CHOCOLATE COVERED CHICKEN!
By Dennis Linden
Roasted chicken slathered in a rich and spicy chocolate mole sauce is the centerpiece of a complete dinner menu, compliments of Steve Fruchter, a veteran member of Melissa’s Sales Team. Mole is a family of thick sauces that have been prepared throughout the Oaxaca and Puebla regions of Mexico for centuries. These sauces are characterized by a complex flavor derived traditionally from various blends of dried chile, spices, and seasonings. Steve takes this concept to another level with his own original version of this sauce, very appropriately, for our September Associate Guest Recipe.
“I picked my Chicken Mole recipe in honor of Mexican Independence Day and September being Hispanic Heritage Month,” Steve explained. “For years I had been using a store-bought brand of mole paste condiment. One day, after Googling a few recipes to get a grasp of the basic ingredients, I decided to try making this sauce from scratch using dried chile peppers, oil, garlic, sesame seeds, spices, and a three forms of chocolate products. Admittedly, I surprised myself — it was sooo very good! I think what puts this sauce over the top is Melissa’s Organic Cocoa Nibs. Enjoy!”
While chocolate was not on the earliest of mole ingredient lists, cocoa powder did evolve into a standard ingredient in later versions of the sauce as conquering Spanish as well as Caribbean/African cuisines influenced mole sauce recipes. Surprising, however, Steve’s addition of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is actually historically accurate based on the earliest of moles in which ground peanuts were used as a thickener!
This is really quite a simple sauce to construct. Actually, the whole meal is easy and fun to prepare, especially if you enjoy the challenge of a multiple-dish meal that needs to be hot and ready all at once. So, put on some music, pour a glass of whatever, and have at it! For the sauce, and star of the plate, half of the ingredients are first puréed in a blender; then, the second half are combined with that purée and simmered to a desired thickness. The resulting sauce is then poured over chicken and baked. Since we all know what they say about idle hands, Steve provides two side dishes to stay busy during the chicken bake time. One tip/reminder: Chocolate is sugar and can burn – after 30 minutes in the oven start keeping a close watch over the chicken bake. The mole sauce should be a dark brown, not blackened, which can happen quickly — so pay attention.
Steve Fruchter has been a member of Melissa’s Sales Team for 24 years. The group of regular customers he deals with weekly operate in various sectors of the fresh produce distribution system: retailers, wholesalers, and club stores, in locations across the country. His years with the company give Steve an encyclopedic knowledge of Melissa’s seasonally fresh and processed-from-fresh products that the company offers. Steve suggests items from Melissa’s extensive product portfolio depending on each of his customers’ distinctive business profiles and marketing approaches to the seasonal harvests throughout the year.
“My cumulative expertise on the thousands of products Melissa’s offers is key,” replied Steve when asked to explain his role in the company. “Our product categories are so diverse, ranging from staple produce items to the exotic, Asian, Hispanic, tropical and plant-based – fresh, dried, packaged and jarred. It could overwhelm a customer, so I act as kind of a guide or docent for our product lists. Our products are so interesting but frequently require an explanation to marketers who haven’t heard of many of them. So, I enjoy the challenge of describing the characteristics of unique produce, how it is used, and why carrying an item will help their businesses — especially to “gate-keeper” type merchandisers afraid to carry a product they think won’t sell or deem too expensive. It’s a matter of moving the focus away from the “price arena” (a race to the bottom) and toward the “value-added arena” — expand the grocery basket, increase the register ring.”
After a day of tutoring his customers on the sales potential of Rambutans and Buddha Hand, Steve says he likes to clear his head with either a daily swim or jog depending on the weather. He also does some impressive backyard gardening that includes Blood Oranges and Meyer Lemons (grafted on the same tree), Passion Fruit, Loquat, Basil, Mint, Bell Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers, and Blackberries. The bounty feeds (no pun) Steve’s primary passion, cooking. In fact, that first-hand knowledge of Melissa’s products in his own kitchen comes in handy in his day job!
“I love to experiment with recipes using Melissa’s products. I like many styles of cooking including BBQ, Cajun, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Mexican, Italian, Middle Eastern, Hawaiian, and infusing two or more styles into a single dish. While it certainly gives me first-hand experience that helps with customer presentations, I cook because I love it. The Food Channel has inspired many of my cooking ideas and the test of success is my 25-year-old picky eater son and roommate, Tyler!”
This year, due to the pandemic, Steve’s annual tropical vacation of snorkeling, kayaking and surfing was reduced to a quick get-a-way to Santa Barbara for a winery tour. In fact, many of his favorite activities; going to movie theaters, dancing, live music, and performing arts plays, also had to be put on hold until the health crisis has passed.
When asked if he could invite one famous person, living or from history, to share his table of Chicken Mole, Steve did not hesitate. “Varian Fry, without a doubt. During WWII he set up an operation to rescue over 2,000 Jewish people trapped in France in 13 months. An American journalist and non-Jew himself, his photo takes up a whole wall in a room at the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum called, Rescuers. The organization he set up, the International Rescue Committee, continues to help people in distress around the world. I would love to have Varian Fry at my table, just to shake his hand and to talk about his compassionate deeds over dinner.”
By Steve Fruchter
2 cups water
3 Don Enrique® Whole Dried Ancho Peppers, seeds & stems removed
1 TBS. Melissa’s Organic Cocoa Nibs
2 tsp. Melissa’s Minced Garlic, divided
1 TBS. sesame seeds
1 tsp. Don Enrique® Ground Cumin
1 tsp. Don Enrique® Ground Cloves
1 tsp. ground Annatto Chile Pepper [aka Achote Molido]
1 oz. milk chocolate
1 ½ oz. Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Bar
2 TBS. olive oil
4 chicken leg quarters, trimmed
1 cup brown jasmine rice
¼ lb. fresh broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb. green beans
1-15 oz. can black beans, no salt
1 tsp. Melissa’s Ground Hatch Chile Powder
1 tsp. Cajun spice
4 oz. shredded white cheese (optional garnish]
Cut whole Ancho peppers into small pieces, then boil with cocoa nibs and half the chopped garlic in water for about 5 minutes, then transfer to blender and blend.
Return from blender back to pot, adding in sesame seeds, all dried ingredients, chocolates, oil, and simmer on low until desired texture.
Arrange chicken leg quarters in Pyrex casserole dish and pour sauce over chicken. Cook @ 350°F for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Cook rice according to directions and add in broccoli ¾’s of the way through cooking. Blanch the green beans, then sauté in oil with remaining garlic. Combine black beans with Hatch Powder & Cajun spice, then heat in microwave.
Plating: Serve one chicken quarter and a portion of sautéed green beans, make a crater in the middle of a serving of rice and fill with black beans, then top with cheese, if desired.