Claudia Sandoval's Number One Trick For Mastering Mole - Exclusive

So you want to master mole. Let's start at the beginning: First and foremost, it takes commitment. Don't listen to those cooking shows that trick you into thinking this specialty dish is a 15-minute-over-and-done-with deal. "That's not really mole," said "MasterChef" winner Claudia Sandoval in an exclusive interview with Mashed. "My mole is about 37 ingredients," she explained. "It takes me three days to get through the majority of just processing the ingredients, not even getting it all together. Toasting, frying, separating, [and] cleaning all of the ingredients ... it's a three-day process." 

Not every mole will have 37 ingredients. You can find versions with less. Then again, legend has it that the first-ever mole poblano needed 100 ingredients — which is close to the mole served by Enrique Olvera (who you might recognize from "Final Table" or "Chef's Table") at his iconic Mexico City restaurant, Pujol. "The biggest thing is balance," Sandoval told Mashed. "And I know that sounds silly when you're talking about that many ingredients, but as you continue to learn, as you continue to make mole, the more you make, the more you're going to feel, 'Oh, I need to take it back a little bit on the sesame seeds. And I need a little bit more plátano maduro [ripe plantains], or I need more cacao beans, or I need more raisins, or I need more tomato or whatever.'"

Suffice it to say: This is not the one-night stand nor is it the weekend fling of the sauce world. Mole is a multi-generational love story and one that needs time.

Claudia Sandoval says that mole 'is a labor of love'

According to Claudia Sandoval, the single key to making mole is — there is no shortcut. "My biggest advice to anybody [reading]," she said, "is that mole is a labor of love. You cannot rush the process."

The other piece of advice that the "MasterChef: Latino" judge has is to make your mole a reflection of yourself. "[It] really what you want to make it. It's really your opportunity to create something that speaks to you, to who you are, and to what you like," Sandoval said. "There are over 300 types of moles, and all of them are different. So don't try to limit yourself to, 'Oh, well, this isn't like the mole that I tried in Puebla or Oaxaca or Guatemala,' or wherever." For a "fruit-forward" option, go with a recipe that celebrates bananas and mangoes, said Sandoval. For one that celebrates herbs, try a green, parsley-infused variety.

"I think mole is a dance, and mole is a thing of balance, and it's really about finding your voice through your sauce," Sandoval concluded. "And yes, it's a labor of love and you have to be patient, but have faith."

Follow Claudia Sandoval as she discovers how the food from border towns — from San Diego, California to South Padre Island, Texas — showcase a blending of flavors and cultures from the U.S. and Mexico as well as other unexpected influences. All episodes of "Taste of the Border" are now available on Discovery+.