[Note, this thread was split from a discussion of where to find Turkey in Mole in Chicago at: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/46833... -- The Chowhound Team].
Yes, turkey is quite common, and is featured not just in the famous elaborate festive moles of Puebla or Oaxaca but also in simpler, rustic versions that might be called mole corriente or mole ranchero. In specific ethnic communities, turkey in mole is referred to with such local names as totolmole or totoltlakuali. Beyond mole, turkey might also be used in various types of pepian and adobo (the ingredients list of such recipes would have "chicken OR turkey" as alternate possibilities). Turkey of course spans recorded history-from Hernan Cortes' account of the great market of Tenochtitlan (in his letters to Carlos V) to the meticulous catalogues of Sahagun through the recetarios antiguos that have come down to us through the centuries. In the famous Nuevo Cocinero Mexicano en forma de Diccionario of 1888 (published in Paris), there is a long list of possible dishes made with turkey: both "Mexican" as well as "European".
A recent trip (2007) to Tehuacan (Puebla) to observe the renowned annual mass-massacre of goats (the Matanzas de Tehuacan) took me very close to some of those towns that not just keep the ancient tradition of turkey in mole but eat this (virtually) on an everyday basis. I had the opportunity to try the famous mole of Miahuatlan, made with the distinctive, local chile miahuateco (there is an account of this mole and of this chile in Diana Kennedy's My Mexico) as well as that of Ajalpan nearby which is sharper, less sweet and which I prefer. These are moles that are still prepared the painstaking traditional way, in massive earthenware cazuelas (or "moleras"), each chile and spice carefully toasted and ground and added in its own time. These moles are not necessarily available everyday (since the whole process of preparing the mole is so time-consuming) but neither are they merely fiesta fare. They can be enjoyed at least once a week at humble food stalls of the weekly markets (Wed in Ajalpan, Sunday in Miahuatlan) of these towns. The price for a portion (which always includes the requisite black beans spooned on top) is certainly not beyond the reach of the poorest peasant.
In little villages throughout Mexico, it is not uncommon to see turkeys gobbling about freely. There is an image in Diana Kennedy in the piece on mole miahuateco mentioned above of a little boy sent out to bring back a turkey and coming back with a bird seemingly bigger than its captor. And this brings us to two different possible explanations of why turkey is so rarely used in Mexican dishes in the US and why, if a restaurant wanted to put forward what they think might be perceived as a more "upscale" version of a mole that tradtionally takes bird, they would turn to cornish game hens instead of working with turkey.
First of all, there is the question of size. A whole turkey renders 20, perhaps up to 30 portions, and that might be hard to justify even in the most bustling restaurant. Then there is the question of taste. Bland American supermarket turkeys raised and slaughtered in industrial conditions taste nothing like those free-range Mexican birds, which are closer to what we today call heirloom varieties. These turkeys tend to be scrawnier and tend to have tougher but more flavorful meat which might have even a hint of something gamey to it.
But there is another issue. And that is the status of the famous mole poblano (mole of the city of Puebla) as an iconic, so-called "national" dish. During a period of Nation-building, mole poblano was promoted to represent a simplified, homogenized vision of what the national cuisine is (or should be). A series of attendant myths (the famous story of the "invention" of the mole poblano for the nuns of the convent of Sta. Rosa) emerged and was carefully cultivated. We might say, following the Mexican writer Roger Bartra, that these were legitimizing mechanisms that emerged to shape the national Imaginary. In our own postmodern times (with its special feel for heterogeneity, microregional affirmations, forgotten discourses), there is a sense that such dishes as mole poblano or the chile en nogada (with its vaunting of national colors) have more than just a whiff of something "confected" about them, something of a codified stereotype (we might say "entelequia artificial" after Bartra). This is why we find older accounts of mole poblano (say the Latin America volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series) a little quaint today-a little out of touch. This is not to say that this mole or the chile en nogada do not have an origin in indigenous culinary practices (for instance in the marvellous array of stuffed chile dishes that could be found throughout the country); but these seem to have become tokens that now resound with a little hollowness. There is story that remains to be written about the ascendance of this particular turkey in mole: we would trace it from the moment of its acceptance by the gentry (a moment marked perhaps by the legend of its "invention" or elaboration by the nuns?) to its widespread use to pander to tourists. As "high" symbols, these seem to have very little to do with the rich messy multiple realities of immigrant lives and this may be why people today tend to steer away from it-as they do those other tired old constructs and stereotypes (that of the "pelado", that of the Mexican "macho" etc) that used to define Mexicanidad.
Anyway, here's a hilarious little thing I found on the web that seems to echo the above:
It's a campy manifesto (of sorts) from this website:
hemos matado el
guajolote del famoso "Mole de Guajolote" que German List Arzuvide transformó en grito patriótico, nacionalista, irreverente, poético descacofonicado y de rima inexistente. Ya que creemos que cada época proclama y exclama su propio grito estandarte.
Ya no vitoriaremos "Viva el Mole de Guajolote", sino:
"Viva el Mole Miahuateco"
acompañado de otros gritos de fragor regional como:
"Viva el Pulque de San Felipe, los Tempestistles del Valle, las Memelas de Coapan, los Esquites Esquineros de Tehuacán, el Lapo y el Colhecho de San Sebastian"
No más mole de guajolote - poblano y negro, dulce y ahora prefabricado.
Ahora sólo mole miahuateco, de un rojo caoba profundo, picante, orgánico, natural y en compañía de los compadres, padrinos, amigos, cuadernos, los contratados sonideros y varios galones de pulque sin curar con tamales de fijol, arroz colorado, tortillas recien hechas y un montón de ajonjolí.
"Muera el Mole de Guajolote Poblano"
"Viva el Mole Miahuateco"
(sic: should be Arzubide and tempestquixtles)
Translation of key phrase:
no more mole de guajolote, that "poblano" stuff: black, sweet, today prefabricated.
Today we call for the mole miahuateco, of a rich mahogany red etc etc