I had never heard of Pipián Rojo, the luxuriouly creamy pumpkin seed sauce of central Mexico, until I took a class in San Miguel de Allende. Made creamy with almonds, sesame seeds and pepitas, and spicy with guajillo chiles , Pipián Rojo with Chicken is also one of the healthiest and most satisfying dishes I learned in cooking school there.
San Miguel is a mecca for artists, both on the street and in the galleries.
I promise not to go on and on about how much I adore San Miguel de Allende, a small city in the mountains north of Mexico City. Or about how the dried chile-based food is both hearty and healthy, and so perfect for adapting to the way we cook and eat in Jackson Hole.
The artichokes in Mexico don't travel very far to market.
Or how a woman named Juanita taught me to make corn tortillas from scratch, and cook them on a traditional comál for breakfast with a tart relish of nopales (cactus paddles) and eggs.
Juanita in the kitchen, giving me a lesson in fresh tortillas.
As you can probably guess, Juanita's tortilla is on the right, mine is on the left.
But I will tell you about the Pipián Rojo de Pepitas de Calabaza y Almendras. Translation: A mole-like sauce of pumpkin seeds and almonds, red with the dried guajillo chiles, and complex with the flavors of sesame, cumin and paprika. I know you will want to have this recipe in your back pocket...for rainy weekends, an upcoming Cinco de Mayo celebration, or to bring you out of a mid-spring cooking rut.
Pipián Rojo served with white rice, Mexican style, which is soaked in warm water and carefully drained, then fried and drained, then steamed. You have to taste it to believe how light and fluffy it is!
Pipián Rojo is not hard to make; in fact the entire dish can be on the table in less than an hour if you cook the chicken ahead of time, or use store-bought chicken broth. Using the same principles I learned when making salsas with Marilau
, the sauce is simmered, blended and strained, then mixed with toasted sesame seeds, almonds, and pumpkin seeds, that have been ground to a powder.
Pumpkin seeds, pepitas in Mexico, are toasted and ground to thicken the sauce.
Dried guajillo or ancho chiles are torn into pieces, and cooked in chicken broth with garlic and onion.
There is a fine line between toasty brown and burnt and bitter when it comes to sesame seeds. I purchased this comal on the street in San Miguel for about 200 pesos.
A smooth sauce is a source of pride for a Mexican cook.
Marilau's sister Andrea in the kitchen.
For my next Pipián Rojo, I plan to sear the duck breast that I have been eyeing in the freezer section of one of our grocery stores. Given the price, I'll need a special occasion. I also envision this sauce atop a roasted pork tenderloin, a fan of seared elk medallions, or a roasted turkey breast.
When traveling in Latin America, I often find streets that bear my maiden name Barranco (almost in this case).
To prepare the dried chiles, take a look at my previous blog post Tres Salsas
. Be careful not to burn the chiles, as they will soften in the broth for less than a minute. Also, ground pumpkin seeds are added separately from the ground almonds and sesame seeds because they also have a tendency to go bitter when cooked at a high heat. Go easy on the heat and your Pipián will be mellow, complex and bright, without a hint of bitterness. Buen provecho.
For a printable version of the recipe, click on the file below it.
Chicken with Pipián Rojo
This recipe is from Marilau, my cooking instructor at the Traditional Mexican Cooking School in San Miguel de Allende. If you travel to San Miguel, I'll hope you stop by and take a few classes from Marilau and her sister Andrea. http://www.marilau.com
To grind the pumpkin seeds, almonds and sesame seeds, I find that a spice grinder/coffee grinder works best. A blender will work in a pinch, but the oils released from the nuts tend to make the the powder stick to the blades.
Serve with rice and a simple salad of avocados and oranges (try this
one). You could even make some fresh corn tortillas (in your abundant free time), or head down to the local tortilléria for some hot off the comál.
On a spicy scale of 1-5, I'd give this dish a 2.5. For more heat, add an additional guajillo chile, or throw in a few seeds from one of the chiles.
for the chicken
- 1 whole chicken, cut up, bone-in and skin on
- 1/2 medium white onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon marjoram
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- water to cover, about 6 cups
for the Pipián Rojo sauce
- 6 guajillo chiles or 3 ancho chiles, seeded, deveined and torn into pieces
- 1 thick slice white onion
- 3 large garlic cloves, halved
- 1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil (I had some duck fat in the freezer and that worked well)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted and ground
- 1/4 cup almonds, toasted and ground
- 2/3 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and ground
- 5-6 cups chicken broth (from cooking the chicken)
- salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
- Place the chicken pieces in a large sturdy pot and cover with water. Add onion, garlic cloves, bay leaf, salt, marjoram, thyme.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to barely a simmer. Cook over low heat for about one hour.
- Remove the chicken pieces and set aside. Strain the sauce over a fine mesh sieve and set aside.
- Prepare the chiles as previously described (cut off the stem and open them with scissors, carefully remove all seeds and veins, and tear into pieces).
- Sauté onion and garlic in a large saucepan in 1 tablespoon of lard or vegetable oil until translucent. Add chiles and gently sauté just until soft, less than a minute. (If you overdo it, they will turn bitter).
- Add 2 cups chicken broth (from boiling the chicken), cumin, paprika, and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
- While the sauce is simmering, prepare the nuts and seeds. First toast the pumpkin seeds in a skillet over low heat until they just start to pop. Removed from heat and set aside.
- Toast almonds in the same skillet until barely brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Toast sesame seeds until they just start to pop and are toasty brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Using a spice/coffee grinder, a food processor or a blender, grind the pumpkin seeds to a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Place the sesame seeds together with the almonds in the blender and grind until they are powdery. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. (Keep separate from the pumpkin seed powder).
- Once the chiles and broth have simmered for 15 minutes, place all into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour over a fine mesh sieve back into the same pot.
- Bring back to a boil with another cup of chicken broth.
- Whisk in the almond/sesame powders, and cook over low heat for 8 minutes.
- Whisk in the pumpkin seed powder, and the rest of the chicken broth, about 3 1/2 cups.
- Bring back to a boil then reduce heat and cook gently until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.
- Taste for salt. Remove half the sauce and reheat the chicken pieces in the pot. Use the extra sauce on the side, or for another dish. Reheat very gently.
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A cauldron of chorizo at a local market in San Miguel de Allende.
San Miguel is a magical place at night.