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relleno negro (1 of 1)

I spent the days between Christmas and New Years in Mexico. I’ve talked before in my posts for salted chocolate diablo cookies, pozole, and tinga de pollo tacos about the way in which New York City is inexorably, deeply involved with Mexico for all of its good and bad. Mexico has a distinctly rich culture and a landscape so beautiful it’s hard to believe it exists. It is also deeply marred and propelled forward by its tragic, elegant, violent, and heartbreaking history. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to it. I spent many of the days there just talking to the people who live there and the nights under the twinkling stars with the background of the waves lulling my mind into calm. It’s hard to ignore the paradox of beauty and obstruction that you encounter in a single moment, but it just becomes part of the experience.

While the Yucatan coast is known for its seafood, my favorite meal was Mayan in origin, from a region a little further west of the coast. This dish hails from the town of Mérida. It is old — older even than the great cuisines of Europe and deeply complex, refined, subtle (except for its heat), and sophisticated. This is a true mole sauce and it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve attempted in the kitchen. I probably should have made this in an outdoor kitchen, though. I had no choice, but to put my own spin on it as I couldn’t char the chilis the way they need to be charred.

egg color (1 of 1)

Recado negro is the Spanish name for the black sauce of this dish. The Mayans called it chilmole. The word “mole” comes from the Nahuatl word “molli” or “sauce.” This one is made of chilis, thus “chilmole”. Dried chilis are simply charred over a flame or hot coals, then ground with other spices to form a pungent, black paste. The paste is then used as a rub on meats or as a flavoring and a thickening ingredient in sauces. The heat of the recado can be controlled by using hotter or milder chilis. I may have gotten carried away here and threw in some dried chipotles with the chili de arbol. The process of burning chilis produces an acrid smoke so fierce that making recado negro within Mérida city limits has been banned. They often rely on commercial sources. I probably should have too. I’m going to go out on a limb and ban it in my poorly ventilated NYC apartment too. While this dish is phenomenal, ventilation reallllly would have helped.

I had trouble locating a recipe with exact measurements, so mine is an estimation of how much liquid should be boiled, how many chilis should be used and whether they should be dried or fresh roasted. I turned out a delicious approximation of the Mayan classic and transported myself back to where it’s sunny and warm and where remnants of civilizations past inform how we live now.

chili paste (1 of 1)



  • 20 dried chile de arbol
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
  • 5 whole allspice
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 5 large cloves garlic, peeled and charred
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano


  • 1 lb turkey breast (you can also use chicken breast)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • water


  • 1 pound/450g ground beef
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 hard-cooked eggs (separate whites and yolks)
  • 1 raw egg
  • A few sprigs epazote, chopped (You can substitute tarragon here or a tarragon and mint combo if you can’t find epazote in the Latin store)

chili paste1 (1 of 1)


For the recado negro paste:

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a large pot. 

In a skillet over high heat, char the arbol chiles until black on all sides, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and saute the garlic and onions until translucent. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking for 5 minutes. Set aside.

In a blender, blend the charred chiles with the coarse salt, cumin, allspice, cloves, garlic and oregano. Add a little water and blend until a paste forms. Remove from the blender and pour into the pot of boiling water. Add the tomato mixture and the turkey. Let simmer until the turkey is very very tender, about 1-2 hours.

For the boot:

Mix the meat with the garlic, onions and tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the cooked egg whites, raw egg and epazote (If you can’t find this, use mint and tarragon). Form a large meatball with the cooked egg yolks in the middle. Wrap and bind in cheesecloth. Add to the broth during the last hour of cooking the turkey.

Remove the “boot” and unwrap the cheesecloth. Cut into slices. Remove the turkey, and carve. Serve one slice of the “boot” with a few pieces of turkey and spoon over some of the recado negro paste. Eat with tortillas.


lime (1 of 1)

relleno negro (1 of 1)