Slow-cooked Pork in Northwest Mole Sauce

Image of a single serving of Pork served with baked polenta and mole It's been a busy month and I've been cooking up a storm. Now it's time to blog about some of this!
When friends from Washington were visiting, I made pork in mole (pronounced mo-lay) sauce but I had try it with a northwest spin. I've been working on my mole sauce for a long time but this one turned out nice and it was simpler than most I've tried. The slow-cooker takes a lot of the work out of it.

Mole sauce, while complex, isn't all that tough to make and it gets better with time. A quick check online will produce more recipes than I imagined but there are some ingredients that stay the same; nuts, chile peppers, and something sweet are the basic 3 but there's room for creativity every step of the way.
For this recipe I used Oregon hazelnuts instead of almonds (or peanuts) as the chief thickener. I used dates instead of raisins and sunflower seeds instead of sesame.

Even the pork was a northwest original. I chose fresh pork that's sustainably raised and fed with GMO-free feed. In this case, it came from Tails & Trotters, noted for finishing the feeding process with hazelnuts. How perfect is that? Many thanks to Mike Wooley, from Long's Meat Market, for working with me. Most butchers are used to questions about the quality of the meat, and they routinely work with the size of each piece (they had to fit in the slow cooker) but he didn't miss a beat when I told him that it needed it to be photogenic, too.

I gave this one a 'difficult' rating but it's not hard to do, just complex. There's a lot of tasting as you go and it helps to know what you like. If you've never made mole before, consider this one a worthwhile adventure in the kitchen.

Time: 1 hour prep 6-8 hours total
Yield: Serves 10
Level: Difficult

Fresh pork from Tail & Trotters
3 large fresh pork shanks (approx 10lbs), bone-in. Have your butcher cut them into 9 or 10 equal sized pieces.
1 1/2 cups canned plum tomatoes, with juice
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (1 can if you're using canned)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4-9 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded (4 = mild sauce 9 = spicy)
1-2 large chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and approximately 1 tablespoon of sauce for each pepper
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted
1/4 cup sunflower seeds plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
1 cinnamon stick
5 dates, chopped
2 ounces Mexican or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick
salt and pepper to taste

Image of browning the pork before is goes in the slow-cooker.A food processor will make quick work of this recipe but you can use a blender and blend a third of the ingredients at a time. The sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead but it's not necessary.

Prepare the slow-cooker by coating with a thin coat of olive oil and the juice of the tomatoes.

On high heat, brown the pork pieces with olive oil and place in the crock pot, cover and set to highest setting.

Steeping Ancho chiles and cinnamon.
In a small sauce pan bring 1 cup water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the dried ancho chiles and cinnamon stick. Let this steep for approximately 30-45 minutes. Remove the chiles, discard the cinnamon stick and reserve the water.

In a fry pan, toast the nuts and seeds until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

In the food processor, grind the nuts and seeds until smooth - almost a paste. Add the onions, garlic, dates and the chopped chipotle chiles as well as the cooled (stemmed and seeded) ancho chiles. Pulse until all ingredients are incorporated. Use the reserved chile water - sparingly - if you feel the need to add liquid in order to incorporate all of the ingredients. When you add the tomatoes it will get thinner. Add the chopped tomatoes, chocolate, oil, cumin, salt and pepper. The mixture should be a thick paste. If it's not you have some choices. You may reduce it in a sauce pan, add a roux of flour, or grind more nuts and seeds to thicken. 

Everything in the Slow-cooker for 4-8 hoursAdd the mole mixture and broth to slow cooker, cover, and cook on high until pork is tender, about 4 hours. If you are not serving it after 4 hours, reduce heat to low and continue for up to 8 hours. The pork will fall away from the bone.

I served this on sliced, baked polenta and garnished with sunflower seeds.


  1. Do you have the recipe for the baked polenta? I live in Portland, so I'll probably check out the tails & trotters shop. I've never heard of them, as I live on the west side of Portland. Great recipe by the way! I'm not a big fan of sunflower seeds, so I think I'd use sesame seeds instead. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. Thanks for writing, Maelui. When I bake polenta I just cook it according to the directions and then press it evenly into a greased pan, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Bake it for about 20 minutes. It doesn't get brown so you'll want to check it. Once the surface of the polenta has formed a delicate crust, let it cool and remove from the pan. I usually cut it into triangles. You can also use the prepared polenta, the kind that's sold in a round plastic sleeve, cut it into rounds and place directly onto a baking sheet. Enjoy!