Seafood Soup with Red Pipian Sauce -

Red Pipian Seafood Soup

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Red Pipian Seafood Soup

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This is an unorthodox way of putting together a very classic sauce. Red pipian (pipián rojo) is one of Mexico’s famous mole sauces, but unlike some of its daunting Oaxacan cousins, it doesn’t take very long to prepare, and it only requires two types of chilies.  The sauce is based created by combining ancho and guajillo chilies with nuts and seeds in order to create a velvety and creamy sauce.  Red pipian is superb in pretty much any iteration, but I was particularly taken with a recipe by Pati Jinich that marries the wonderful pipian base with pureed tomatoes.  I mentioned Pati and her incredible Chicken Tinga recipe in a previous post, and I’ve actually been spending a lot of time with her books this month; her recipes are thoughtful and authentic while remaining entirely approachable.  I also had the distinct pleasure of meeting her last week at an event hosted by Barbara Jo’s Books to Cooks here in Vancouver, and she was every bit as wonderful and talented in person.

I wanted to do a rich sauce this month (without spending 3 days on a hardcore mole), so I decided to do something that riffs off of the Shrimp in Red Pipian recipe found in her book “Pati’s Mexican Table”  Now this sauce is good – so good in fact that it seems a shame not to just eat it straight up with a spoon.  So that’s exactly what I did here – I’ve adapted the recipe and turned it into a luxurious seafood soup.  Seafood and pipian are a match made in heaven, and the whole thing is shockingly flavourful despite the relative paucity of fat.  Putting the two together in this way also touches on something very important that Pati brought up at the little class/lunch I was at: the concept of marrying your sauce to your meal.  The idea is fairly simple – some component of the meal should be used to tie the sauce in with all of the other ingredients, otherwise it will feel like it’s been slapped onto the meal and not partnered with it.  This is a hallmark of good Mexican cooking, but it’s also a common practice in a wide variety of cuisines (gravy, jus, and deglazed sauces are all perfect examples).  In this particular instance, the clam broth gives the soup/sauce a salty-sweet marine flavour profile, allowing it to play nicely with the squid and shrimp.

Even if seafood isn’t really your thing, I seriously encourage you to give this sauce a try. You could make chicken, beef, chickpeas, roasted peppers, and any number of other ingredients work with it. Whatever you do choose to do, I recommend you make sure to marry your sauce to your ingredients for the best overall effect!

Recipe Notes

The combination of the two chilies is essential for creating the character of this sauce. As is often the case with chilies, simply specifying the number necessary can be a bit confusing, as the size can vary (especially for the ancho chilies, which can vary considerably in size). Six guajillo chilies is generally a good number, as they tend to be pretty even in size. The ancho chilies that I can get tend to be a little smaller than some available in or near Mexico, so depending on the size you can get, you may only need two. When in doubt, weigh your peppers (before removing the stems and seeds) for best results. You should be able to find both types of peppers at a Mexican or Latin American grocery store. If there isn’t one in your area, try looking for an online retailer; because they’re a dried good, they ship well. As for the spice level, this soup has a tiny bit of heat, but it’s certainly not what I would call spicy. While there are a lot of dried peppers, guajillos and anchos tend not to impart too much heat to a dish. Both of my kids (aged 1 and 4) were able to eat this without any complaints at all.

Make sure to time things carefully so that you’re adding the seafood at the end, ideally right before serving. If the shrimp and squid sit in the soup/sauce for too long, they’ll get tough, chewy, and flavourless. Less is more when it comes to this kind of seafood. If you decide to use a larger shrimp species (I used the small cold water shrimp from Canada’s North), adjust your cooking time slightly, and take care to account for how long the squid need to be in. You don’t want to overcook one seafood at the expense of another. As for the clams, Manila clams tend to be the easiest to find, but you could use any number of clam species. I personally wouldn’t use mussels, as I think they would be overwhelmed by the sauce. You can also use frozen clam meat (especially if you can’t get good clams), but if you do, make sure to buy some clam broth to add in place of the cooking liquid. If you’re looking for a substitution, firm white fish (especially large, bone-in pieces) would stand in for any of the seafood quite well (though I’d use fish stock in place of the clam broth if you drop the shellfish altogether).

