Pipian, An Ancient Heritage Recipe

Pasilla chiles were common in open air markets like this during the 1930s, but this recipe goes back much further in time.
Pasilla chiles were common in open air markets like this during the 1930s, but this recipe goes back much further in time.

Chicken In Red Pipian Sauce

Pipian sauces are both flavored and thickened by seeds and can probably be classified as the earliest moles.  This Mayan recipe uses pepitas (pumpkin seeds) as its base, but if they are not available, nuts such as almonds can be substituted.  Although this recipe has not changed much since pre-Columbian times, I advise pureeing the sauce in a blender rather than by hand in a molcajete.  Serving Suggestions: Serve with black beans, baked pumpkin, chopped tomatoes with cilantro, and corn tortillas.

1 large ancho chile, stem and seeds removed
2 pasilla chiles, stems and seeds removed
4 chicken breasts
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup chopped onions**
3 cloves garlic, chopped**
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large tomato, peeled and seeded
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon**
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon achiote* (optional)

In a pot, cover the chicken with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the chicken is tender, skimming off any foam that rises.  Remove the chicken and reserve the broth.
Soak the chiles in a cup of the chicken broth to soften.
Toast the pumpkin seeds on a hot skillet, stirring constantly until browned, being careful that they do not burn.  Grind the seeds to a fine powder.
Saute the onions and garlic in the oil until softened.
Combine the chiles along with the broth they were soaking in, pumpkin seeds, tomato, cinnamon, allspice, onion mixture, and achiote in a blender and puree until smooth.  Use more of the chicken broth to thin if necessary.
Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes.  Add the chicken and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: MIld
*Achiote, the red seeds of the annatto tree, are used as a seasoning and to impart a yellow coloring.  They are available in Latin markets.
**Onions, garlic, and cinnamon are post-Columbian ingredients.


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AboutDave Dewitt

Dave is known in the media as "The Pope of Peppers" because of the 36 books he's written on chile peppers and spicy food around the world. He's also co-producer of the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show and editor and publisher of the Fiery Foods & Barbecue SuperSite at His latest book, with chile breeder Dr. Paul Bosland, is The Complete Chile Pepper Book.

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