Monday, September 24, 2012

Pipian Verde de Pollo

To celebrate the Autumn Equinox I decided I wanted to make a feast from Mexico: One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless, a cookbook I got last Yule. It's full of delicious-sounding traditional Mexican foods, but a lot of the entrees seem a bit time-consuming to make and best saved for special occasions. One of these days I'd love to make turkey mole, for instance, but this time around I decided to make Pipian Verde de Pollo, using some of the pepitas I still have saved from the great cushaw squash harvest of 2010.

I ended up with three quart mason jars full of seeds once all my squash were cut up and pureed. I searched and searched for a way to get the hulls off, with no luck. I did find instructions saying to crack the seeds with a rolling pin or mallet and then drop them into water, and the hulls should float while the rest of the seed sinks. That didn't work. Most of the seeds just got split in half, with the meat staying inside the seed.

Finally I gave up. On page 223, Rick Bayless says unhulled seeds can be used, though he prefers hulled seeds. Yes, but that defeats the point of using my own homegrown seeds!

Here are my homegrown seeds toasted. They really smelled good, and started making popping noises. It occurred to me that maybe the seeds would be easier to de-hull if they were toasted. Maybe the toasting makes the seed pull away from the seed coat better. Except I tried peeling a couple of them and it was still very difficult. There's got to be some trick to this!

Bayless says you are supposed to blend everything up in a blender, but I decided to use my food processor first to grind up the seeds as finely as I could (besides, my blender was already being used to puree the tortilla soup). This is my result. It had a lot of flecks of ground up seed hull with it. At this point I realized it would probably be best if I strained the sauce to get the hulls out, so I ground up about 2 cups of seed instead of the 1 1/4 cups the recipe called for, to make up for the volume lost by straining.

I then pureed the tomatillo, onion, garlic, herbs, and chiles (I used Lemon Drops from my garden) in the food processor, mixed them with the ground up pumpkin seeds and chicken stock, and then simmered them for 20 minutes like the recipe said. I tasted it after the simmering, and it had a delicious flavor, but sure enough, there were those tough, fibrous shards of hull floating around in the sauce. Those had to go.

After straining the sauce, I was alarmed at how much volume was left behind in the strainer, even after lots of scraping and pushing through the mesh. Good thing I put extra pumpkin seeds in. There's got to be an easier way to do this. I did end up with a lovely smooth, creamy sauce when done, with plenty of nutty pumpkin seed flavor.

Another change I made to the recipe was that Bayless cooks the chicken (he uses six skinless bone-in chicken breasts), along with some zucchini and chayote squash separately, and then adds them to the sauce. I used one cut-up whole chicken (free range of course), and calabacitas for the squash. It sounded like a lot of trouble to cook everything separately, so I browned the skinned chicken pieces in a pot, and then added the squash and the pipian and braised them in the sauce until done. This is similar to the technique he uses with his turkey mole, so I don't know why he has it different with the chicken.

Here is the result. I served the chicken and squash with his arroz blanco, which is like a rice pilaf with lime juice, and some fried plantains. Tortilla soup was the first course, and for dessert we had his Mexican chocolate strudel cake, which is one of his "contemporary" recipes.

It was very good, and this recipe uses a lot of things I can grow myself: garlic, thyme, marjoram, bay leaves, epazote, pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, chiles, and cilantro. That's just about everything besides the chicken and olive oil, though the chicken was still locally raised.

Now if I could just figure out how to get the hulls off the pumpkin seeds so I could save myself a lot of trouble straining.

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