Chicken with Pumpkin Seed Pan Sauce


This is simple, flavorful pan sauce was inspired by my friend Juliah, who made me a pumpkin seed salad dressing that was inspired by a recipe in Ruth Reichl's book, Garlic and Sapphires.

Reichl's recipe calls for lemon juice and Juliah added fish sauce (which made it savory but not fishy). I didn't use fish sauce and instead of lemon juice I used apple cider vinegar. It's a more seasonal source of acidity, which is needed to balance the healthy fats in this sauce.

Because I opted to serve this dish as a room temperature salad, I used a chicken breast that I could easily slice. When I serve it as a main dish instead of a salad, I use skin-on, bone-in, pasture-raised whole chicken legs (browned on the stove top then slow-roasted in the oven) or a whole roasted chicken.

Whenever I make duck, I save the rendered fat for cooking. I added some here but if you don't have any, you can substitute cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. Likewise, if you don't have whole cumin seeds, substitute the same amount of ground cumin but skip the toasting step.

Whipping up a pan sauce after cooking meat is a good way to use the flavorful juices and, because it incorporates into the sauce any brown bits stuck to the pan, it makes clean-up a snap. If you're making this sauce ahead, you can substitute water for the pan juices.

Sea salt
Freshly ground peppercorn
2 chicken breasts or other chicken pieces at room temperature
1 tbsp rendered duck fat or cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
6 tbsp cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil

In a cast iron or stainless steel skillet, warm the duck fat over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Once the skillet is hot, add the chicken and cook until browned on one side, about 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over, reduce the heat to low, cover, and continue cooking until done throughout, about 10 more minutes.

While the chicken cooks, toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Remove the pumpkin seeds and transfer them to small glass jar that will accommodate an immersion blender. Add the cumin seeds to the dry skillet and toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer the cumin seeds to the glass jar as well. Add the olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked, turn off the heat, remove the chicken from the pan, and set it aside. Add the vinegar to the skillet and stir, scraping up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the pan juices to the glass jar with a tablespoon of filtered water.

Use an immersion blender to purée the ingredients into a smooth sauce, adding more water if needed to achieve your desired consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Slice the chicken if you prefer and arrange it over a bed of salad greens. Top it with the pumpkin seed pan sauce and serve it immediately.