Mayan Pepita-Chicken Stew


This rustic chicken stew is seasoned with a carefully toasted mix of seeds and spices, which are ground into a coarse paste with roasted tomatoes and tomatillos. Stirred into the stew toward the end of the cooking process, the paste both thickens and seasons this warming fall dish.

Mayan Pepita Chicken Stew
Photo: Greg DuPree
Active Time:
1 hrs 25 mins
Total Time:
3 hrs 30 mins


  • 2 pounds chicken drumsticks

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

  • 4 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

  • 2 garlic heads, divided

  • 3 quarts water

  • 1 large bunch fresh cilantro

  • 1 bunch fresh spearmint

  • 1 small bunch scallions, green parts cut into 3-inch pieces

  • 2 medium-size white onions, ends trimmed, peeled, and cut in half crosswise, divided

  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, divided

  • 1 tablespoon whole allspice, divided

  • 1 (3-inch) Ceylon cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces

  • 1/4 cup raw pepitas

  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

  • 1 pound small plum tomatoes, cored

  • 1/2 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed

  • 1 jarred roasted red bell pepper, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

  • 2 teaspoons achiote paste

  • Chopped fresh cilantro and mint, for garnish

  • Chile-Cacao Spice Mix, for serving

  • Corn tortillas and cooked long-grain white rice, for serving


  1. Place chicken drumsticks and thighs in a large bowl, and season with 1 teaspoon salt and ground pepper; set aside.

  2. Cut 1 garlic head in half crosswise. Peel cloves from remaining garlic head, and set aside. Combine halved garlic head, 3 quarts water, cilantro bunch, spearmint bunch, scallions, 2 onion halves, 2 teaspoons black peppercorns, 2 teaspoons allspice, and 1 tablespoon salt in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes.

  3. Add chicken to pot; return to a boil over high. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer, skimming off and discarding foam occasionally, until chicken is tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes. Remove chicken pieces with a slotted spoon, and transfer to a large bowl; cover with plastic wrap until ready to use. Pour broth through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl (you should have about 9 cups of broth); discard solids. Wipe stockpot clean, and return strained broth to pot; set aside.

  4. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; add cinnamon stick, remaining 1 teaspoon peppercorns, and remaining 1 teaspoon allspice. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Transfer to plate; let cool 5 minutes. Add pepitas and sesame seeds to skillet; cook, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted, about 40 seconds. Transfer to a plate; let cool 5 minutes. Process cinnamon mixture in a spice grinder until finely ground, about 15 seconds; transfer to a small bowl. Working in batches, add pepita mixture to spice grinder, and process until finely ground, about 15 seconds. Transfer to a separate small bowl.

  5. Add half of the tomatoes, half of the tomatillos, and 1 onion half to skillet. Cook over medium-high, turning occasionally, until lightly charred, about 10 minutes. Transfer tomato mixture to a blender. Repeat with remaining tomatoes, remaining tomatillos, and remaining onion half. Add roasted bell pepper, peeled garlic cloves, and ground cinnamon mixture to blender. Process on low speed, gradually increasing speed to high, until mixture is smooth, about 40 seconds.

  6. Stir tomato mixture into strained chicken broth in pot. Bring to a boil over high. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld, about 30 minutes.

  7. Meanwhile, whisk together achiote paste and 1/4 cup simmering broth mixture in a small bowl until blended and smooth. Whisk achiote mixture and ground pepita mixture into simmering broth in pot. Return to a simmer over medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until stew has thickened slightly to the consistency of heavy cream, about 30 minutes. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gently return cooked chicken pieces to stew. Increase heat to medium-high, and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes.

  8. To serve, divide chicken pieces among 6 serving bowls; ladle stew over chicken. Garnish with chopped cilantro and mint. Serve with chile-cacao spice mix, tortillas, and rice.


Look for achiote paste (a blend of annatto, oregano, black pepper, garlic, and warm spices) at Latin markets.

Suggested Pairing

Silky, berry-rich Zinfandel.

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