“This dish has probably changed very little in the centuries since Fr. Sahagun sampled a version of it from one of the big earthenware ollas (pots) in the main marketplace of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital of Mexico and the site of modern Mexico City. From his writings one gathers he found it good indeed.”
–Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz (The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking)
So reads Ortiz’s brief introduction to this fabulous dish. Although I cherish every whisper of flavour text in these vintage cookbooks, I do also wish at times that they delved a little deeper. But, I suppose that’s the mystery food bloggers like me are there to unravel.
A pipian is a type of sauce in Mexico that differs from a mole in that it’s primary defining characteristic is the type of seed or nut used in the sauce as opposed to the chiles of mole sauces. In this case, that seed is a sesame seed in a red ancho chile sauce. However, Ortiz provides a good deal of variations in her book as well that interchange red and green sauces with pumpkin and sesame seeds.
However, what Ortiz fails to mention here is that sesame seeds were only introduced to Mexico in the 16th century with the arrival of the Spaniards. Whereas the traditional pumpkin seeds actually originate in Mexico and have been dated back as far as 7000BC. The ‘Fr. Sahagun’ Ortiz references is, in fact, a Spanish Franciscan Friar named Bernardino de Sahagun who wrote the famous Florentine Codex in the late 16th century otherwise known as The General History of the Things of the New Spain. Lauded as one of the extensive accounts of a non-Western culture in history. The quotation I believe she is referencing is this one:
The lords also ate many kinds of casseroles;…one kind of casserole of fowl made in their fashion, with red chile and with tomatoes, and ground squash seeds, a dish which is now called pipian.Sahagun 1982: 463-464 (qtd in “America’s First Cuisines by Sophie D. Coe)
To block out a little timeline here. The Spanish arrive in Mexico by 1519. Sahagun works on his manuscript between 1545-1590. Somewhere in that timeframe sesame seeds are introduced into the agriculture and culinary traditions of Mexico. Therefore, if Sahagun ever did try this variant with sesame seeds in his time it would be a the akin to contemporary fusion cuisine today. This quotation also alludes to the notion that this dish is a royal luxury not marketplace street food.
Nevertheless, this dish, utilizing the rich earthy flavours of sesame, really spoke to me. And, I suppose, by 1967 sesame seeds were common fare in the market vendors or Mexico. Another fine example of why Ortiz’s triumphant The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking won the James Beard Award in 1968.
6 dry ancho
1 chicken cut into servings
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup sesame seeds
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sprig of epazote
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp oil
- Rehydrated chiles in hot water.
- Poach chicken in chicken stock for 45 minutes.\
- Remove chicken. Strain stock and reserve.
- Grind sesame seeds or pulverize in blender or food processor.
- In a food processor: blend chiles, onion, garlic, epazote, tomatoes, clove, cinnamon. (In parts if necessary.)
- Cook sesame puree in oil for a few minutes and then add sauce.
- Cook for 5 minutes, adding enough chicken stock to reach consistency of heavy cream.
- Season with salt and pepper. Add a pinch of sugar.
- Add chicken (de-boned if preferred) and cook together for 10 minutes.