Pipian is a specialty of central Mexico, especially the states of Puebla and Mexico. Restaurants in Mexico seem to feature more duck on their menus in the last few years, although the native muscovy duck was domesticated and eaten in pre-Hispanic times. I have adapted my recipe for pipian verde, which I learned to cook in Puebla with chicken, to use with the duck breasts so widely available in supermarkets now, but it may be made using chicken if preferred.
- 2 whole duck breasts
- 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, without hulls
- 8 medium-size tomatillos
- ½ medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 2-4 serrano chiles, depending on degree of heat desired (seeds removed for less heat)
- 4 cups good chicken or duck stock
- 2 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 4 romaine lettuce leaves
- 4 sprigs cilantro
- 2 sprigs epazote (use parsley if epazote is unavailable)
- 2 tablespoons reserved duck fat (or vegetable oil if desired)
Score or pierce the duck breast skin without piercing the flesh. Heat a lightly oiled oven-proof skillet and place the duck breasts in it, skin side down, and sear the skin. Turn breasts skin up, place skillet in a 350 F degree oven and roast until done. Internal temperature of breasts should register 155 F degrees on a meat thermometer. Remove from oven, cover and set aside to keep warm. Reserve rendered duck fat.
Meanwhile, prepare the pipian sauce: On a hot, dry griddle or comal, toast the pumpkin seeds until they “pop” taking care not to scorch them. Allow to cool. Grind in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle or a molcajete. Set aside.
Place the tomatillos, onion, garlic and serranos in a medium saucepan with 2 cups of the chicken broth, bring to a boil and simmer until the tomatillos become soft. Allow to cool and transfer the tomatillo mixture, with its liquid, to a blender along with the poblanos and lettuce. Puree until smooth. Add the pumpkin seeds, cilantro and epazote and puree again. The mixture should be as smooth as possible.
Heat the duck fat in a large, heavy saucepan or cazuela and add the blended ingredients. Cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes, add the remaining 2 cups of broth and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning or sticking. Taste for salt.
For an elegant presentation, slice the duck breasts, spoon some sauce onto each plate and fan the slices over the sauce. For a more traditional presentation, cut the duck breasts into quarters and serve in bowls with the sauce ladled on top.