For some time now, the word around Playa del Carmen has been that the cooking classes at Mayakoba are three hours of delicious fun. So when I saw on the schedule that Chef Karla would be teaching a class on how to cook one of Mexico’s most complicated and flavorful dishes, I did not hesitate to sign up!
The origin of this complex Mexican dish remains a mystery. But there is legend dating back to Colonial times that nuns in a convent in Puebla received an unexpected visit by the Archbishop. Agonizing that they did not have anything to serve him, they prayed for inspiration and an angel appeared, directing them to cut, chop and combine random items they had sitting in kitchen including nuts, chiles, bread and chocolate. The Archbishop was impressed and the recipe went on to become a national dish of Mexico.
Mole, (pronounced mole-ay) a rich and slightly spicy sauce served over chicken, has a lengthy list of savory ingredients, one of which is chocolate! I am no Iron Chef but my reasoning was how bad could it turn out if chocolate was involved?
Upon entering the gorgeous, Mexican tiled industrial kitchen, we were met by two friendly assistants/bartenders who offered us a place to sit and a welcome cocktail. The drink menu featured a choice of maracuya (passion fruit), guanabana (sour sop) or tamarindo (tamarid – a tangy pulp within a brown pea pod) with a splash of tequila. I am a fan of each of the exotic flavors but opted for the guanabana, which was fabulous.
Fellow students from Monterrey, Poland and the United States joined my friend and I. Although Mayakoba’s executive chef Karla Enciso is also fluent in Italian and French, only English and her native Spanish were required for this particular class.
This gourmet kitchen provided the perfect space for our class of nine. It was well organized with all of our ingredients pre-portioned and the best part – there was no clean up at the end!
We began by preparing the various dried chiles by frying them in lard then boiling them in chicken broth before adding the four different types to the blender. Pecans, pumpkin and sesame seeds were sauteed with fragrant spices including anise, cloves and thyme, then blended with a touch of broth.
A third beautiful Mexican clay pot was filled with green tomatillos, onions, tomatoes, garlic and a sliced green apple (a substitute we used for plantains). After browning this batch of ingredients, we added a spoonful of chicken broth as well as a blackened tortilla and blended them. Chef Karla explained that the blackened tortilla produces a similar effect as that of activated charcoal in aiding digestion.
Along with chocolate, we learned that the blender should always be nearby when it comes to making mole. We sautéed and blended until we were left with three thick liquids, which we combined into one olla and stirred over a low gas flame for a half hour. Karla revealed that the secret to a rich and savory mole is to slow cook and stir it as long as possible. Some chefs have been known to stir the mole for 2 hours a day for almost a week prior to serving it, allowing the sauce to reduce and the delightful flavors to develop.
We sipped on our cocktails and continuously stirred the dark, burnt red colored mole sauce. Next the cacao, which we had taken turns to grind midway through the class, was added. During periodic taste tests, a little more salt, a dash of sugar and a second fistful of chocolate were added. Chef Karla mentioned that a great mole should acknowledge a perfect fusion of flavors – the saltiness, the sweetness and the spiciness should all be detected, resulting in a rich and unique blend.
Once the aromatic sauce was ready, we added the pre-cooked chicken breasts. In yet another exquisite, hand-painted olla, we fried a cup of white rice. Water was added along with a few sprigs of cilantro, peas, chopped carrots and salt. The rice was covered and left to steam, about ten minutes until it was cooked through.
Finally, the time came to plate our savory creations, which we garnished with cilantro and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Chef Karla served a nice bottle of Mexican red wine to accompany our meal. Our taste buds rose to a standing ovation and no one left even a single grain of rice on their plate.
Overall, the El Pueblito cooking class experience was a 10, and no, this is not only the tequila talking! Our expert host was very engaging and gave me the confidence to believe I might actually be able to pull this sophisticated dish off.
There are weekly classes in the picturesque El Pueblito village at Mayakoba. Chef Karla is passionate about promoting Mexican cuisine, but is open to leading classes with various themes such as Thai, French or Italian upon request. She honed her culinary skills in the south of France and joined the Mayakoba team at the beginning of 2017.
For a schedule of upcoming classes or to reserve a private class for 2 and up to 20 people, you can contact El Pueblito through their Facebook page or call Chef Karla directly at (998) 214-3402.
If you are a guest with Bric Vacation Rentals and are interested in taking one of these entertaining, cultural classes, let your designated Bric ambassador know. Our team would be happy to arrange for you a memorable day with Chef Karla. Salud!
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About the Author
Juanita grew up in a small town in the middle of Canada. Having experienced twenty years of ruggedly cold climate, she had seen enough snow to last her a lifetime. After moving to and working in Vancouver for thirteen years (where she was ecstatic to see the odd palm tree) she jumped at the opportunity to move with her husband and three children to Playa del Carmen. She calls it a ‘dreamy existence’ and cherishes year-round, backyard barbecues with friends, road trips and watching the sunrise over the Caribbean. She writes for Bric Vacation Rentals.