Salmon in Luxurious Green Sesame Pipian
(Calmon en Pipian Verde de Ajonjol)

By Chef Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, Chicago, IL

Chef Participant: Cooking for Solutions Conference 2006

Note: In Mexico, pipian is a simple mole with the emphasis on the nuts or seeds that are blended in to thicken the sauce. Where mole sings with symphonic harmony and exuberance, pipian is a lively string quartet. The seed that has traditionally thickened a sauce like this since pre-Columbian times is Mexico's native pumpkinseed. After centuries of trade between Acapulco and Southeast Asia (for three centuries, most goods destined for Europe from Asia traveled from the Philippines to Acapulco, overland to Veracruz, then overseas to European ports), the Asian sesame seed found a home in Mexico's pipian - making it super-creamy, wonderfully aromatic and deliciously toasty-nutty, although a little hard to pull off, since sesame seeds are hard to blend to a smooth puree. But with a good-quality bottled tomatillo salsa and a jar of tahini (sesame paste), dinner's only moments away.

Serves: 4

Ingredients: (use organic when possible)
2 cup Tomatillo Salsa (store-bought or 2 cup homemade roasted tomatillo salsa)
1-1/2 tbls. Vegetable or Olive Oil
1 cup Chicken Broth
3 tbls. Tahini
1/4-1/2 tspn. Sugar
4 (5-oz.) Salmon Fillets* (approx. 1-1/4 Ibs.) boneless, skinless and preferably 1/2-in. thick steaks or fillets; walleye, snapper, black cod or striped bass fillets may also use)
1 heaping cup Peas (fresh or frozen)

1 tbls. Sesame Seeds
1/4 cup Cilantro (loosely-packed chopped)

1. In a blender or food processor, process salsa to a smooth puree. Heat oil in a very large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. When quite hot, add salsa all at once. Stir as salsa reduces to consistency of tomato paste, about 5 minutes. Stir in broth and tahini. Let return to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer 10 minutes. Taste and season with salt (usually about 1/2 teaspoon) and a little sugar. (Between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar helps balance the natural tartness of the salsa.)

2. While the sauce is simmering, pour peas into a microwaveable bowl, sprinkle on a tablespoon of water, cover with plastic wrap and poke a couple of holes in the top. Microwave on high until peas are hot and tender, from 1 minute for frozen peas to 4-5 minutes for fresh peas.

3. When sauce has simmered 10 minutes, nestle fish fillets completely into sauce. Continue simmering gently until the fish flakes when pressed firmly, usually 5-6 minutes. Check by lifting a fillet from the sauce on a metal spatula and pressing it with your finger or the back of a spoon.

4. Transfer a fish fillet to each dinner plate. Spoon a portion of the sauce over the top. Strew with peas, sesame seeds and cilantro.

*Seafood Watch “E" recommends wild-caught salmon from Alaska, certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Riffs on Green "Pipian":
1. The peas can be replaced with a couple of medium-large potatoes cut into eighths (microwave until tender, about 8 minutes); after transferring fillets to dinner plates, mix potatoes into sauce. A can of white beans also makes a great replacement for the peas; drain and rinse them before adding to the sauce, as described for the potatoes.

2. This dish is also wonderful when made with boneless, skinless chicken breasts or semi-boneless quail. Poach birds in sauce as described or, for added flavor, brown in oil in a large skillet, remove and then, without washing the skillet, cook down the pureed salsa.

3. Tahini is an easy addition because it's smoothly ground, but the very traditional pumpkinseeds, almonds or peanuts may be used. Puree them with salsa, but stir carefully as you cook mixture down to a paste (it sticks more easily than the salsa alone). After sauce has simmered 10 minutes, it will likely be quite coarse looking; re-blend hot sauce in a loosely covered blender to smooth out.

Vegetarian Green "Pipian":
Prepare sauce with vegetable broth and serve with 4-6 cups of roasted, steamed or grilled vegetables for a really delicious meal. Grilled vegetables, along with grilled tofu, are my favorite with this green pipia'n. Mexican white rice is my accompaniment of choice.

Recipes can also be found in Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless


Other Great Related Links:
Cooking for Solutions
Seafood Recipes

Healthy Choices, Healthy Oceans Cooking for Solutions and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Programs are empowering seafood consumers and businesses to make choices for healthy oceans.
To learn more, visit

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