Seasonal Menu and Fun Random Facts About How To Make Mole from Chef Rick Bayless
Travel inspiration is everywhere! It’s even better when your taste buds are involved. Seven-time James Beard Foundation Award Winner, Chef Rick Bayless was our guide on a tasting journey thru the Oaxaca region of Mexico. And, Frontera Cocina, his Mexican Restaurant in Disney Springs, was our point of departure.
I was a media guest to an “Evening With Chef Rick Bayless”, where we not only had the opportunity to watch the celebrated chef demonstrate how to make a rich and flavorful Mole de Almendras (Almond Mole). We let our taste buds run wild and experience the new seasonal menu: TASTE OF OAXACA.
Needless to say, Oaxaca is now on my travel bucket list. And I’m on a mission to #MakeSomedayHappen one delicious bite, sip and trip at a time!
Read all about this fantastic menu. Plus some random facts about mole I learned from Chef Bayless. There’s plenty of inspiration to plan a trip to Frontera Cocina and then to Mexico!
Travel Inspiration: Oaxaca, Mexico
Chef Bayless began our journey describing the experience of flying into Oaxaca. A fast climb over the mountain range and a fast descent into the valley. It sounds like a thrill ride! And we haven’t even gotten to the food yet! In about an hour, you can be at 9,000 ft in the mountains hunting for bromeliads and orchids. If you’re adventurous you travel by car down narrow winding roads to the coast to Puerto Escondido, the famous surfing haven.
Oaxaca is one of the most diverse states in Mexico. Known for its richness of flora and fauna, and a culturally indigenous community proud of its traditions. “Here every dish tells a story, which is why I find it fascinating” says Bayless.
Oaxaca is known for its smoky chipotle flavors, traditional “seven moles,” mezcal and chapulines. The seasonal menu Taste of Oaxaca highlighted all of these beautifully.
What are Chapulines?
Chapulines are a type of grasshopper, typically fried and seasoned with salt, lime and chili pepper. As Chef Bayless describes, you’re not just eating any grasshoppers, they are “PRIMO grasshoppers”
“In Oaxaca, you’ll see gorgeous displays of different types of chapulines. People pop one after another in their mouths. Once you make peace with grasshoppers, you can have the full Oaxacan experience.”Chef Rick Bayless
Chef Bayless said it was “sneaky” of him to slip in the guajillo-lime toasted grasshoppers on the tasting menu. It’s easy to sneak anything in with that gorgeous creamy guacamole!
The chapulines added a nice little crunch. Their true value is the added sense of adventure. We were a bit apprehensive and could not control the nervous laughter. And yet, we said “Why not?“
“You Only Live Once!”
My dad would have nonchalantly said “they’re just added protein.”
Our server attempted to clear the plate, and, he nearly lost his arm. None of us wanted to let that beautiful creamy guacamole, grasshoppers and all, leave the table.
Don’t miss dipping your warm tortilla chips in the smoky chipotle and herby tomatillo salsa. Explosions of flavor!
Mole Mole Mole!
Mole by definition is a complex dish. It’s usually only prepared in Mexico for special celebrations. It takes years of practice for a cook to perfect their mole. Whether at home or in a restaurant.
Bayless says “I’m either stupid or cavalier for attempting this” about his demo for the Mole Almendrado. He hilariously called it “Mole with Training Wheels.”
The recipe was developed for his cookbook, More Mexican Everyday, which features easy recipes prepared in 30 minutes or less. “It’s the perfect mole to impress your friends” he adds.
The Mole de Almendras is featured in various dishes on the menu, from appetizers to entrees. It adds such a luscious texture, you just want to put it on everything. The menu offers a lighter green mole and a red mole as well.
Golden Plantain Croquettes with Mole de Almendras
Sweet Plantain croquettes filled with fresh cheese topped with almond mole, crema, cotija cheese and cilantro. I could eat this appetizer any time! Loved the sweet plantain with the mix of cheese and the flavors of the mole. The crispy plantain balls, called Molote is one of Chef Bayless’ favorite Oaxacan snacks.
Roasted Short Rib with Mole de Almendras
Bone-in short rib is slow roasted for 12 hours, then topped with roasted almond mole, crispy onions and toasted almonds. Served over Cotija mashed potatoes and sauteed Swiss chard.
This hearty dish was pure comfort food. The meat was tender and off the bone. With luscious nuttiness of the mole and crispy onions for added layers of flavor and texture. The best way to eat this dish is getting all its components in one bite.
Oaxacan Green Mole Grilled Grouper
Not all moles are heavy rich brown sauces. The lightest of the 7 moles in Oaxaca is a green mole. It has a beautiful herbiness and fresh brightness, perfect for fish and chicken.
Perfectly Grilled Grouper was topped with herby Oaxacan Green Mole made with cilantro, epazote, Italian parsley, and tomatillo thickened with masa. Served over white beans, plantain rice, and spicy salad greens. Warm corn tortillas come with it. We completely overlooked them and simply devoured the flavorful fish, rice and beans.
I loved the bright and fresh coastal flavors of this dish and hope it is added to the menu permanently.
