Maybe it’s this crazy weather, or maybe it’s the fact that life has just starting going so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. But, whatever the reason, it seems that comfort foods are what many of us crave most these days. Recently I’ve been thinking more and more about Peruvian-themed cuisine… And that brings me to today’s recipe: Ají de Gallina.
It was definitely in Peru where I first tried this dish. I was staying at my friend Cynthia’s in Lima, and I remember that—like so many other first-time flavors I was sampling—this was really tasty. But the big difference with this one was that there was an additional comfort element: saltines! (Which, by the way, is always under debate: many people will tell you you must use bread instead of Saltines!) Like many dishes, Peruvian Peppered Chicken varies from casa to casa; every family has their own slightly different version despite almost identical components.
I first documented the recipe when I was working on Viva la Vida with Chef Rafael Palomino (ah, way back in 2002!). Since then, I’ve made it on several occasions, and always with great results (happy customers!).
This home-style Peruvian dish is quite different from many others that hail from there; it’s a chicken/rice based dish, topped with a creamy pepper sauce (that can be turned up or down!). Hearty, warm, and cozy, this dish is perfect on chilly days, and perfect for larger crowds (simply double amounts!). ¡Buen provecho! Enjoy!
This recipe, one I learned many years ago in Peru, is adapted from Viva la Vida, by Rafael Palomino and Arlen Gargagliano ©2002
- 4 large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, or eight boneless thighs preferably free range
- Coarse salt
- One teaspoon ají amarillo (sold in jars in Latin American markets)
- 1 twelve-ounce can of evaporated milk
- 1 sleeve (about 4 ounces) of saltines, crumbled into small pieces
- 6 ounces of queso fresco (white cheese sold in Latin American markets) or mild feta cheese, crumbled or cut into small chunks
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 red onion, finely diced
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (or Peruvian palillo, sold in Latin American markets)
- Kalamata (or Peruvian) olives
- Cilantro leaves for garnish
- In a medium-size saucepan (large enough to fit the chicken and plenty of water) with about 4 to 6 cups of water and one teaspoon of salt, simmer the chicken over medium heat until it'scooked through (about 20 minutes).
- Remove the chicken from the water, but don’t discard the water (you will use it). When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it, using your hands, into thin 1/4 to 1/2- inch long pieces. Set aside.
- In a blender or food processor, combine the ají, evaporated milk, saltines and cheese and mix until puréed. Set aside.
- In a medium-saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over a medium flame.
- Add the onion and turmeric and stir.
- When the onions soften (about 3 minutes), add the creamed mixture from the blender and stir.
- Turn the flame to low.
- Stir in the chicken, followed by about two cups of the caldo, or water that you cooked the chicken in.
- The mixture will be quite soupy at first, but it will thicken after a while.
- Stir frequently, and add more caldo as needed.
- After between 8 and 10 minutes, the mixture will start to thicken.
- Turn off the heat and taste.
- Correct seasoning, and serve with plenty of white rice, topped with several Kalamata or Peruvian olives, and some fresh cilantro.