The Dad Special

This Mole Chicken Enchiladas Recipe Is Sure To Become A Family Favorite

Chef Oscar Padilla’s recipe is time-consuming, but boy is the end result worth it.

Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Richard Sandoval Hospitality

When he was a young boy growing up in Mexico City, Chef Oscar Padilla watched his grandmother perform magic. Armed with a metate, molcajete, and simmering pot, she’d transform toasted nuts, chocolates, dried chiles, and dozens of other simple ingredients into a rich, flavorful mole. She knew how to make more than 60 different versions of the sauce — from Oaxacan mole coloradito to mole negro made with ash — and different enchiladas with each kind.

“We are talking about 60 different enchiladas,” says Padilla. “That is amazing.”

Padilla’s grandmother was his first cooking instructor and he looked forward to the mornings when she would tell him, “Today you are cooking with me.” His first job was a fun one, smasher. With a tejolote (pestle) and a molcajete (mortar) he would smash together salsas of jalapeños, roasted tomatoes, onions, cilantro and salt. Eventually he graduated to the more refined work of enchilada and mole making. His grandfather cooked frequently as well and often made dishes from Spain, Germany, France, and Portugal (“My friends thought it was weird that I liked stinky French cheese,” he says). Most importantly, however, both grandparents showed him “how to make food with love and share it with everyone around the table.”

In Padilla’s life, there has always been a push and a pull between international food and traditional Mexican cooking. It’s a duality that’s served him well. Currently the Executive Chef of the acclaimed pan-Latin restaurant Toro in Denver, Padilla’s menu features eclectic Peruvian, Spanish and Colombian dishes that his grandfather would enjoy. But when he cooks for his wife and two kids — Miranda (11) and Emilio (15) — he reverts back to the traditional Mexican dishes he learned from his abuelita. In particular, he loves preparing mole enchiladas.

Padilla was a line cook at The Club De Banqueros de Mexico in his hometown of Mexico City for eight years when the award-winning chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval met him, sized him up, and asked him to come to New York to open his restaurant, Maya. This opportunity led to experiences in Sandoval’s famed kitchens worldwide. Padilla traveled from New York to Dubai, Qatar, Costa Rica, Chicago, and Miami, opening 15 restaurant concepts in 10 years.

The adventure, the food, and the exposure to new culinary worlds were exciting, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. His children were one and five years old when it all began. As Padilla traveled the globe, he found himself away for seven or eight months at a time. His wife had to put her career on hold, and he didn’t have time to build solid relationships with his kids, let alone pass on culinary traditions.

Finally, Padilla told Sandoval he needed a break, not from work, but from travel. Sandoval understood and a few years ago moved Padilla to Denver and positioned him at Toro.

Now Padilla is home, and he devotes every weekend to his family. He describes his son Emilio as a “little genius” (“he loves computers, video games, and technology”) and lovingly refers to his daughter Miranda, who adores animals and dinosaurs, as a “chipmunk” (“she’s always asking questions: What can I do? What can I discover? What can I create?”)

At the house, Padilla, a self-declared homebody, likes to grill marshmallows, read comic books, watch cartoons, and play Hot Wheels with his kids (his personal miniature car collection is bigger than theirs). Often, the whole family takes food adventures around Denver. Sometimes they look for the best pizza or Miranda’s favorite, oysters.

“She is the biggest fan of raw oysters I know,” says Padilla. “She usually orders a dozen with lime and salt.” Emilio, he says, is more carnivorous. “He orders his steak rare or medium rare.”

In the home kitchen, Padilla is finally passing on the culinary traditions that are so important to him. Miranda and Emilio aren’t quite ready to make mole yet, he says. But while he does that, they prepare the enchilada assembly line: they shred chicken and cheese and stack the tortillas. When everything is ready, Padilla says, “I take the tortilla, my daughter puts the chicken in the middle, I'm rolling, I put in on the plate and cover it with mole, and my son adds the cheese.”

It’s a family activity that makes Padilla proud.

“What I inherited from my grandparents is so important. I want to transfer those feelings, that love, and those traditions, to my kids,” says Padilla. “It’s important for me to share all these tools, all these secrets. And hopefully, in the coming generation, my grandson and their grandchildren receive the same love and the same passion.”

Chef Oscar Padilla’s Enchiladas De Mole Colaradito Recipe

(Makes two servings)

Richard Sandoval Hospitality.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mole coloradito*
  • 1 cup picadillo **
  • 1 Tbsp. chile oil
  • 2 Tbsp. sour cream
  • 1 purple radish, shaved
  • ½ red onion, shaved
  • 1 Tbsp.. cilantro, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. cotija cheese
  • 3 corn tortillas
  • 1 Tbsp. blended oil

Directions

Put the oil in a hot pan and, one by one, fry the corn tortilla for 20 seconds on each side until soft and able to be rolled. Remove the tortilla from the hot pan and stuff the inside with the hot picadillo mix. Begin to roll the tortilla until you have three stuffed tortillas and they are side by side in the center of the plate. Heat up the mole and spoon it over the top, coating the tortillas. Garnish with the rest of the ingredients, saving the crumbled cotija cheese for last.

*For The Mole Coloradito

(Makes roughly 7 cups of sauce)

While the reward of fresh mole is well worth the effort of making it from scratch, Padilla understands that the time, technique, ingredients, and patience required can make it hard to tackle for many people. His grandmother is now 90 and she buys mole pastes from Oaxaca that you reconstitute with broth. While homemade mole pastes from Oaxaca are hard to come by, he recommends Doña Maria in a pinch. If you have the time though, this recipe pays off

Ingredients

  • 4 ancho chilis, seeds and veins removed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup bread, toasted
  • 3 tomatoes, peeled
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • ½ Tbsp. dry oregano
  • 1 clove
  • 1 tsp. whole black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • ½ Tbsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable fat
  • 1 Tbsp. blended oil

Directions

In a pot add the chili and water then cover. Let it come to a boil for about 10 minutes and then drain and reserve the chiles. In a pan add the oil and garlic and let it cook till it's golden and soft (essentially, you’re confiting the garlic). Reserve.

Add all of the ingredients into the blender, save for the vegetable fat and 1 cup of the chicken stock. Blend it until you have a soft, homogeneous sauce. Pass the sauce through a thick chinois or strainer.

In a hot pot add the vegetable fat until it begins to smoke. Then add the mix from the blender and let it cook for five minutes on medium-high heat. Add the remaining stock and let it reduce on a low heat for about 15 minutes. Cool it down and reserve.

**For The Picadillo

(Makes roughly 5 ¼ cups of filling)

Ingredients

  • 1lb. of ground chicken meat
  • ¾ lb. chorizo
  • 1 Tbsp. pork fat
  • 1 ½ cups plantain, dice and fried
  • 1 cup of diced red onion
  • 1 cup of diced tomato
  • 2 Tbsp. smoked chipotle
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 Tbsp. roasted garlic
  • 1 ½ cups sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt

Place water, tomato, onion, garlic, salt, and chipotle in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Strain the paste through a fine chinois or strainer and reserve.

In a hot pot add the pork fat. Once it begins to smoke, add the chorizo and let it cook for about five minutes, stirring to ensure it doesn’t burn. Add the ground chicken and cook it until all the liquid evaporates. Add the almonds and plantains and mix with the blended liquid. Place a pan on the heat and cook the mixture for 15 to 20 minutes on a low fire then cool it down and reserve.