Though an almost identical dish of chicken in creamy-textured, nutty, herby pumpkin seed sauce will be called mole verde in much of Central (and other parts of) Mexico, in Puebla it is pipián. Celebrating the fresh greenness of all things herbal (cilantro, lettuce, even the easy-to-find bitey leaves of radishes), as well as sprightly green chilies, there’s an honest simplicity here that is very appealing. A typical mole verde made with tomatillos and numerous spices (like the one I detailed in Authentic Mexican) is rich, complex and very satisfying; but on a recent trip to Puebla I was struck again with the perfect balance of this very easy sauce. My version is based on the one in Comida poblana, one of the gastronomic guides published by the magazine Mèxico Desconocido. (I added the spicy, herby radish leaves to the pot, since they are commonly used in moles verdes and pipiánes verdes.)
Adding some blanched vegetables (like cubed zucchini and chayote or green beans) to the sauce just before returning the chicken to the pot will give a nice variety and completeness.
You Will Need
1 large white onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt, about 1 1/2 teaspoons
1 good-size (3-pound) chicken, cut into quarters
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
A generous 1 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) hulled pumpkinseeds (pepitas)
12 large sprigs cilantro, roughly chopped, plus a few extra sprigs for garnish
3 small romaine leaves, roughly chopped
2 large radish leaves, roughly chopped
Hot green chilies to taste (roughly 3 serranos or 2 small jalapeños), stemmed and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1. The chicken: In a large (6-quart) pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add half of the onion and garlic, all the carrot, 1 teaspoon of the salt and the chicken back (if you’re lucky enough to have a separated one), neck, heart and giblets. Skim off any foam that rises after a minute or two, partially cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Add the dark meat quarters, skim again after a couple of minutes, then add the bay, thyme and marjoram, partially cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the breast quarters, skim when the liquid returns to the simmer, partially cover and cook 13 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the chicken cool for a few minutes in the broth. Remove the breast and leg quarters from the broth and set aside. Strain the broth, discarding the solids, and spoon off any fat that rises to the top.
2. The pumpkin seeds: In a large (10-to 12-inch), heavy skillet set over medium heat, spread out the pumpkinseeds and toast, stirring regularly, until all have popped (from flat to rounded) and turned golden (no darker); once they start popping, the whole process shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes. Spread out on a plate to cool; reserve a couple of tablespoons for garnish.
3. The sauce: In a blender, combine the cooled pumpkinseeds with the remaining half of the onion and garlic, the cilantro, romaine, radish leaves and green chiles. Add 1 1/2 cups of the chicken broth and blend to a smooth puree. Heat the oil in a large (4-quart), heavy saucepan over medium. Add the puree and stir constantly until very thick, about 10 minutes. Stir in 2 cups of the broth (you’ll have about 4 cups broth left over for soup or another sauce), partially cover and simmer 20 minutes; the sauce will look coarse at this point.
4. Scrape the sauce into a blender, loosely cover and blend to a smooth puree; if necessary add a little extra broth (or water) to give the sauce a medium consistency. Rinse your saucepan, return the blended sauce to it, taste and season with salt, usually a 1/2 teaspoon. Add the chicken and warm (but don’t bring to a simmer) over medium-low heat, about 10 minutes.
5. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a warm serving platter, then ladle the sauce over and around it, decorate with the reserved pumpkinseeds and cilantro sprigs, and it’s ready to serve.
Advance preparation: The dish can be prepared a couple of days ahead: store poached chicken and sauce separately, covered and refrigerated. Heat the chicken and sauce together on the stove top just before serving.
Variations and improvisations: The sauce can be made separately and used for very rich and delicious enchiladas (try them filled with crab meat or shredded grtilled chicken), or for vegetables (see recipe on page 000). It is good with grilled poultry or pork, or with practically any grilled seafood (especially salmon, squid and scallops).
Serves 4, with about 5 cups sauce (so you’ll have leftovers for another round of chicken or for enchiladas or vegetables)
For more pumpkin recipes from Rick Bayless, check out:
Chilled Peanuts and Pumpkin Seeds
Smoky Braised Mexican Pumpkin
Avocado-Mango Salad with Fresh (or Blue) Cheese, Bacon and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds