Black Beef Stew (Chichilo Negro)

I made this stew this weekend. I was craving something rich like a mole but not as heavy. You can add more stock to your sauce if you like it thinner. This mole doesn’t have the added richness of nuts and seeds. And it isn’t much more work than making classic braised short ribs – though the flavors here are much richer and reminiscent of a traditional dark Mexican mole. Serve it with black beans or steamed white rice and accompany with warm tortillas and pickled vegetables. It may be hard to find avocado leaves (which add a nice anise flavor)  ask around – maybe someone you know has a tree in their backyard (like me) or you can combine a few bay leaves and some cracked anise seeds to simulate the flavor. Moles in general are based on personal taste – so, if you like more of a certain herb or spice or when making more traditional moles –  nuts or seeds, feel free to add a little extra as you like.

6 bone-in short ribs (about 5 pounds), cut into 3 pieces each
1 small head of garlic, peeled and separated into cloves
2 medium white onions, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons lard
6 cups beef stock
Sea salt
6 chile pasilla
6 chile negros
3 tomatoes, cut into quarters
3 flour tortillas
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
4 fresh or dried avocado leaves

Season the short ribs well with sea salt on all sides. Coat a pot large enough to accommodate all the meat with the lard and bring to medium-high heat. Add the short ribs to the pan and brown very well, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Do not overcrowd pan. Cook them in batches, if necessary. You want them to get a nice dark brown color.

Browning the short ribs

Broil the onions, garlic and tomatoes under a broiler on high heat until they turn black. Add them to the meat along with the beef stock. Gently bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Meanwhile toast the pasilla and negro chiles for a few seconds on each side in a dry pan until they turn dark. When they are cool enough to handle split them open and pull out the veins and discard the stems and seeds. Rinse the chiles under cold water and then add them to the broth with the meat. If you would like the mole to have more heat you can toast the seeds and grind them in spice grinder and add them back into the broth. I don’t think this is necessary – just depends on your taste.

Chile Negro & Pasilla

Toast all of the spices together in the same pan from the chiles until they turn a darker brown and also add them to the broth. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit down into the pan and press to cover. Simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

The meat should be tender but not falling apart when done. Gently remove the meat from the broth and let it rest covered. Once the broth has settled and is cool enough to handle – skim off any fat that has floated to the top. You are know ready to finish the sauce. Over an open flame toast the tortillas and the avocado leaves until charred and add them to the sauce. The tortillas act as a thickening agent – here you could also substitute corn tortillas if you prefer.

Puree the sauce with an immersion blender and strain through a sieve. Your sauce should be velvety and thick. Check for seasoning and add more salt if needed. Gently rewarm the meat in the finished sauce and serve.

Serves 6 – 8