You have to love a recipe that marries not two but three great green Mexican flavors: Tangy tomatillos, cilantro and un-hulled green pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitos. This recipe from Saveur’s keeper Mexico issue might not exactly wow you with its appearance, or the number of steps involved (you will have to do dishes). But trust me. You’ll love the result, which is creamy, nutty and just the tiniest bit spicy all at the same time. Serve with warm tortillas for wrapping or dipping, or Mexican rice.
Chicken with Pumpkin-Seed Tomatillo Sauce
3- to 4-pound whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
4 serrano chilies, stemmed
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 medium white onions, cut into quarters
1 pound tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro
4 large leaves romaine lettuce, roughly chopped
1 1/3 cups raw, un-hulled pumpkin seeds (available at Mexgrocer.com)
1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup canola oil
Bring chicken and 8 cups water to a boil in a 4-quart saucepan over high heat, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until cooked through, about 45 minutes. Drain, reserving 5 cups cooking liquid, and keep warm. (I peeled the skin off the chicken.)
Heat a 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add chilies, garlic and onions, and cook, turning as needed, until all vegetables are charred all over, about 15 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a blender and set aside. Place tomatillos in a 4-quart saucepan, and cover with water; bring to a boil, and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, and transfer to blender along with cilantro and lettuce, and process all vegetables until smooth, at least 2 minutes. Pour puree through a fine strainer into a bowl, and set aside.
Wipe skillet clean and return to medium-high heat. Add pumpkin seeds and peanuts, and cook, swirling pan often, until nuts are lightly toasted, about 5 minutes; transfer to a blender, and return skillet to heat. (I reserved a tablespoon for a crunchy garnish.) Add sesame seeds, and cook, swirling pan often, until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to blender along with 3 cups reserved cooking liquid, and purée until smooth, at least 2 minutes; set aside.
Return saucepan to medium-high heat, and add oil. When hot, add vegetable and nut purées, and fry, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining cooking liquid, and cook until smooth, about 5 minutes more. Spoon the sauce over chicken to serve. Sprinkle with reserved pumpkin seeds. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
– Saveur, August 2012