Thursday, June 30, 2011

CEIMB: Chicken Pepian

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly was another one of my picks! That's one cool thing about being in a blogging group that is a bit on the smaller side; you get to pick the recipe a whole lot more often! I chose to make Chicken Pepian, which I have seen Ellie make at least twice or three times now on her cooking show. I have drooled over this one for far too long; it was time to finally prepare it myself!

These beautiful green gems above are fresh tomatillos, which I absolutely love working with. They are a descendant of the gooseberry (or so I am told by Rachael Ray!), and they kinda sorta taste like a cross between a tomato and a citrus fruit. It's hard to explain, so if you've never tried them and are intrigued, I definitely suggest that you give them a try. We really love them! The tomatillos are used as the base for a yummy green sauce that is first prepared and then used to top boneless, skinless chicken breasts in this dish.

I do have to apologize to my fellow CEIMB-istas for this one, because I didn't realize just how many steps were involved with this recipe until I read through it just before prepping my grocery list. Though the steps are all pretty simple, there are a lot of them and they do take a bit of time. I am happy to say that I think it was worth it, though!

For the actual preparation, I decided to deviate from Ellie's method a bit. Call it laziness, or call it creativity; it was really a little bit of both! I broiled my onions and garlic along with my tomatillos and poblano pepper; it saved me a step in which you sauteed the onion and garlic in a pan. Then, instead of pounding out chicken breasts, I used chicken tenderloins, which of course are much smaller cuts. I put my tenderloins in a Dutch oven, poured all the pepian sauce over top of them, and then baked the whole dish in the oven for about an hour at 350 degrees. I thought the low and slow method would keep the meat moist, and would also ensure that the sauce was bubbly and simmered enough (especially since I had prepared the sauce one day ahead and it was cold from the fridge).

Then, in one final burst of ingenuity, I decided to serve them up two different ways. The first night we ate this, I placed a pile of stone ground tortilla chips beside the chicken and let everyone choose whether they wanted to just eat the chicken straight up, or use the chips to scoop it all up. Either way, you couldn't lose, because this was very, very scrumptious! The second night, I used the chicken and the sauce as a filling for some wraps, and that was super delicious as well.

This sauce was reminiscent of a pesto, since it utilized leafy green herbs, roasted veggies, and pumpkin seeds. However, the flavor was decidedly Southwestern, and there was the barest hint of heat from the poblano and jalapeno. It was nice and zesty, but not overpowering. I'd love to see how this would taste tossed with some pasta, though!

I've provided the full recipe, the way Ellie intended it. You can try it her way or mine; I can only vouch for my method. I'm glad I chose this; it got some very enthusiastic thumbs-up at my house! If you'd like to check out the CEIMB blogroll, click here. Thanks to everybody who cooked with me this week!

Chicken Pepian
adapted from Food Network
makes 4-6 servings

1 lb. fresh tomatillos
1 large poblano pepper (2.5-3 oz.), seeded and chopped into four pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/2 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
5 whole peppercorns
2 whole allspice
1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped, fresh cilantro leaves (plus 1/4 cup more for garnish)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 medium (2-inch) jalapeno pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
Lime wedges

1. Preheat the broiler. Remove papery outer skins from tomatillos, then rinse with warm water to remove some of their natural stickiness. Pat dry, then cut into quarters. Toss tomatillos and the poblano with 2 tsp. of the oil, place on a baking sheet, and broil until charred, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

2. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add pumpkin seeds, peppercorns, allspice, and cumin, and toast until pumpkin seeds are fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside.

3. In the same saute pan, heat 2 tsp. of the oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

4. Place the tomatillos, the poblano, the onions, garlic, 1 cup cilantro, chicken broth, jalapeno pepper, pumpkin seeds, spices, and the salt in a food processor (or blender) and process on high until totally smooth, about 30 seconds.

5. Heat the remaining 2 tsp. oil in a skillet and cook the chicken until browned on both sides and nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Add pepian sauce to the skillet, covering the chicken pieces. Bring to a simmer and cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Serve chicken topped with the sauce and garnished with cilantro and lime wedges.


  1. A super pick Bri. The recipe wasn't time consuming nor complicated. It was perfect for a weeknight meal. We loved it and prepared it with Haddock instead of chicken.

  2. A bit of time? Are you kidding, I had this together and on the table in a half hour, I thought it was great and the taste was absolutely wonderful. Definitely going to find more uses for this sauce! Thanks...was a big hit here! Yours looks great...I just love that shot of all the little tomatillos lined up for their sauna!

  3. Yours looks delicious. I enjoyed your post detailing it.

    I am sorry, I did not join in, this week. I thought it was going to be an easy week but I was busier than I imagined.

    I can't see, to change the name on this post. I closed down that blog and incorporated into Bizzy B. Bakes.

  4. I am really sad to have missed out on this one because it sounds great! As soon as I can find my food processor (hopefully this weekend!!), I am definitely going to make this. Hope you guys have a nice holiday weekend!

  5. Looks giid Bri! Too bad I couldn't get my hands on tomatillos!!!