Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pipián de Gallina: Chicken in Pipián Sauce

There's something kind of cosmic about preparing a recipe that is hundreds of years old, one that has traveled the span of time essentially unchanged by the millions of hands that have prepared it. I'd guess such a recipe remains consistent because it is a) simple and b) so good it doesn't need any embellishment.

So it is with Pipián Sauce (or pipián verde, as it is sometimes called), a grand and ancient dish from deep within the Mexican culture consisting primarily of pumpkin or squash seeds, some masa flour, garlic, red chiles and a little lard. It doesn't sound like much, does it? Ah, but the flavor it lends to any other dish it graces will never be forgotten.

The pipián itself is more of a paste than what we normally think of as a sauce, good enough to eat by itself, rubbed on meats before they are seared or roasted, served over meats after they've been cooked, or thinned in a broth as it is in this recipe.

Though pipián is often paired with a tomatillo salsa for extra flavor and enhanced texture (it is usually called Mole Verde when fixed that way), the following recipe is authentic, the old plain one with no added ingredients to spin it off in a different direction. Sometimes old things are the best, and this is one of those times.

Serves 6

  • 1 whole chicken, cut up into pieces
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 2 parsley sprigs
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 4 black peppercorns
The Pipián Sauce:
  • 1/2 lb. hulled untoasted pumpkin or squash seeds (you can often find them in bulk at your local supermarket)
  • 1/4 cup masa flour
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 large dried red chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 TB lard (manteca), or vegetable oil

Simmer the chicken with the water, vegetables and seasonings in a large saucepan until tender. Strain into a large bowl, reserving the broth. Skin and bone the chicken, and set aside.

Rinse the chiles, slit one side and remove the seeds, then chop them coarsely. In a heavy fry pan, brown the masa, pumpkin seeds, chiles and garlic all together in the lard or oil for about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly. When the seeds are done they will have popped and look rounder. They should look nicely browned but not burnt! Remove the mixture from the skillet and let cool. Grind together well into a paste, or use a blender if you prefer. This will be thick; if you use a blender you may want to add about 1/2 cup of the reserved chicken broth to thin it a bit.

Pour the pipián sauce into the pot that was used for cooking the chicken. Stir in the reserved chicken broth a bit at a time until all the broth is used and it is well blended. Bring it just to a boil, then reduce heat to let it simmer and thicken for about 20 minutes. (The color will be a greenish brown) Add the cut-up chicken, simmer for 5 or 10 minutes more. Ladle into bowls and serve hot with a side of warm flour torillas.

Now about the authenticity thing, it's true that individual cooks will often give this dish their own stamp by adding things like cardamom, anise, and other ingredients, or fewer or more chiles depending on taste. Some modern recipes adulterate it by using sesame seeds and almonds in place of the pumpkin/squash seeds.

Go with the original, the grand and ancient pipián-- at least the first time you make it. You'll know right away why the recipe has lasted so long!

Buen provecho!

If you have a favorite recipe for a Mexican or Mexican-inspired dish, I'd love to add it to our recipe box! email (and put "recipe" in the subject box so I'll know what it's about)


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