Spicy. Savory. Sweet. Complex. Even mysterious. These are the words that emerge at the sight of a big pot of dark Oaxacan mole bubbling away on the stove. Bricia Lopez will tell you that “mole is the epitome of Mexican cooking.” And she should know. Together with her siblings, Bricia heads up L.A.’s James Beard award-winning restaurant, Guelaguetza. More than a restaurant, it’s a story, a tradition, and central reference to Oaxacan culture in the U.S.
Bricia’s father, Fernando Sr., came to L.A. speaking no English with the hopes of building a better life for the family of four he left back in Oaxaca. After a year of selling Oaxacan products door-to-door, he opened Guelaguetza, a tiny restaurant in Koreatown, serving authentic dishes from his native home. Two months later, Bricia and the rest of the family joined him to help run the spot and turn it into what it is today: A 300-seat pillar of Oaxacan cuisine.
Bricia, along with her other two siblings, Paulina and Fernando Jr., now run the restaurant their father started over 25 years ago. And luckily for the rest of non-L.A. dwellers, they also sell their straight-from-Oaxaca mole paste (along with a number of other Oaxacan products) all over the country.
A Bit about Mole
There are hundreds of mole variations just in the Mexican state of Oaxaca alone, with the sauce containing anywhere from 15–30 ingredients. “Every family has their own mole,” says Bricia. “When you cook mole, you always make it your own.”
A lot of people in the U.S. think of mole as a “chocolate sauce.” But it’s far from it. “Mole plays with the balance of so much flavor, of sweet and savory,” says Bricia. Yes, some mole does contain chocolate, but it’s an ingredient to balance the powerful chili flavors.
Mole-making has the reputation of being a long, arduous cooking process. According to Bricia, this misconception has to do with how people eat mole in Oaxaca: “It does take days and days when you’re making it for hundreds of people—which is usually the case because mole is a celebratory dish eaten at weddings or for Day of the Dead. But if you’re making a normal batch, it really only takes 1.5–2 hours.” And with Guelaguetza’s mole paste? Way less.
Guelaguetza has been sourcing their mole from the same people in Oaxaca since their inception. “They’re like family to us now.” The mole paste is all-natural with no additives—it’s not a jarred sauce, but rather a base that lets you add a few other ingredients (broth, tomatoes) to make it your own.
Their three styles of mole paste are all insanely good and shine in their own way. The Mole Negro is robust, smoky, and well-balanced; it’s not too spicy or too sweet. The Mole Rojo is a bit spicier but gets a good balance from some smoke. And the Mole Coloradito packs the biggest punch of them all.
How to Use Mole Paste
Mole is most commonly served with any cut of chicken (like the pan-fried mole chicken thighs below!), but Guelaguetza’s blog is loaded with all kinds of mole recipes to check out. “The Mole Negro is great with turkey and I love our Mole Coloradito with shrimp—shrimp is such a great protein to pair with mole.” She also recommends using the paste as a rub with a little brown sugar, oil, and salt. “I love rubbing that on salmon or on a steak for grilling in the summertime.”
Advocates of Oaxaca in America
Bricia sees her work as a means to educate the American consumer on Mexican, and specifically, Oaxacan food culture—a world full of flavors far beyond tacos and burritos. At the same time, Guelaguetza wants people to get creative in the kitchen with Oaxacan products, with the goal of making mole paste a staple in every American pantry. “Being able to represent Oaxaca has been an absolute honor,” says Bricia. “It is what drives our business and what drives me as a person to represent for brown girls all over America.”
And if running an award-winning restaurant wasn’t enough, Bricia authored the well-known cookbook OAXACA: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico. She also runs the Guelaguetza cooking blog, co-manages the Super Mamás podcast with her sister Paulina, co-founded a bottled michelada mix called I Love Micheladas with her brother, Fernando Jr.
- 6 to 8 bone-in chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt divided, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon garlic granules
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 16 ounces Guelaguetza Mole Negro Paste
- 15 ounces canned tomato sauce
- 32 ounces chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Season chicken thighs well with ½ teaspoon salt (add more to taste), pepper, and garlic granules. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, add chicken thighs skin-side down and cook undisturbed until nicely browned, about 5–6 minutes. Flip and brown the other side, about 4–5 minutes more. Transfer to plate and set aside.
- Pour the fat oil from the pot (but keep all the brown bits). Add tomato sauce and stir until pot has been deglazed. Add mole paste and stir until dissolved, about 2–3 minutes. Add broth and season with remaining salt and sugar. Stir until the mole sauce has thickened, about 5–7 more minutes. Add back in the chicken and bring to a slow simmer. Cover and allow the chicken to finish cooking through, about 15 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with rice on the side, if desired.
- You will have some mole left over. Freeze leftover mole sauce for up to three months or seven days in your freezer.