This dish is a great example of how combining two completely different cultures into one dish can produce a truly special dish.
The cooking of Oaxaca, where this dish originated, remained more intact than other states in Mexico after the Spanish conquest in the 1500s. The Spanish conquistadors took the area with less fighting and less disruption of the economy and food production systems. However, it was the first area of Mexico to experience the mixing of native cooking with European styles. Despite its size, the state of Oaxaca has a rich variety of ingredients- vegetables from the central valley, abundant seafood from the coast, and lush tropical fruits. One of the staples of pre-Hispanic Mexico, along with corn, beans, and chiles, was squash. The seeds of the pumpkin squash, pepitas, could be found everywhere in raw and cooked dishes.
The Spanish Almendrado de Pollo (Chicken in Almond Sauce) become uniquely Mexican when almonds where replaced with local pumpkin seeds. What began as a Mediterranean dish became uniquely Mexican by adapting local ingredients and cooking styles. In this case, the capers and chickens of the Mediterranean, the olive oil, saffron, and almond sauces of the Spanish, and the pumpkin squashes of Mexico’s indigenous Mayans and Aztecs fuse to create a memorable dish.
Pollo en Pipian Mole – Chicken in Pumpkin Seed Sauce
- Food Processor or blender
- Heavy casserole or pot with cover
- ⅛ tsp Saffron threads
- 1½ cups Chicken stock, warmed
- 5 tbsp Vegetable oil
- ¾ cup Hulled pumpkin seed
- 1½ tbsp Olive oil
- 1 small Small onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 cloves Garlic, coarsely chopped
- 1 Crusty roll (3 oz.), sliced thin
- 4 Black peppercorns
- 3 Whole cloves
- 1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick
- ½ tsp Mexican oregano
- 6 oz Capers in Brine, 2 3 oz. jars
- 3½ lb Chicken, 1 cut-up
- Crumble saffron into warm stock to steep a little while.
- Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in medium-size skillet over high heat until almost smoking. Carefully add pumpkin seeds and cook around 30 seconds until puffed with a nutty fragrance. Be extra careful not to overcook or they will become bitter and will ruin the dish. Quickly scoop onto paper towels to drain.
- Add olive oil to same skillet over medium heat until very hot. Add chopped onions and garlic and cook until just wilted, about 3-5 minutes. Add bread slices and cook until golden brown on both sides. Add peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, and oregano. Cook about 2 minutes more until aroma is released. Pour in capers with their brine. Stir well and simmer , uncovered, for 5 minutes over low heat. Add chicken stock and simmer another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool slightly. Pour it into a blender or food processor and process for 30 seconds. Add pumpkin seeds and process another 30 seconds until smooth.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. In a wide heavy skillet, heat remaining 3 tbsp vegetable oil over high heat until rippling. Brown chicken a few pieces at a time, around 3 minutes on each side. Remove to paper towels when browned and continue to brown more pieces until done.
- Place the chicken in a lidded casserole large enough to hold the pieces. Pour sauce over, cover, and bake for 40 minutes. Serve from the casserole with some white rice, beans, and a green vegetable.
- The sauce is also wonderful with grilled fish or over chicken enchiladas.
- 1-2 tbsp of sesame seeds may be added to the toasted pumpkin seeds.
- A chopped jalapeno may be added to the frying onions and garlic to add a little depth to the sauce.