When you’re making the sauce, take care not to add any salt until after you’ve added the clam broth. Clams and clam broth can be quite salty on their own, and you want to make sure that everything has come together before you adjust the salt level. That being said, once you do get to that point, don’t be shy about adding salt – this sauce, like a lot of Mexican sauces, really comes alive when it’s salted properly. If you decide to make red pipian without seafood (i.e. as a sauce only), you can add salt earlier in the process.

If you decide you want to use the pipian as a stand-alone sauce, I’ve given instructions to reduce it (see the printable instructions below or click here).

Nutrition Facts
Red Pipian Seafood Soup
Amount Per Serving
Calories 373 Calories from Fat 135
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 15g 23%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
Polyunsaturated Fat 5g
Monounsaturated Fat 5g
Cholesterol 163mg 54%
Sodium 652mg 27%
Potassium 928mg 27%
Total Carbohydrates 22g 7%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sugars 7g
Protein 37g 74%
Vitamin A 131%
Vitamin C 56%
Calcium 24%
Iron 141%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional Summary

Guajillo and ancho chilies provide an incredible vitamin count to this meal, and the clams are an amazing source of iron and protein. The flavours are built around peppers, nuts, and seeds, so there’s a lot of punch without a lot of fat (and next to no saturated fat). This is healthy food with serious flavour.

Not really much – the cholesterol levels are a wee bit high (probably due to the shrimp). If you’re concerned about this, you could drop the shrimp in favour of a firm white fish.

Ingredient Pages

No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

Pantry Pages

  • Pescetarian
  • Gluten free
  • Dairy-free

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5 from 1 vote
Seafood Soup with Red Pipian Sauce -
Red Pipian Seafood Soup
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 20 mins
Mole doesn't have to be insanely complicated. Red pipian sauce is packed with flavour, but fairly easy to prepare - and to transform into a rich, velvety soup.
Course: Main Dishes, Sauce/Marinade, Soup
Cuisine: Mexican, North American
Servings: 8 people
Calories: 373 kcal
  • 1.3 kg Manila clams cleaned (and purged if necessary)
  • 250 g squid scored and cut into small strips (or use rings)
  • 200 g small shrimp
  • 2 large bay leaves
Pipian Sauce
  • 500 g roma tomatoes
  • 4-5 shallots (about 150 g) unpeeled
  • 6 cloves garlic unpeeled
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup pepitas (unsalted, unroasted pumpkin seeds)
  • 3 tbsp white sesame seeds
  • 6 guajillo chilies (about 55 g/2oz) see note
  • 3 medium ancho chilies (about 25 g/1 oz) see note
  • 1 tbsp piloncillo or dark brown sugar
  • 4 cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper freshly ground
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1.5 tsp salt or to taste
  • avocado to garnish (optional)
  1. Heat a large pan over medium heat (I like to use a cast iron pan, but anything should work as long as you keep an eye on it). Gently lay the chilies in the pan and toast them for about 20-30 seconds (less if they begin to sear) per side. They should become softer, dark, and pliable.
  2. Place the toasted chilies in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring the pot to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Set the pot aside (do not discard the water).
  3. Heat a large pan over medium heat (once again, I prefer cast iron for this). Add the pumpkin seeds and toast, stirring frequently. The seeds should begin to brown and pop after about 3-4 minutes, taking care not to burn them (if they do begin to burn, remove them from the pan and reduce the heat, then return them and continue). Add the sesame seeds and toast for an additional 2 minutes. Add the cloves and peanuts and toast for an additional minute. Make sure to stir everything regularly. Remove the mixture from heat and set aside.
  4. Spread the tomatoes, onions, and garlic on a baking tray if using a broiler, or a grilling tray if using an outdoor grill (my preference). Char the ingredients under a high broiler or a medium grill; about 8-12 minutes, depending on the method you use. The shallot and garlic skins should be well blackened, and the tomatoes should be soft and splitting with a few charred patches. Set everything aside to cool.
  5. Peel the cooled garlic and shallots and add them to a blender or food processor along with the tomatoes, chilies, and 1 cup of the cooking liquid from the chilies. Add all of the toasted ingredients, cinnamon, pepper, sugar, and vinegar. Blend until smooth.
  6. Place the cleaned clams in a large pot. Add 3 cups of water, cover, and heat over medium. Allow the clams to simmer/steam until all the shells are open - about 5-7 minutes. Remove the clams, strain the liquid and set aside.
  7. Heat the oil in a large pot until very hot; about 1 minute (you can use the clam pot again). Add the pureed pipian sauce, reduce the heat to medium, and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the broth and return to a simmer, and add the salt (make sure to taste the mixture, as the clam broth adds salt on its own). Cook for 5-10 minutes. At this point, you can either proceed with the next step to finish the soup, or reduce the mixture by about 1/3 (30-40 minutes) to make a thicker sauce-like soup.
  8. Add the squid and shrimp and cook for 3-4 minutes. The squid should be firm, but tender. Add the clams and warm through, then serve, topped with a little avocado or cilantro.
Recipe Notes

