Duck in Green Pumpkin-Seed Sauce (Pipián Verde con Pato)

>> Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This interesting duckling in pumpkin-seed sauce recipe is from central Mexico. It reminds us that pumpkins and other squashes are New World foods, and indigenous people used the pulp and seeds for many different purposes. Nowadays, we mostly think of Jack-O-Lanterns, pumpkin pie, and salted seeds when we think of pumpkins, but the husked seeds are often used in Mexican foods. Another version of the pipián sauce is red, and uses sesame seeds instead of the little hulled pumpkin seeds called pepitas.

Fall is duck-hunting time in Mexico, too. Many species of duck fly to the Southwestern US and into Mexico when the weather gets cold up north. If you're not a hunter, don't have any duck-hunting friends, and you can't find any duckling in the store, any kind of poultry will work well for this recipe. However, the richness of duck breast is especially delicious with the creamy and slightly spicy pumpkin seed sauce.

We turned down the heat in the original recipe from Guanajuato, a state in central Mexico where Angela's ex-mother-in-law lived. Add more serrano peppers if you like.


1 5-lb duck
1 tbsp oil

Pipián sauce

8 medium tomatillos (about the size of a plum)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds, plus 2 tbsp for topping
1/2 cup white sesame seeds
3 tbsp oil
1/2 cup onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
1 tbsp Mexican oregano, minced
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 serrano peppers, seeded and chopped


Cut the duck into quarters and pierce the skin all over with a fork. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Fry the quarters, skin side down, until nicely browned (do this in batches if the pieces don't brown easily). Don't turn over the pieces; the fatty skin side will get nice and crispy this way. Once the skin side is browned, drain off the rendered fat and put a lid on the pan. Cook the duck for 40 minutes, or until the meat is tender.

Meanwhile, peel the husks off the tomatillos and scrub off the sticky sap. Cut them into quarters and cover them with 3 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until soft. Allow to cool.

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in another pan, and toast the sesame seeds until they are golden brown. Pour the seeds into a blender. Heat the rest of the oil and toast the pumpkin seeds until slightly browned and fragrant. Set aside 2 tbsp for the topping, and place the rest in the blender.

Add the garlic, black pepper, cilantro, oregano, and serrano peppers to the blender. Pour in the tomatillos and the broth used to cook the tomatillos. Blend until smooth.

Heat the last 1 tbsp of oil in a saucepan. Pour in the sauce and warm it on low heat for about five minutes, stirring frequently. Don't let the heat get too high or the sauce will lose its green color. Little by little, add the rest of the broth, stirring frequently. The sauce should become the consistency of thick cream. If you heat it too much and it gets curdly, return the sauce to the blender and blend it until smooth again.

Salt it to your taste, then add the duck pieces, skin side up. Heat for 10 minutes.

Serve by spooning a cup of sauce onto a plate, then placing a duck quarter on top of the sauce, then topping it with a splash of sauce and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds. This is good with rice; we especially recommend wild rice, grown where the ducks like to nest. You might want to try our Mushroom and Pine Nut Wild Rice Pilaf.

Serves 4-6.


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