Taking a cue from the divinely complex Mexican molé sauce, I devised a dry rub using its most essential ingredients: sweet and spicy chile, cumin and oregano. As an experiment inspired by the lump of unsweetened chocolate often added to molés, I added cocoa powder; it provides a chocolatey undercurrent that mellows the chili and pepper and gives the rub an unusually resonant flavor.

This fragrant, molé-esque rub is incredibly versatile and can quickly transform simple foods. It is wonderful on roast or grilled pork, lamb or chicken; meaty fish like swordfish, salmon and tuna; roasted or grilled Portobello mushrooms, potatoes, onions and bell peppers; fried and deviled eggs; to doctor up cooked red or black beans or pot roast; or lend a thrilling note to commercial ketchup. It is sensational on ribs and pork chops. Here’s a testimonial from a reader: “It is really a secret weapon recipe – people think I’m a genius and they purr with pleasure.”

Food 52
Food 52

To use the rub as a coating, you will need 2 to 3 teaspoons per 6-ounce serving.  Sprinkle over all sides and rub lightly. Alternatively, your can sprinkle the powder on a plate and dredge the food in it, shaking off the excess as you would flour. Let dry a minute or so before cooking; rub with oil to prevent sticking.

You can also use the rub marinate meats and poultry up to 2 days, covered and refrigerated.   The salt and sugar will tenderize them slightly by drawing out some of the liquid. Be sure to blot any excess moisture on the food with paper towels. If you are going to grill or broil the food, rub it lightly with a little olive oil to prevent sticking. This is not necessary if you are going to pan fry it.

Recipe: Fragrant Molé Rub

Makes a scant 1/3 cup

1 tablespoon Ancho Chile Powder, bought or homemade (see recipe, below)
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoons salt

In a small jar, combine all ingredients. Store in a tightly sealed jar away from light for up to 3 months.


Recipe: Ancho Chile Powder

Ancho chiles – dried poblano peppers – have a mild sweet flavor with a slight spiciness that compliments many foods. I find myself using this essence frequently as a dry rub for pan seared and grilled meats and poultry and as a seasoning when I want an underlying sweet chile flavor . It is great for sprinkling cheese crisps, crusting duck, beef and pork, and on deviled eggs.

Yields 1/3 cup

3 dried ancho chiles, 1/2 ounce each

Break the chiles apart with your fingers. Remove the stems and seeds. If the chiles are still pliable, dry them in a warm oven (200′ ) for about 1 hour until they are very brittle.

Transfer the chiles to a blender or spice grinder. Blend at high-speed at least 1 minute until you have the finest possible powder. Let the mixture settle for about 30 seconds before removing the blender cover, so the fine powder does not fly into the air. Use a dry pastry brush to brush the powder into a strainer set over a clean, dry container.   Strain out the larger bits and blend them again.

Store in a tightly sealed jar away from light for up to 3 months.




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2 replies on “Secret Weapon: Ancho Chile, Cocoa + Cinnamon Molé Rub

  1. I have been using this rub ever since I got “The Improvisational Cook” and it is really a secret weapon recipe – people think I’m a genius and they purr with pleasure. I always make extra when I use this rub, so I’ll have leftovers – and I never get any leftovers. People can’t seem to stop eating . . .

    I’ve used smoked paprika because I couldn’t find the ancho chile powder – but I can find the chilies – I’ll try them next.

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