Grilled Chicken with Pecan Pipian Sauce


I’m all out of sorts lately.  Between century training, blogging, freelance work and planning for the Healthy Living Summit, I feel like I hardly have any time for myself.  Up until this past week, our weekends have been so busy that I’ve been squeezing in all my long rides on work days. We’re at least now in a position that Dan and I can shift our long training rides to the weekend and ride together, which is helpful.

Don’t get me wrong; I love everything I’m doing workout and work-wise right now.  I wouldn’t cut anything out, even if I had the option to do so. But I often feel like I am running from one task to the next, from training ride to coffee shop to doctor appointment (okay, I’ll happily cut those out once we have my thyroid under control!), rarely slowing down until bedtime.  Dinners have been rushed affairs. I throw together whatever we have, or run in and out of the house while Dan mans the grill, trying to multitask along the way. It isn’t exactly relaxing.

So this week, I’ve been making a concerted effort to slow down, at least at dinnertime.  I give myself a few tasks – make the main course, prep the side dish, transfer the frozen blueberries from cookie sheet to labeled freezer bags, make the cookie crust for a friend’s birthday cake (I’m making her this one, for the record). And while I’m in the kitchen, all I’m allowed to do is focus on those tasks and listen to some music or a podcast.  Maybe wipe down the counters or put some dishes in the dishwasher while I wait for something to come to a boil. And that’s it.

I’ve found this to be totally calming and mind-clearing.  When the stove is on, I can’t feel pressured to go out and run that errand or go edit those photos, because I can’t walk away and risk burning dinner. I can focus on chopping and sauteing and simmering and podcast-listening, and push all other thoughts aside. My to-do list is completely on hold. And after dinner, I’m finding myself holding on to that relaxed feeling, opting to watch TV or read with Dan, rather than pulling out the laptop and crossing a few more items off my list.  The to-do list can wait until tomorrow.

Grilled Chicken Tacos with Pecan Pipian Sauce

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Yield: About 4 servings worth of chicken tacos, with lots of extra sauce

Adapted from Tacos by Mark Miller. The flavor profile of this sauce reminds me a bit of my Cincinnati chili, thanks to the cinnamon and cumin combo. Thanks to the dry-roasted chiles, though, it has a deeper and slightly spicier flavor.

Be forewarned that this recipe makes a ton of extra sauce, at least three times what you will likely use for your tacos. Use the excess sauce over quinoa and sauteed vegetables, with pork, or as a dip for nachos. The sauce will also likely freeze well, though I haven't tried that myself yet.


    For the chicken:
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 pound chicken breast (this will be about 3-4 pieces of chicken)
  • For the sauce:
  • 7 dried guajillo chiles
  • 4 dried ancho chiles
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 pound tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle chile puree (from canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups pecans, finely chopped
  • For serving:
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • Toasted pepitas or pumpkin seeds


    For the chicken:
  1. Whisk the chile powder with the salt and sugar.
  2. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with the chile mixture, rubbing the spices in to both sides of the meat.
  3. Allow to rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. Doing so will give the flavors of the rub time to sink in, and take the chill off the chicken so that it cooks evenly.
  4. For the sauce:
  5. Meanwhile, heat a cast iron or other heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Do not add any oil; the pan should be completely dry. Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chiles, and drop them in the hot pan. If your pan isn't large enough to fit all the chiles in a single layer, you'll want to do this in batches. Don't overcrowd the chiles!
  6. Roast the chiles in the dry pan over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan a few times to keep the chiles from sticking, until they look a little blackened. Remove the chiles from the pan.
  7. Pour the oil into the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent and just beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes.
  8. Put the roasted chiles and sauteed onion in the bowl of a blender or food processor with the garlic, tomatoes, chipotle puree, cinnamon, sugar, allspice, salt, cumin and water (so, all the remaining sauce ingredients except the pecans). Puree until smooth and blended, about 3-4 minutes.
  9. Toss the pecans in the same pan you used for the chiles and onion, stirring to coat them with any remaining oil in the pan. Toast over medium heat for about a minute, then add the rest of the sauce. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce is about the consistency of a thick marinara sauce, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat immediately, then cook the chicken.
  10. For the chicken:
  11. Grill the chicken over a medium-low flame, flipping a few times, until a thermometer inserted into the center of a breast reads 165F. Allow to rest for 8-10 minutes before slicing.
  12. For the tacos:
  13. Fill each tortilla with a few slices of chicken, a spoonful or two of the sauce. Sprinkle with toasted pepitas and serve warm.

Make Ahead and Storage

The sauce can be made up to three days in advance. Refrigerate in an airtight container.

I have a standing partnership with Autumn’s Harvest Farm. They provide me with product, but all opinions and recipes are my own. 

The dried chiles I used were provided by Frieda’s, but I was not otherwise compensated. All opinions are my own.


  1. says

    Slowing down is good sometimes. I always feel like i’m running everywhere, but those moments when I can just breath without someone wanting something are priceless lol. I would totally be ok with extra of this sauce! Pouring it over quinoa or veggies sounds great!

    • Julie says

      I just had my slow-down time today (we have dinner plans with friends, but I had some other cooking to do)– I feel so much better!