For Your Next Party: The Black Course

black course, short rib in grape leaf, mole

the black course:
negra modelo beer braised beef short rib with chile de arbol
wrapped in a grape leaf with oaxacan black mole sauce
black mission figs, shiitake mushrooms

crispy grape leaf chip, sesame ash, black sesame seed, cacao nibs

Of the seven courses we served at our fundraiser dinner, the black course is my creative favorite. I looked to Mexican cuisine experts – Chefs Rick Bayless, Patricia Quintana, and Javier Plascencia for inspiration. I learned about making sesame ash while Guest-Chef-for-the-Day at Moto Restaurant in Chicago last January and had been wanting to try Chef Homaro Cantu’s modernist technique in a dish ever since.  What appears to be ash is black sesame seed oil converted into a powder. It serves visual interest as well as a flavor complement to the sesame seed in the mole.

oaxacan mole, short rib in grape leaf

Rick Bayless’ Beer Braised Short Ribs with Arbol Chile and Shiitake recipe was our guide for cooking the bone-in organic beef short ribs. The March 2012 issue of Sunset magazine showcased a Short Rib Wrapped in Fig Leaf recipe by Javier Plascencia of Tijuana, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the Top Chef Korean Food Challenge in 2011. Sunset’s recipe uses store-bought mole which we did try, but were not completely satisfied, so we turned to Patricia Quintana’s indispensable classic cookbook The Taste of Mexico for help with the Oaxacan Black Mole.

While not complicated, there were many steps in the making of the mole, but it was definitely worth the time and effort. It required a trip to a Mexican supermercado for the ingredient list. Plascencia’s fig leaf wrap, while edible, is typically only used to encase foods. We replaced the fig leaf with the more tender, fragrant grape leaf and served a crisp grape leaf chip with the dish. Bitter cacao nibs and sweet black mission figs add contrasting textures and play on the flavors in the Oaxacan mole.

fried grape leaves, grape leaf chip

Oaxacan Black Mole with Black Mission Figs

mole ingredients

Three days before the party I woke up very early, excited to make mole. Called the Bestway Supermercado, “¿A qué hora abren?” “A las siete.” Great, I was there at 7 with this shopping list in hand:

  • 1 sweet roll (pan dulce)
  • 3 oz. raw almonds, skinned
  • 3 oz. raw peanuts
  • 4 oz. sesame seeds
  • 2 plantains
  • 2 white onions
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 10 chiles chihuacles
  • 4 chiles chipotles
  • 10 black chiles pasillas
  • 1 t. dried anise seed (anis grano)
  • 2 T. whole allspice (pimienta dulce)
  • 1 t. black peppercorns (pimienta entera)
  • 4 plum tomatoes
  • 4 tortillas
  • 2 qt. chicken broth
  • 4 oz. Mexican chocolate (containing cinnamon)
  • black mission figs

fried plantain
Chef Quintana uses lard in her recipe. I replaced lard with vegetable oil. First the sweet roll is fried in oil then set aside. In the same pan, the almonds, peanuts and sesame seeds are toasted in a bit of oil. Next the plantain is fried. These are all put into a food processor and blended with enough chicken stock to blend smoothly.

whole allspice
Whole allspice, anise, and black peppercorns are toasted separately then ground in a spice mill. Add the spices to the plantain mixture, then set aside.

roasted tomato, onion, garlic
Meanwhile, sliced onions and tomatoes are drizzled with oil, salt & pepper, roasted at 425°F until half-way charred. Garlic cloves are then added later so as not to burn. Continue to cook until the onions are nicely charred.

chipotle, pasilla, chihuacles
Dried chiles are rinsed twice in water. Since they are sun-dried on the ground, they are dusty and dirty. The chiles are then de-stemmed and seeded (OK to leave a few seeds behind).

grilled dried chiles
The chiles are the roasted briefly, taking care not to burn. They will puff and reconstitute slightly. The chiles are then placed in a large bowl and covered with hot water. After 20 minutes the chile-water is drained and reserved. Blend the chiles and onion mixture in a food processor.

charred tortillas
Char tortillas over an open flame. Add the tortillas to the chile mixture with enough of the chile-water to blend smoothly.

oaxacan mole with black mission figs

Place a bit more oil in a heavy saucepan and add the plantain mixture and fry over low heat until the fat rises to the surface. Stir in the chile mixture. Continue to cook, stirring constantly. Add chocolate and salt to taste. Add chicken broth to achieve the correct consistency. Lastly, add black mission figs. Let cool and refrigerate until ready to re-heat.

