed paste!) for the nuttiness, while leaving out the raisins and almonds.

A mole of any kind is of course a sauce and not a dish as such and can be used in countless ways, including as a stewing medium for a braise or guisado. For Coloradito, Oaxaqueña cooks tend to use beef over any other kind of meat, although pork and chicken often find their way into this red mole. They are usually cooked separately by boiling before being added to the sauce, but a good prior browning does add considerably to the final flavour. My favourite partner for a Coloradito is oxtail, whose full flavour and gelatinous texture partner the opulent sauce very successfully - the link to my recipe for Oxtail in Mole Coloradito can be found at the bottom of this article.

A Coloradito, let alone the tail of an ox, take time to prepare. It is slow cooking at its most genuine and protracted, but it is also utterly therapeutic and the process can all be broken down into different stages - in fact it is essential to cook the oxtail in advance so that the stock can be chilled and the excess fattiness removed. So save Oaxaca’s brick red mole for a day when you can relax into its gastronomic sorcery.

Chilli and Chocolate Stars of the Mexican Cocina by Isabel Hood is available from Amazon.co.uk

Just The Two of Us Entertaining Each Other by Isabel Hood is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

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