Ancho chiles, the most commonly used dried capsicum in Mexican cookery, give this thick and earthy dish its characteristic maroon color. The muted red hues of pipián rojo hides its complexity — toasted sesame seeds meld with Mexican herbs and spices to create an intense sauce with a consistency similar to mole.
There are two distinct steps in preparing pollo en pipián rojo. The chicken is first poached in an aromatic broth to season and cook the meat. The red sauce is then created separately. It will be used to poach the chicken a second time.
To make the pipián rojo, the ancho chiles and sesame seeds are toasted and combined with spices and garlic to create a paste. The chicken broth from the first poaching is used to thin the ancho-sesame paste, only to be thickened again to further deepen the flavors of the sauce.
recipe adapted from Diana Kennedy’s Essential Cuisines of Mexico
Chicken in Red Sesame Seed Sauce
Pollo en Pipián Rojo
makes 6 servings
For Simmering the Chicken:
1/2 white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1 Mexican bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
salt, to taste
chicken giblets (optional)
A 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into serving pieces
For the Ancho Chile and Sesame Seed Sauce:
6 Ancho chiles, seeded and deveined (reserve 1 tablespoon of the seeds)
1/2-inch piece of Mexican cinnamon (canela)
3 whole cloves
3/4 cup sesame seeds
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons lard or olive oil
salt, to taste
- If you already have some chicken broth on hand, the red sesame seed sauce can be prepared in advance. Make double batches of the sauce and use it as a condiment for other meats — it will freeze well.
To Simmer the Chicken:
Combine the onion, garlic cloves, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, and salt in a heavy pot. Add the giblets (if using), and cover with water, about 4 to 5 cups. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, then simmer for about 30 minutes.
Add the chicken pieces and cook over low heat for about 25 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces from the pot and set aside. Strain the chicken broth and reserve.
To Prepare the Ancho Chile and Sesame Seed Sauce:
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Toast the ancho chiles lightly by flattening and pressing the chiles for no more than 5 seconds, inside down, using a metal spatula. In a large bowl, cover the chiles with hot water and soak for about 10 minutes.
Toast the reserved ancho chile seeds until golden brown. Set the seeds aside to cool. Once cooled, add the seeds to the cinnamon stick, cloves, and peppercorns in a spice grinder, food processor, or mortar and pestle. Grind the spices to a fine powder.
Toast the sesame seeds until aromatic and lightly browned. Set the seeds aside to cool before grinding to a fine texture.
Transfer the soaked ancho chiles to a blender. Add the garlic clove and 1 cup of the reserved chicken broth. Blend to a smooth puree.
Heat a skillet or saucepan over low heat. Fry the ground seeds and spices over low heat for 3 minutes while constantly stirring.
Add the blended chiles to the fried spices and cook for about 5 minutes while constantly stirring.
Add 2 1/2 to 3 cups of the reserved chicken broth and cook the sauce for about 20 minutes until thickened. Season the ancho chile and sesame seed sauce to taste.
Add the cooked chicken pieces to the ancho chile and sesame seed sauce and heat until the sauce and chicken are heated through. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Serve with warm tortillas.