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What is Pipián Sauce?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pipián sauce is a piquant Mexican sauce traditionally served over roast chicken or enchiladas. It is part of a larger family of ground sauces known as moles, and it has a very distinctive, nutty, earthy flavor which some consumers find quite enjoyable. Mexican restaurants sometimes have dishes on offer served with this sauce, and it is also possible to find it packaged in Mexican grocery stores. The best pipián sauce, however, is made fresh at home, as needed, to preserve the flavor.

The key ingredient in pipián sauce or pipián verde, as it is sometimes called, is pumpkin or squash seeds, which may be roasted or simply dried. The seeds are ground before being seasoned with spices like cumin, pepper, garlic, and cilantro, and dried hot chilies are also thrown into the sauce to give it a distinctive and rather fiery kick. Ingredients like lemon juice may also be added, turning the mixture more runny, and less like a paste.

Pipián sauce is often paired with a tomatillo salsa for extra texture and flavor. It may be used to rub meats before cooking, or served over meats after they have already been cooked; a crust of this sauce can be especially great for seared and roasted meats, helping to preserve the flavor of the meat while keeping it from becoming too dry.

Like other Mexican sauces, pipián is designed to be tasty enough to eat on its own, and it can potentially be served with a wide variety of foods. Individual cooks often like to adjust the flavor and spicing levels in their sauce, as some people like chilies more than others, and cooks can also play with the spices used, adding things like cardamom, anise, and other ingredients to send the flavor in a slightly different direction.

People who make pipián sauce at home should try to make only as much as they need. The flavor will start to grow weak if the sauce sits, and the chilies will quickly overwhelm all of the other spices, creating a very unbalanced taste. If a cook makes too much, he or she can freeze it to slow the breakdown of the spices in the sauce, and the cook may want to consider freezing it by the serving, so that he or she will not have to thaw a large amount just to get what is needed. People who purchase storebought pipián should be sure to check the expiration date to make sure that it is as fresh as possible.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By yumdelish — On May 13, 2011

@Potterspop - That's a pity, as I have a fabulous chicken sauce recipe you could have used to win your girls heart! I also cook quite a lot of veggie food though, so you have a few options.

My particular favorites are tostadas made with tofu, simple roasted pumpkin or squash (which is really convenient as you can use the seeds from it to make the sauce), or a fake meat substitute for pretty much any regular Mexican dish.

By Potterspop — On May 10, 2011

Reading this has made me really hungry! Looking through cookbooks I saw pipian sauce mentioned but had no clue what is was until I read about it here.

Apart from enchiladas is this really better suited to meat dishes? I'd like to try making something but my girlfriend is a committed vegetarian. She doesn't even eat fish, so delicious as it sounds I ain't going to get away with serving this sauce with prawns, pork or chicken.

By angelBraids — On May 08, 2011

I like cooking and making homemade sauces but the problem I had with trying this at home was quantities. Buying the seeds, which are obviously the key ingredient, held me up as all the stores seemed to sell them in gigantic bags!

As much as I love Mexican food I knew I wouldn't use that many. Luckily I found a health food store that bags up pumpkin seeds in smaller quantities, so I'm good to go.

By myharley — On May 03, 2011

If you enjoy Mexican food, Pipian Sauce is one of those things you should try. It is very versatile and makes a great complement to many meat dishes. Serve it with chicken, pork, shrimp and you will have meat recipes with just the right amount of spice.

I have found it best to freeze the leftover sauce in serving size containers. Finding pipian sauce at the store has not been hard, but this article has inspired me to try making some at home.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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