Oaxacan Red Mole Chicken
Crispy half chicken topped with Oaxacan red mole, served with plantain rice with warm corn tortillas. This dish is reminiscent of a simple home cooked meal. And you’re reminded how much effort it took to prepare the mole! If you’re in the mood for chicken, order it.
Random Facts About Mole (Including How To Make An Easy Mole) from Chef Rick Bayless
Chef Bayless showed us how to make “Red Mole de Almendras” (almond mole). He explains complex cooking processes in ways we can all understand. No doubt his experience in front of the camera on the acclaimed PBS show Mexico–One Plate at a Time has served him well. I learned a great deal about mole and Mexican cooking. His talent for teaching with such humbleness is quite refreshing in a celebrity chef of his caliber.
Here are some random facts about mole. Did you know….?
- There are Seven Types of Moles in Oaxaca. The names mostly refer to its color. Negro, Rojo, Coloradito, Amarillo, Verde, Chichilo and Manchamantel. We are most familiar with the “negro” – black mole and “rojo” – red mole.
- Most moles take about 3 days to make – one day to shop, one day to prep and one day to cook. Mole signifies a special occasion in Mexico. Similar to the time and effort it takes for our Thanksgiving Dinners.
- Poblano peppers become ancho chiles, like grapes turn into raisins. The same for jalapeños turning in chipotle peppers when dried. For mole, you want the dried version of peppers to get that rich smoky concentrated flavor. Toasting peppers on high heat is key.
- After toasting ancho chile peppers with onions and garlic, place in a blender with lots of almonds, fire roasted tomatoes, and chipotle peppers. If you were making a more peppery mole, you would add more peppers and less almonds.
- Blend the mixture in batches to get it as smooth as possible. Mole is meant to be silky, not chunky.
- Allspice, cinnamon, cloves and anise are used to sweeten mole.
- Most people know mole as the “Mexican chocolate sauce you put on chicken”. You may be surprised to know that mole does not always include chocolate. Out of the 7 classic moles in Oaxaca, only 2 have chocolate in it. It’s a misconception that chocolate adds sweetness. It’s the bitterness of dark chocolate that you want. It is used as a seasoning not as a major flavor.
- An important step is to add the blended mixture to a hot pan coated with some form of fat – pork or bacon renderings prefered. High heat helps achieve the authentic flavors of Mexican food. “If you simmer tomato sauce, it tastes like Italian food. With a sear in high heat, it becomes Mexican” says Bayless. Listen for the sizzle in the pan. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes to turn into thick paste. When you see the bottom of the pot, stop stirring.
- Add vegetable broth to the thickened paste and let simmer. This allows it to be served as a vegetarian entree option. That’s how they do it at Frontera Cocina. The sauce doesn’t need beef or chicken stock.
- Don’t be shy about seasoning with salt and sugar to get the right balance of sweet and savory. If you don’t get enough peppery chile notes, add a bit of sugar. It takes your entire apprenticeship as a cook in Mexico to learn to season the mole just right.
- No mole is simple. The definition of mole “It’s a complex sauce”
- The best compliment a cook can receive for their mole is “this is the most well balanced mole I’ve ever tasted.” With mole you don’t want to get nuances or hints of this or that ingredient. All ingredients must blend together to create a new flavor.
- Want the recipe for mole de almendras? Pick up a copy of Rick Bayless More Mexican Everyday cookbook.
What About The Chocolate?
Save room for dessert. The Peanut Butter Chocolate Trifle may inspire you to have dessert first. If you love the combination of chocolate and peanuts, you’ll be all over this!
Layers of Devil’s food cake and peanut butter mousse topped with spicy roasted Spanish nuts, and peanut brittle. Worth every damn calorie!
Chocolate is not grown in Oaxaca, however it’s used extensively in the region. It’s important for making certain moles and as a beverage. Walking thru the markets in Oaxaca, you’ll see the cacao beans being ground and turned into bars to mix with hot milk.
My chocolate cravings were satisfied.
Mezcal for you and me!
In Oaxaca there’s a popular saying: “Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también.” (“For everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good, as well.”). Most mezcals are made in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. It’s characteristic smoky flavor comes from roasting the heart of the Maguey plant. This smokiness lends itself to great cocktails. In Mexico it’s mostly sipped neat.
Frontera Cocina introduced three featured drinks in their Taste of Oaxaca Menu. If you’re a fan of mezcal, you’ll appreciate the unique variety. If you’re not a fan of mezcal, I encourage you try it. Most of us know mezcal as being very smokey. These are quite balanced and smooth with a well placed hint of smoke.
We began the evening sipping the beautiful Oaxacan Club. A twist to the “Clover Club” (a gin and raspberry cocktail) made with 100% de Agave Gracias a Dios gin, a mezcal triple distilled gin.
Imagine a blend of gin botanicals including juniper and others from the Oaxaca region, combined with the smokiness of smooth mezcal. Shake it all up with fresh lemon juice, raspberry cordial and egg whites for a nice frothy creaminess. It was a lovely drink to sip. And I had no idea it was Mezcal based.