The combination of the two chilies is essential for creating the character of this sauce. As is often the case with chilies, simply specifying the number necessary can be a bit confusing, as the size can vary (especially for the ancho chilies, which can vary considerably in size). Six guajillo chilies is generally a good number, as they tend to be pretty even in size. The ancho chilies that I can get tend to be a little smaller than some available in or near Mexico, so depending on the size you can get, you may only need two. When in doubt, weigh your peppers (before removing the stems and seeds) for best results.


  1. This looks SO GOOD! It looks and sounds like it would be so deliciously sweet and smoky. I mean, this here is true comfort in a bowl and I feel like it would be relevant in any season.

    I’ve yet to make a seafood stew. I’ve been *stewing* on it for probably a year now – I’ve been undecided on how to approach it. This, however, has inspired me to get crackin’!

    1. Author

      Thanks Dana! It was really good – rich, but not fatty, packed with spices and strong flavours, but really well balanced. Whatever method you do choose to make a seafood stew, I’ll say this – use a seafood broth for the slow-cooking element, and add the solid seafood (shrimp, etc) in at the end so you don’t overcook it. But you’re awesome and you probably know that already. In any case, share the results of your experiments – don’t be shellfish 🙂

    1. Author

      Thanks Jeff! Mexico is patchy in terms of the types of seafood used, but the flavours work well with all kinds of foods, so feel free to experiment!

  2. This looks delicious! I’ve always thought of mole as an “intimidating” sauce because of how many ingredients it requires and of course the time. I’d love to try this and maybe substitute sunflower seeds for peanuts. Yum yum 🙂

  3. Wow Sean, this looks like a savoury bowl of soup! I love seafood soup and really need to give this a try. Definitely can’t go wrong with shrimp, squid and clams!

    I love the look of your recipes…they always inspire me to try cooking with spices that are out of my typical rotation!

  4. I love the look of this recipe — and that you linked to a chicken tinga recipe! Haha, I have one (a tinga) ready to go on the blog, too, only mine came from Serious Eats. In Toronto, it’s thankfully pretty easy to get your hands on Mexican ingredients, and I’ve been experimenting a lot more with them lately. Not a huge seafood person, myself, but the sauce looks simply gorgeous!

  5. WOW what a great looking soup. Sounds delicious. I have been totally enjoying the hot weather this summer…however, this will certainly come in handy when “comfort food” months role around.

  6. That looks fantastic! It’s becoming much easier to find good Mexican ingredients in Metro Vancouver, but it’s always nice to have online options, too. I love how much flavour you packed into this soup!

    Barbara Jo’s puts on great events. It’s such a treat to meet the authors they bring into town.

  7. Another delicious looking creation, Sean. I love seafood soups and this one is so innovative — a beautiful combination of flavours and textures. If I can get my hands on some good clams in Calgary I’m definitely going to give it a try. Just pinned. Thanks for another inspiring recipe!

  8. Seafood soup…yum! Would love to try it the Mexican way, with that beautiful pipian sauce you made. I’d have to ask Loreto the make it, as I am not savy at Mexican cuisine ☺. Great recipe, instructions and picture!

  9. Oooh, this looks like it would be perfect for a colder summer/fall evening, when you come in late and want something warm and filling. 🙂 Finding good quality seafood is sometimes a struggle when you’re not living on the Coasts (so jealous of BC, to be honest) but I’m sure good clams, squid and shrimp somewhere! Great recipe, Sean. 🙂

    1. Author

      Thank you Cassie! I understand the struggle, having grown up in Alberta myself. But you’re right, you can usually get a hold of some good shellfish! And hey, there’s no reason it couldn’t be adapted to good fresh-water fish, if you can get some!

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