Traditional Mexican Chicken Recipe (Pollo en Pipian Verde)
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
In the class, 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, chef-owner of 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; traditional 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.
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.
- ½ medium white onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 stalk celery
- 6 chicken thighs, bone-in, about 3 pounds (you can choose skin-on or skinless)
- 8 cups water
- ⅓ medium white onion
- 1 serrano chile
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 5 small lettuce leaves
- 8 large tomatillos, a little over 1 pound, outer husk removed, rinsed and quartered
- 1 cup chicken broth (that you made)
- 2 Tablespoons lard or refined expeller pressed coconut oil**
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 day-old corn tortilla
- 2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
- ¼ cup unsalted peanuts
- ¾ cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- 2-3 cups chicken broth (that you made)
Roughly chop onion, garlic, and celery.
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.
Dice onion. Remove stem from serrano chile but leave veins and seeds intact. Peel garlic. Roughly chop lettuce leaves.
Put tomatillos, diced onion, serrano chile, garlic cloves, chopped 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 another cup of 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.
Fry day-old tortilla until golden and crispy. Toast sesame seeds and grind in a mortar and pestle or small spice grinder (I use a coffee grinder that is dedicated for spices ONLY). Grind peanuts. Toast and grind pumpkin seeds.
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.
To reheat, simmer sauce gently, DO NOT BOIL.
*If you prefer to use store-bought broth and skip the "make broth" step, cook the chicken thighs by baking at 400°F for 40 minutes. Be mindful of the amount of salt you add to the sauce if using store-bought stock, as it will already have salt added. You may also use cooked pork or seafood with this sauce.
**Coconut oil that has been refined and expeller pressed yields a odorless and tasteless product, ideal for this dish. Cold pressed, unrefined coconut oil is also available, but would add a strong coconut flavor to this dish. Be sure to read the label when buying coconut oil.