This Mexican chicken recipe, Pollo en Pipian Verde, or Chicken in Pumpkin Seed Sauce, combines tomatillos, chilies, and nuts and seeds in a delicious sauce to make a hearty meal.
Traveling and Cooking
The recipe is from a cooking class I took on a trip to San Miguel de Allende (SMA), Mexico. I had wanted to go to SMA for years because I had heard about the art scene there. Being happily food obsessed, whenever I travel, I seek out cooking classes that offer instruction in making dishes of the region. I found the Marilau School for a cooking class. One of the recipes we learned to make was Chicken in Pumpkin Seed Sauce, or Pollo en Pipian Verde, which was described as a dish that would be made in a middle class home in central Mexico.
Rules of Traditional Cuisine
We learned a lot about Columbian vs. pre-Columbian (before the Spaniards came) cuisine, and talked about each individual ingredient, what region it would have come from, and the proper use of chilies. According to Maria, who chef owner the school, the base of this sauce is from pre-Colombian Mexico. It is to be used with chicken, pork, fish, or rabbit, NOT goat, lamb, or beef. We also learned some rules of chilies, and according to Maria, dishes that use fresh chilies and dry chilies are basically two different cuisines. Her three rules were:
1) Never mix two types of fresh chilies
2) Never mix dry and fresh chilies; only mix dry chilies with other varieties of dry chilies
3) Never remove the veins or seeds to control heat, just use less chilies for less spicey-ness.
While I may or may not have broken some of these rules in my cooking and eating lifetime, I appreciated the perspective of these strict rules, as they are what helps carry on the traditions of a culture’s cuisine.
I was also struck by the non-European cooking methods that were used while learning this recipe. The meat is NOT cooked in the sauce, aromatics are NOT sauteed first, these methods are all a part of the cuisine as well.
Make This Dish When You Have Some Time
At first glance, this recipe may seem like a lot of work. It takes a few steps, but the outcome is totally worth it. Take some time on the weekend to make it; this dish makes enough for the chicken in the recipe and at least one other dish.
Chicken in Pumpkin Seed Sauce (Pollo en Pipian Verde)
Don’t be intimidated by the long ingredient list in this recipe. Once everything is prepped, it comes together quickly, and the results are totally worth it. This dish is not spicy, but absolutely full of flavor.
For the Chicken Broth
- 6 bone-in chicken thighs, about 3 pounds (you can choose skin-on or skinless)
- 8 cups water
- ½ medium white onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 celery stick
For the Sauce
- 8 large tomatillos, a little over 1 pound, outer husk removed, rinsed and quartered
- ⅓ cup diced white onion
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 1 serrano chile, stem cut off but seeds and veins left intact
- 5 small lettuce leaves, about 2 cups roughly chopped
- 1 cup chicken broth (that you made)
- 2 Tablespoons lard or refined expeller pressed coconut oil**
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 day-old corn tortilla, fried until golden and crispy
- 2 Tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted and ground
- ¼ cup unsalted peanuts, ground
- ¾ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and ground
- 2-3 cups chicken broth
To Cook chicken and make broth*:
Boil chicken thighs with water, onion, garlic, and celery for about 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken and reserve. Strain broth and keep warm in a pot on the stove. Discard onion, garlic, and celery.
For the Sauce
Put tomatillos, diced onion, garlic cloves, serrano chile, lettuce leaves, and 1 cup chicken broth (that you made) into a blender. Blend until smooth.
In a large deep frying pan, heat lard or coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add contents of blender and fry for 5 minutes. Add black pepper, cloves, cumin, and ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1 cup chicken broth. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Contents of pan should be somewhere between a simmer and a hard boil. Cook for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. During this 25 minutes add one more cup of broth.
Grind fried tortilla in a food processor into small pieces, almost to a powder, and add to simmering sauce. Stir to combine. Add ground sesame seeds and peanuts, add another ½ cup chicken stock, and cook for another 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, add ground pumpkin seeds, and whisk sauce to smooth out any lumps. Any ½ cup chicken broth if sauce is overly thick. You want a medium consistency that pours easily. Season to taste with salt, I used another ½ teaspoon.
Place cooked chicken pieces in a serving dish, and spoon warm sauce over liberally. Serve with warm tortillas.