When we first moved to Mexico, we had no plan, after our first two nights staying in a hotel in Merida. We’d be able to find a more permanent place to live, we thought, and two days seemed like plenty of time to square that away. We moved to an apartment in a long-term residential business hotel, where we could pay our rent month-to-month, one block off of Merida’s historic Paseo de Montejo, a wide, tree-lined boulevard lined with mansions left over from the city’s turn-of-the-century hennequin trade.
While we intended to stay in this apartment for just a month, we ended up staying for six. The living was easy, and it proved an easy way to break into full-time life in a foreign country; we had housekeeping every two weeks, were within walking distance of everything, and the friendly, bilingual owners were able to answer many of our questions about our new lives.
Our kitchen in this apartment, a tiny corner filled with popcorn stucco, peeling linoleum countertops, decades-old, barely working faux oak-veneered appliances, and decorated with an oil painting of a six-year-old girl smoking a cigarette, was where we began our first forays into Mexican cooking, the kind of Mexican cooking that actually exists in Mexico. At least twice a week, we would grill and shred chicken breasts, before simmering the meat in pre-packaged Doña María mole verde, and folding it in corn tortillas with plenty of lime juice and habanero salsa. After growing accustomed to ground beef taco salads in edible bowls and bottomless frozen margaritas North of the Border, we were stunned by the new flavors in front of us: bright, tart vegetables, extremely spicy, crunchy habaneros, all softened and mellowed by homemade corn tortillas.
Unlike its much more complicated, labor intensive, 40-ingredient dark auburn cousin, green mole uses a base of peppers and tomatillos, and is thickened with toasted pumpkin seeds, called pepitas. Popular in Puebla, this mole is much fruitier and light, with the tartness of the tomatillos balancing the richly toasted pumpkin seeds wonderfully.
You can use chicken breasts, but I like the different flavors and textures that using both white and dark meat brings. Poaching the chicken is a snap, and is a great technique for cooking chicken until tender, without drying the meat out or making it rubbery. Have your butcher cut it up into eight fryer pieces for you, to make things even easier.
I don’t remove the ribs and seeds from my peppers, but my heat tolerance is fairly high. If you want to dial down the heat in this sauce, remove the ribs and seeds from your peppers.
Pipian Verde (Shredded Chicken with Green Mole)
- 1 whole chicken, 3-4 pounds, cut into eight pieces
- 8 tomatillos, cut into quarters
- 1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
- 4 serrano chiles, seeded or not, according to taste
- 4 poblano chiles, seeded and chopped
- 4 romaine lettuce leaves, chopped
- Handful of fresh cilantro
- Handful of radish leaves
- 3/4 cup toasted ground pumpkin seeds
- 4 cups chicken stock, strained (use storebought, or use stock from the chicken)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a large stockpot over high heat, cover chicken pieces with water. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Bring water to a boil. When water boils, cover pot and remove from heat. Let chicken sit in hot water, off the heat, for one hour.
- While chicken poaches, add tomatillos, onion, garlic, and serrano chiles to a large saucepan, along with two cups of the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, about five minutes.
- Transfer softened vegetables to a blender, and blend until smooth. Add poblanos, lettuce, cilantro, and radish leaves. Blend again, until smooth. Add ground pumpkin seeds, and blend again until smooth.
- Transfer blended sauce back to stockpot. Stir in remaining two cups of chicken stock and simmer over medium heat until sauce darkens and thickens, about 30 minutes.
- While sauce simmers, drain chicken. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove skin and bones. (Bones should pull out easily.) Shred chicken using two forks. To serve, top steamed rice or corn tortillas with shredded chicken, and cover with a ladle of the mole sauce. Top with chopped onions, sliced radish, lime wedges, sliced avocado, and anything else you’d like.