Spatchcocked Game Hen with Grilled Peach-Piñon Mole

Game birds from nearby Dewberry Hills Farm are briefly brined, then split, skewered, seasoned and slow-roasted over a wood fire.  Served with a mole of grilled peaches, toasted pine nuts, rich stock and ancho chiles..

Spatchcocked Game Hen with Grilled Peach-Piñon Mole

For the Brine

1/3 cup kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled and bruised
1 teaspoon cracked cumin seeds
1-2 small, dry bay leaves, cracked
3 quarts cold, filtered water

Combine all ingredients together in a container large enough to hold the birds and brine.  Stir to dissolve salt, then submerge birds in brine (1 quart per pound of food), cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes per pound (90 minutes for 3 pounds of food).  Remove from refrigerator, drain and transfer birds to an uncovered flat container and return to the refrigerator until the skin is completely dry, about 2 hours.

To Spatchcock and Grill the Birds

Spatchcock is an 18th-century phrase used to indicate a summary way of grilling a bird after splitting it open down the back and spreading the two halves out flat, the point of which is to reduce cooking time and to help ensure a moist, evenly-cooked result.

Use a heavy kitchen scissors to remove the backbone, then turn the bird over and crack open like a book.  Use a small knife to separate the diamond shaped keel (breast bone) from the muscle, then use your fingers to pull the bone free from the carcass.  Use pairs of skewers to pierce the skin side of the breast, tucking the ends under the wings to hold in place.  Lightly season inside and out with cracked pepper, coriander, garlic, etc.

Place the splayed birds skin side down on a hot, lightly oiled grill.  Cook without moving until the meat releases itself from the grate and the skin is well marked and has begun to crisp.  Move the birds to the slow side of the grill (skin side up), cover and roast until the juices run clear, about 30-40 minutes depending on temperature, etc.

For the Mole (adapted from a recipe by Rick Bayless)

2-3 fresh peaches, split, pitted and grilled until slightly charred and caramelized
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
1/4 cup pork lard
6 dried ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 cups homemade chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon canela (Mexican cinnamon)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch ground cloves
1/2 ounce Mexican bitter chocolate, chopped
1 fresh flour tortilla, darkly toasted and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon palm sugar or piloncillo
sea salt to taste

Using a spoon, remove the juice and pulp of each grilled peach half, set aside in a medium bowl, and discard the skins.

Add the sesame seeds and set aside.  In a heavy skillet, heat the lard over medium heat.  Add the chilies and fry until lightened in color, about 30 seconds, turning constantly.

Remove the chilies while keeping pan hot.  Place the chilies in a chilled water bath, cover with a small plate to submerge, and set aside for 30 minutes.  Add the garlic to the hot pan and saute until golden brown and tender, about five minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to the peach mixture and maintain a hot pan.  Toast the pine nuts in the pan until golden brown, about two minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pine nuts to the peach mixture.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.  Strain the chilies through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the water and chilies separately.

In a blender puree the chilies and half of the reserved liquid until smooth, about two minutes.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the pulp.  In the same blender, puree the peach mixture, one cup of the chicken stock, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, chocolate, and tortilla until smooth, about two minutes.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve (optional; I left mine a little more rustic) and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, saute the chili pepper puree until dark and thick, about 10 minutes.  Add the peach mixture and simmer to form a thick paste, about seven minutes.  Add the remaining stock, partially cover, and simmer until the mix is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 45 minutes.  Remove from the heat, season, and set aside keeping warm.

To Assemble

Allow the grilled game hens to rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes until carving into half inch thick cross sections.  Lade mole onto serving plate, arranging slices of bird on top.  Garnish with additional sesame seeds and fresh parsley or cilantro and serve immediately.

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Chicken Mole Rojo and Green Chili Bomba with Fried Plantains

Local, pastured chicken is seasoned with cracked cumin, sea salt and black pepper, then quickly roasted before being lacquered with a densely-flavored, traditional red mole.  Topped with toasted sesame seeds and minced onions & cilantro, and served with stock-simmered bomba rice with onions, green chiles and fried plantains..

Chicken Mole Rojo and Green Chili Bomba with Fried Plantains

Mole Rojo Clasico (recipe by Rick Bayless)

5 ounces (2-3 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1/2 cup (about 6 1/2 ounces) sesame seeds
1/2 cup rich-tasting pork lard or vegetable oil, plus a little more if necessary
3 ounces (about 6 medium) dried mulato chiles, stemmed, seeded & torn into large pieces
2 ounces (about 4 medium) dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded & torn into large pieces
2 ounces (about 5 medium) dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded & torn into large pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) unskinned raw almonds
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) raisins
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon anise, preferably freshly ground
1/8 teaspoon cloves, preferably freshly ground
1 slice firm white bread, darkly toasted and broken into several pieces
1 ounce (about 1/3 of a 3.3-ounce tablet) Mexican chocolate, roughly chopped
1 1/2 quarts chicken broth
unrefined sugar to taste

On a rimmed baking sheet, roast the tomatillos 4 inches below a very hot broiler until splotchy black and thoroughly soft, about 5 minutes per side.  Scrape into a large bowl.  In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds, stirringly nearly constantly, until golden, about 5 minutes.  Scrape half of them in with the tomatillos.  Reserve the remainder for sprinkling on the chicken.