If you’re the type to say “oh no, I don’t drink Mezcal or I don’t drink Gin” Try this! You’ll love it.
The apple may have been forbidden but you know what they say about “an apple a day…”
This Apple Temptation Cocktail could definitely keep the doctor away. Made with only two ingredients: Ilegal Mezcal Joven and the juice of fresh pressed Granny Smith apples (juiced at the bar at time of service!). This is the healthiest cocktail I’ve ever had. The Tajin chile-lime spiced rim perfectly kicked it up a notch! If you love apples, you’ll love the fresh flavor!
Real Minero Pechuga Mezcal
Shots Shots Shots! It seems you can’t escape a shot in a Mexican restaurant. This was no ordinary shot. We closed the Taste of Oaxaca evening sipping Chef Rick Bayless’ favorite mezcal.
Real Minero Pechuga Mezcal was served with an orange wedge and those little crispy chile-lime chapulines in a traditional Oaxacan Jicarita cup. By the end of the meal, we were not phased by the grasshoppers. We were veterans!
Mezcaleros use a jicara to taste mezcal, a tasting cup made from a dried out gourd. At Frontera Cocina, they follow suit. The jicara enhances the experience.
Visit Real Minero
Real Minero comes from Santa Catarina Minas, a legendary mezcal producing area in the Oaxaca region. Made in small batch by fourth generation Mezcal producers Ángeles-family.
Visiting their facility, Bayless says “it’s one of the most gorgeous picturesque rustic places. You see the whole production. Witness how they receive the varieties of agave and roast the hearts in wood fire, mash, and ferment. Round the corner and you see the clay stills.”
The top of the line mezcal is called “Pechuga” or chicken breast. The name comes from the tradition to hang a chicken breast over the still during the third distillation.
Mezcal is made from a variety of agaves, with different blends, different roasting methods, fermentation and distilling twice. Resulting in a wide variety of mezcals. Pechuga receives added fruits and nuts for a third distillation. You’ll taste notes of prunes, raisins, and walnuts and a very smooth final product.
Meeting Chef Rick Bayless
If you’re curious, Chef Rick Bayless usually visits Frontera Cocina in Disney Springs on a quarterly basis. This often coincides with the introduction of their seasonal menus and other special events. To learn about his next visit, follow Frontera Cocina on social media.
I was impressed with his humble demeanor, his admiration of the Mexican culture and his knowledge, which he freely shares. The staff at Frontera Cocina follows suit with their warm hospitality. It’s nice to know you can find warmth and charm. Even in a place as touristy as Walt Disney World Resort.
Chef Rick Bayless Go To Dish For Easy Entertaining On The Fly
Bayless has written many books about entertaining including Fiesta at Rick’s which spent a number of weeks on the New York Times best seller list. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask him about his “go-to” dish for easy entertaining on the fly.
I was surprised with his answer. Then it made perfect sense.
“Tacos” he said. “Scrambled egg tacos.”
And I bet those are the best scrambled eggs tacos ever! He mentions he adds fresh herbs. And I’m certain there’s much more technique involved too. That showed me his style. And, why he’s admired by many. Myself included.
About Frontera Cocina
Frontera Cocina opened in Orlando in 2016. It’s the go-to, top choice for Mexican food at Disney Springs Foodie Mecca. The family friendly restaurant offers an elevated contemporary menu with fresh, authentic flavors, created by seven-time winner of the James Beard Foundation Award, Chef Rick Bayless.
The restaurant’s decor immediately evokes the artistry of Mexico with an intricate mosaic mural, in bright oranges, yellows and blues.
The open kitchen adds to the show and the lively atmosphere. The room is abuzz and it’s definitely loud. The food generates conversation and excitement.
Frontera Cocina offers various weekly specials. Enjoy $5 Margarita Clásicas all day long on “Margarita Mondays” and $5 shots of tequila, barrelled exclusively for Frontera Cocina on “Tequila Tuesdays.” On Mezcal Wednesdays, celebrate making it to the middle of the week with $6 shots of mezcal.
Taste of Oaxaca Menu
“Oaxaca is home to some of Mexico’s most artful culture and cuisine. Let us give you a taste of the famous Oaxacan moles, each with its own harmonious depth and complexity”Chef Rick Bayless
Visit Frontera Cocina at Disney Springs to enjoy the Taste of Oaxaca. The seasonal menu will be available thru April 2020. And you don’t want to miss it!
I hope you found this review helpful and inspiring. If you want a delicious award-winning experience, taste thru moles and mezcals, and have a great time on an imaginary trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, let your taste buds lead the way. Dining at celebrity chef owned eateries like Frontera Cocina is a foodie travel bucket list experience for many. Go #MakeSomedayHappen one delicious bite, sip and trip at a time!
Disclosure: I was an invited media guest for promotional purposes only for some of these events. Others I paid for and donated my time and funds. I am under no obligation to share this post. As always, all opinions are my own. I only share with you products and experiences I love to inspire you to get together with family and friends, celebrate life and go #MakeSomedayHappen one delicious bite, sip and trip at a time! You can read more about my guidelines in my disclosure policy. Cheers!