Pepian with Pollo from Guatemala


Luis Yanes

Pepián is a thick meat stew from Guatemala. It is one of the oldest and most recognizable dishes of Guatemalan cuisine having as its origin the influences from Guatemala’s colonial past and indigenous cuisine.


  • 1 whole chicken
  • water, to cover the chicken
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds, shelled
  • 2/3 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 lb string beans, fresh, trimmed
  • 1 potato, large, peeled, cubed
  • 2 guisquiles squash or chayotes, peeled, cubed
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, packed, roughly chopped

Recado / Sauce

  • 2 guajillo chiles
  • 2 ancho chiles
  • 6 Roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion, large
  • 5 to 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 anise stars, optional


  • Boil and Shred the Chicken
  • Place the whole chicken in a large pot and fill it with water to cover it. Add the salt.
  • Turn the burner to high, and bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and let the chicken cook for about 45 minutes.
  • When done, set the pot with the chicken and its broth aside to cool.
  • When cool to the touch, shred or cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and return to the pot with the chicken broth. “Traditionally, we only shred the chicken breast, and keep the thighs and legs of the chicken whole (bone-in),” says Luis.

Prep the Vegetables

  • Wash and trim the ends of the fresh string beans, leaving them whole.
  • Peel and cut the guisquiles or chayote squash and the potato into small cubes. Set both vegetables aside.

Make the Recado Base Sauce

  • On a hot cast-iron pan, griddle, or comal set to medium-high, dry roast the ancho and guajillo chiles for 1 or 2 minutes. Set them aside in a bowl.
  • Dry roast the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and anise. The garlic and anise will deepen in color, give off an aroma and be ready before the rest of the ingredients. Take them out and add them to the chiles in the bowl.
  • Add the tomatoes and onion to the bowl when they start to blister, blacken, and get fragrant.
  • Place the dry-roasted chiles, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and optional anise in a saucepan. Set the heat to medium-high. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. When it boils, turn off the heat and set the saucepan aside to cool.
  • Adjust the heat of the cast-iron pan, skillet, or comal to low. Dry roast the pumpkin seeds for about 5 minutes. When they start to give off a smoky aroma, they are ready. Set them aside in your bowl.
  • Dry roast the sesame seeds for 3 to 5 minutes, until they turn pale gold. Keep an eye on them: they can go from toasted to burnt quickly. Add them to your bowl.
  • Scoop out the chiles, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and optional anise from the saucepan—and place them in a blender. Pour about 1/2 cup of their liquid into the blender.
  • Add the toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds.
  • Blend—until the mixture completely disintegrates. You will have an orange-reddish, nutty, and full-flavored recado sauce.
  • Strain the recado sauce in batches through a colander. Throw away the tiny scraps of vegetables, seeds, and spices left behind in your colander—or eat or compost them, says Luis. ”You for sure don’t want those little bits in the soup, though!”

Putting It All Together

  • Stir the recado into the pot with the chicken and broth, mixing them well. Set the heat to medium-high. When the stew comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low.
  • Let the stew simmer and reduce for 10 to 15 minutes, uncovered.
  • Add the string beans, guisquiles or chayote, and potato to the pot. Gently boil for about 15 minutes more, until the vegetables become tender.
  • Chop the cilantro and add to the pot. Serve with white rice and hot tortillas. “Enjoy, and don’t forget to share with friends and family!” says Luis.
Pepian with Pollo from Guatemala