Brown other mole ingredients.  Turn on an exhaust fan or open a kitchen door or window.  In a very large soup pot (I typically use a 12-quart stainless steel stock pot or a medium-large Mexican earthenware cazuela), heat the lard or oil over medium.  When quite hot, fry the chiles, three or four pieces at a time, flipping them nearly constantly with tongs until their interior side has changed to a lighter color, about 20 or 30 seconds total frying time.  Don’t toast them so darkly that they begin to smoke—that would make the mole bitter.  As they’re done, remove them to a large bowl, being careful to drain as much fat as possible back into the pot.  Cover the toasted chiles with hot tap water and let rehydrate 30 minutes, stirring frequently to insure even soaking.

Remove any stray chile seeds left in the fat.  With the pot still over medium heat, fry the garlic and almonds, stirring regularly, until browned (the garlic should be soft), about 5 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, remove to the tomatillo bowl, draining as much fat as possible back into the pot.

Add the raisins to the hot pot.  Stir for 20 or 30 seconds, until they’ve puffed and browned slightly.  Scoop them out, draining as much fat as possible back into the pot, and add to the tomatillos. Set the pan aside off the heat.

To the tomatillo mixture, add the cinnamon, black pepper, anise, cloves, bread and chocolate.  Add 2 cups water and stir to combine.

Blend, strain, cook.  Into a large measuring cup, tip off the chiles’ soaking liquid. Taste the liquid:  if it’s not bitter, discard all abut 6 cups of the liquid. (if you’re short, add water to make up the shortfall).  If bitter, pour it out and measure 6 cups water.  Scoop half of the chiles into a blender jar, pour in half of the soaking liquid (or water) and blend to a smooth puree.  Press through a medium-mesh strainer into a large bowl; discard the bits of skin and seeds that don’t pass through the strainer.  Repeat with the remaining chiles.

Return the soup pot or cazuela to medium heat.  When quite hot, pour in the chile puree—it should sizzle sharply and, if the pan is sufficiently hot, the mixture should never stop boiling.  Stir every couple of minutes until the chile puree has darkened and reduced to the consistency of tomato paste, about a half hour. (I find it useful to cover the pot with an inexpensive spatter screen to catch any spattering chile.)

In two batches, blend the tomatillo mixture as smoothly as possible (you may need an extra 1/2 cup water to keep everything moving through the blades), then strain it in to the large bowl that contained the chiles. When the chile paste has reduced, add the tomatillo mixture to the pot and cook, stirring every few minutes until considerably darker and thicker, 15 to 20 minutes. (Again, a spatter screen saves a lot of cleanup.)

Simmer.  Add the broth to the pot and briskly simmer the mixture over medium to medium-low heat for about 2 hours for all the flavors to come together and mellow. If the mole has thickened beyond the consistency of a cream soup, stir in a little water.  Taste and season with salt (usually about 4 teaspoons) and the sugar and keep warm.

For the Green Chili Bomba (adapted from a recipe by Rick Bayless)

1 cup bomba rice (a special type of Spanish paella rice)
3 cups rich chicken stock
1 cup yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons rendered chicken fat
1/4 thinly-sliced green chiles
sea salt

ripe plantains
butter or peanut oil

Place the rice in a strainer and rinse under cold, filtered water until the water runs clear.  Allow to drain 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock until steaming.

Heat the chicken fat in heavy, high-walled skillet until shimmering.  Add the rice and stir constantly until it floats freely in the hot fat.  Add onions and chiles and cook 8 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add chicken stock and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low and cook without stirring 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover and let stand 15 minutes.  Fluff the rice with a fork just before serving.

To prepare

Season chicken joints with salt, pepper and cracked cumin and roast in a heavy skillet in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove pan from oven, dunk chicken in mole and return to pan to the oven for 30 minutes at 325 degrees.  Remove pan from oven, baste chicken with more mole and allow to stand 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, fry slices of ripe plantain in hot peanut oil or butter until deep golden brown on both sides.  Set aside to drain.

Arrange chicken on one side of plate and spoon a little mole over the top.  Garnish with toasted white sesame seeds, minced onion and cilantro.  Arrange rice next to the chicken and garnish with fried plantains.  Serve hot.

  • RECIPE: Rick Bayless’ Oaxacan Black Mole From Mexico State Dinner (

Mango Mole (Sauce)

Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appétit magazine (via Edible Therapy), this complex sauce is fantastic with pickled red onions and grilled pork chops..

Making Mango Mole

Making Mango Mole

2 tablespoons leaf lard or other fat
1 large plantain, sliced
1 cup fresh diced mango
2 large dried Guajillo or Ancho chilies, stems and seeds removed
1/2 cup chopped white onion
12 whole raw almonds
1 tablespoon homemade chili base
2 tablespoons shelled peanuts
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 small bay leaf
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
1 teaspoon true cinnamon shards
2 cups homemade chicken stock, more or less
1 small piece Mexican chocolate

Heat the fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add plantains, chili base and everything else except stock and chocolate.  Sauté until plantain is soft, about 5 minutes.

Add 1 1/2 cups chicken stock.  Reduce heat and simmer until chilies are tender, about 15 minutes.

Puree sauce in blender then return to skillet.

Add chocolate and stir until incorporated.  Thin with reserved stock if necessary, then season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

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