Braised Short Ribs with Arbol Chiles & Shiitakes

beer braised short ribs a la rick bayless

We cooked the short ribs the night before the party. And made enough extra for our dinner that night, served with rice and beans. The fundraiser dinner had 16 guests, so all these recipes make enough for 16+. This is now our favorite short rib recipe. Here’s why:

  • 16 arbol chiles
  • 16+ pieces bone-in organic beef short ribs, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 white onions, sliced
  • 32+ shiitake caps, whole and de-stemmed
  • 4 c. negra modelo beer
  • 4 c. beef broth
  • 2 heads garlic, cut in half across the center
  • fresh thyme springs
  • 2 cans fire roasted dice tomatoes in juice

toasted arbol chiles

Break the chiles in half, removing the stems. Shake out the seeds. Sauté in hot olive oil until the chiles are dark brown and aromatic. Remove chiles, leaving oil in the pan to brown the meat.

browning short ribs of beef

Brown the meat on all sides, taking care not to crowd. We use 3 pans to brown the meat. Remove ribs to a rimmed baking sheet.

negra modelo

Divide the onion and add it to the three oven-proof pots or Dutch ovens. Cook onion until golden, then add the shiitake. Cook for a few more minutes, then add beer and broth.

Add garlic, thyme, and toasted arbol chiles plus salt and pepper.

short ribs
Nestle the ribs along with their juices into the braising liquid. Cover and cook in a 325°F oven for approx. 2 1/2 hours until the ribs are fork tender.

bayless braised short ribs arbol chiles
Remove garlic and thyme. Let cool then refrigerate over night.

Grape Leaf Chips

grape leaves chips
Grape Leaf Chips are surprisingly good! Fan of dolmades will love these crispy flavorful “chips.” Brined grape leaves are drained and rinsed, then patted dry. Lay the leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush both sides with olive oil, making sure to completely cover the leaf with a very light film of oil. Bake at 425°F for only 2 to 3 minutes until the leaves become crispy. Sprinkle lightly with fine sea salt.

Sesame Ash

sesame seed ash

  • 150 g roasted black sesame seed
  • 75 g grapeseed oil
  • 50 g toasted sesame oil

Roasted black sesame seeds are placed in a blender with the oil and a pinch of salt then pureed to make a black oil. Tapioca maltodextrin is mixed by hand with the black oil until a powder is formed. For finer ash, press the mixture through a sieve.

The Black Course Compostion

Remove bone and excess fat from the short ribs. Let the meat come to room temperature. Drain, rinse, and pat dry the brined grape leaves. Overlap two or three leaves on a work surface. Place the meat and two shiitake caps in the middle of the leaves. Wrap the leaves into a bundle.

grape leaves bundles

Place the bundles seam-side-down in a baking dish. Add a splash of beef broth to the dish. Brush leaves with olive oil. Bake at 325°F until the meat is heated through. Meanwhile, re-heat the mole sauce on the stovetop, stirring occasionally. When ready to serve, remove figs from the mole and slice lengthwise.

short rib with mole, grape leaf

Place a grape leaf chip in the center of the plate. Place the hot short rib bundle on top of the chip, seam-side-up. Open the bundle and ladle mole over the meat. Surround the grape leaf with figs, sesame ash, cacao nibs, and black sesame seeds.

This organic meat is super-tender, while the grape leaf – crisp, the mole – complex and spicy, the figs – sweet, the cacao nibs – slightly bitter and mildly chocolate-y, the sesame ash – simultaneously tasty and curious…Our guests were delighted, I hope you are too.

11 thoughts on “For Your Next Party: The Black Course”

  1. Knowing the incredible taste of this course, and the tremendous amount of prep time that went into it, I can’t wait to see how you write it up for Lazaro Cooks.

  2. Lori.. you are amazing and you use flavors I have never dreamed about! I do love a good beer braised rib.. but the elements you combined with it are so intriguing. This sounds delish!!

    I am so excited for all the guest chef spots you have taken part in over the past years.. I remember your Charlie Trotter post and how excited I was for you. I’d love to stand next to Michael Chiarello in his Napa kitchen. 🙂 You are an inspiration! Still wish I could get out to your home restaurant up in S.P. 🙂

    1. Hi Laurie – thank you, gosh, we go back a while, my blog will turn 5 next month! I’ve been fortunate to be a guest chef in some awesome kitchens, thank to my generous brother. I hope you get to cook with Chiarello! We love him too.

  3. Hey LL!
    I loved the preview of this pic you sent me, and now I am excited to try this in my kitchen! Experimenting with my dessert presentation has me inspired to venture into the modernist approach a bit more.

    1. Hi Debi – The modernist approach is fun! Turning oil into power is one of the easiest techniques. I’m still practicing others, like the molecular egg…

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