Thickened with red chiles and toasted pecans, this pipián rojo—a classic Mexican sauce that’s often compared to, though distinct from, mole—is a comforting, deeply satisfying dish inspired by recipes from my mother and grandmother. Spicy, nutty, and slightly sweet, this style of pipián is common in northern Mexico and in south and central Texas. It’s also a reminder of the pecan trees my dad grew as a hobby when I was younger. We had just four acres south of Austin where he planted 50 pecan trees from Texas stock; I remember walking through the fields of trees just before Thanksgiving to taste and harvest the pecans for making my mom’s signature pecan pie. While the seeds and nuts used in pipián vary by recipe (you’ll often see pumpkin seeds or even almonds), I used pecans as a tribute to my dad and his orchard. —Rick Martinez
Test Kitchen Notes
WE MAKE OUR BOURBON CAREFULLY, PLEASE ENJOY IT THAT WAY.
MAKER’S MARK 46® KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKY BARREL FINISHED WITH 10 VIRGIN FRENCH OAK STAVES. 47% Alc./Vol. ©2022 MAKER’S MARK DISTILLERY, INC. LORETTO, KY. —The Editors
Watch This Recipe
Pollo en Pipián Rojo de Nuez
pecans, coarsely chopped
chiles guajillos, stemmed and seeded
chiles de árbol
(1-inch) piece canela or cinnamon stick
rendered lard, bacon fat, or extra-virgin olive oil
skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
medium white onion, chopped
medium tomatillo, sliced
garlic cloves, crushed
kosher salt, plus more to taste
grated piloncillo or dark brown sugar
homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
Cooked rice (for serving)
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Arrange pecans in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 8 minutes (the pecans will not be fully toasted). Add the guajillos, chiles de árbol, canela, cloves, sesame seeds, and cumin to the baking sheet and continue toasting until the chiles and spices are very fragrant, about 5 minutes more. Let cool on the baking sheet.
- Heat lard in a Dutch oven on medium-high and cook the chicken thighs, skin-side down, until a deep golden-brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Flip the chicken, add the onion, tomatillo, and garlic and season with 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Cook, stirring the vegetables occasionally, until the onion begins to brown and the chicken is golden-brown on the second side, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Reserve ¼ cup toasted pecans for garnish and set aside until ready to use. Add remaining pecans, guajillos, chiles de árbol, canela, cloves, sesame seeds, cumin, piloncillo, and chicken stock to the Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 30 to 45 minutes. Transfer chicken to a platter and loosely cover with foil or plastic wrap.
- Working in batches, carefully transfer the stewed chile mixture (and all spices) to a blender and puree, starting on low and gradually increasing speed, until completely smooth. Repeat with the remaining chile mixture and transfer back to the Dutch oven or clean saucepan. The pipián should be the consistency of a gravy. If it is too thin, cook over medium heat until reduced and thickened, about 5 to 10 minutes; if too thick, whisk in stock or water in ¼-cup increments until desired consistency is reached. Season with salt, to taste.
- Arrange chicken on a serving platter and ladle the pipián over top. Sprinkle with reserved chopped, toasted pecans and serve with rice alongside.
Rick Martinez is currently living his dream—cooking, eating and enjoying the Mexican Pacific coast in Mazatlán. He is finishing his first cookbook, Under the Papaya Tree, food from the seven regions of Mexico and loved traveling the country so much, he decided to buy a house on the beach. He is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit, New York Times and hosts live, weekly cooking classes for Food Network Kitchens. Earlier this year, he was nominated for a James Beard Award for “How to win the Cookie Swap” in Bon Appétit’s holiday issue.