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Pheasant in Green Mole

Pheasant in Green Mole

It wasn't until I had a bite of my second mole this week that I made the connection between it and curry. I was eating out the other night and had chicken mole, or at least what I had traditionally thought of as mole. It was mole negro from Oaxaca, the impossibly dark chocolatey sauce with layers and layers of spices. We'd been talking about the last pheasant dish and realized what a natural combination that flavor profile would be for the pheasant - and it was decided we'd make a mole too. 

When it came time to pull the shopping list together, a quick consult of Rick Bayless' classic Authentic Mexican told us we had an opportunity to try something else. We'd found the mole negro, but a few pages over was mole verde, thickened with pepitas (pumpkin seeds) rather than poblanos and chocolate. The list of ingredients sounded fresh and summery: tomatillos, coriander, cinnamon, lettuce... Mole verde it was. 

Hours later, with the perfume of Mexico in the air, I stuck a finger in the pot and got a taste. It was tangy and bright, but familiar - the coriander and cloves lent something of Indian curries we're always making. And then it dawned on me. Mole is a generic name for sauces in Mexican cooking, just as curry is for Indian (and many other cultures). And just like curries, there are many, many moles. And we were right, pheasant was just right in it. 

Pheasant in Green Mole (adapted from Rick Bayless' Authentic Mexican)

1 tsp salt
1 pheasant, separated (giblets saved for another dish), at room temperature
1 small onion, halved
1 c hulled, unsalted pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas, these can sometimes be found in the bulk bin at Whole Foods)
8 medium tomatillos (about 12 ounces), washed
3 roasted Anaheim peppers, seeded
5 leaves Romaine lettuce
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 small cloves garlic, chopped
1 T ground coriander (freshly toasted and ground)
1/8 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1+1/2 T bacon fat
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  1. Place the salt, pheasant, and onion halves in a small stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a simmer and skim the foam, and then continue simmering for about 10 - 12 minutes until the pheasant is cooked completely. Remove the pheasant from the broth and set aside to cool. Reserve the broth. 
  2. Toast the pumpkin seeds until they have all toasted and popped. If you haven't toasted hulled pumpkin seeds before, it's not like the ones that you get out of the pumpkin - these already have the hard shell removed. When you layer them in a skillet or a baking sheet, they will pop and turn into little hot missiles aimed right for any patch of bare skin. You have to move them a bit for even toasting, and to keep them from burning. 
  3. When the seeds are uniformly toasted, set them aside to cool briefly, then grind them in a spice grinder or a small blender or food processor.  Note: we broke our fancy blender grinding these, so take care that you do it in an appliance that can handle the thickness. Put the ground seeds into a bowl and add 1 cup of the reserved pheasant broth. Set aside.   
  4. In a separate pot, bring some salted water to boil and simmer the tomatillos in the water for 10 - 15 minutes or until they are tender. Drain and put the cooked tomatillos into a blender. 
  5. Add the roasted chiles, lettuce, onion, garlic, coriander, cumin, black pepper and cloves to the blender and process until smooth.  
  6. In a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan, heat the bacon fat.  
  7. Add the ground pumpkin seeds to the hot bacon grease and stir constantly as it thickens and darkens, about 4 - 5 minutes.
  8. Add the vegetable puree and cook another few minutes until thick, and then add 2 cups (or a little more if that's remaining) of the reserved pheasant broth.
  9. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook slowly until reduced. This should make about 3 cups of mole, so simmer accordingly.   

We cooked the mole for about 2 hours at a very very low simmer, and then rested it overnight before serving it with the pheasant. You can heat up the sauce and place the meat into the sauce directly, or slice the meat and spoon the sauce over the top. Both are excellent methods, and just stand in the way of getting the pheasant into your belly. Served with beans and homemade pickle and a few tortillas. 


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