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Pepian de pollo Guatemalan chicken stew in a blue bowl on a table.

Pepián de Pollo - Chicken Stew in Red Sauce

This lightly-spiced chicken dish is the ultimate Guatemalan soul food. You'll find this velvety Mayan stew served at typical restaurants throughout the country. It's also a staple at family get togethers.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Guatemalan
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 4
Calories 625kcal
Author Thelma de Valdez
Cost $10


  • Skillet
  • blender
  • spice grinder (optional)
  • large pot


  • 1 Whole Chicken 4-5 pounds, cut into serving pieces
  • 5 cups Water or more as needed
  • 2 tsp Salt or to taste
  • 5 Fresh Tomatoes Roma
  • 1 Chile Pasa (Pasilla) dried, seeds and stem removed
  • 1 Chile Guaque (Guajillo) seeds and stem removeddried
  • 1 White Onion medium
  • 1/2 cup Sesame Seeds
  • 1/2 cup Shelled Pumpkin Seeds pepitas
  • 1 inch Cinnamon Stick
  • 1/4 tsp Dried Achiote
  • 1/2 cup Cilantro
  • 2 Corn Tortillas or pieces of French bread
  • vegetables (optional) pre-cooked green beans, huisquil (chayote) and potato


  • Cut the chicken into  serving-sized pieces and simmer it in 5 cups of water (just enough to cover the chicken) with salt for 30 minutes. Skim off and discard any grey scum that may form while cooking. Drain and reserve the broth for the sauce.
  • Meanwhile, toast the cinnamon stick, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds separately in the dry skillet (no oil) until browned but not burned. The pumpkin seeds will pop when they're fully toasted.
  • Dry roast (toast ) two corn tortillas (or two pieces of crusty French bread) in the same dry skillet, remove from pan, pour small amount of water over to moisten and set aside.
  • Char the Roma tomatoes, chiles (seeds and stem removed) and onion over a dry skillet (with no oil)  in batches until very well browned.
  • Process the toasted seeds and cinnamon stick in a spice grinder or food processor until they are a very fine powder. You'll need to pulse several times to get the mixture fine enough.
  • Add the charred tomatoes, chiles and onion to the food processor. You don't need to peel the tomatoes or onions as you want the charred skins included in the sauce.
  • If you processed the seed mixture in a spice grinder, add it to the food processor now. Add the achiote, cilantro and a half teaspoon of salt. Process for several minutes until very smooth.
  • Add the toasted corn tortillas (or French bread) and four cups of reserved chicken broth to the tomato, spice and seed mixture and process until very smooth.
  • Pour the sauce into the pot, bring to a low boil. Add the chicken. Simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes or longer until the sauce is very thick and a deep red colour. Add more water if you prefer a thinner consistency. 
    Add any chopped, pre-cooked vegetables (if using, see note below) at this time.
  • Serve with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and with white rice and wedges of fresh avocado on the side.


  • Popular vegetables to include are green beans, potato and chayote (known as huisquil in Guatemala).
  • Another variation includes charred tomatillos along with the red tomatoes. 
  • It's also possible to make a vegetarian version of pepián by omitting the chicken and using only vegetables chopped into large pieces.
  • Depending on the cook, traditional pepián can be thick like a stew or thin like a soup so feel free to add extra water if you'd like a thinner version of the dish. 
  • Pepián be made in advance, stored in the refrigerator for a day and reheated over a low heat. 
  • This recipe can be doubled and tripled as it's often served as a party food at birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. 
  • Vary the spice level of this dish by reducing or adding more chiles to the sauce. 
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to three days. 
Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and is not guaranteed to be accurate. It is created by online calculators and although we attempt to provide accurate nutritional information, the figures are only estimates.


Calories: 625kcal | Carbohydrates: 18g | Protein: 43g | Fat: 43g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 143mg | Sodium: 1328mg | Potassium: 826mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1905IU | Vitamin C: 17mg | Calcium: 241mg | Iron: 6mg