Aji de Gallina

Aji de Gallina–chicken breast in spicy chili sauce, served over sliced roasted potato and topped with boiled egg slices, olives and cilantro.

I learned to make this Peruvian delicacy at Arthur’s Restaurant during a cooking class with three other teachers. It’s a thick, creamy, spicy chili sauce, with shredded chicken. Ours was atop thick slices of baked potato and garnished with boiled eggs and black olives. Tasty and quite easy to make, this is a staple of Peruvian Cuisine. The yellow aji chilies are probably tough to found outside of South American, so Arthur suggested we substitute a yellow bell pepper and a habanero pepper.

We also made ceviche, which I posted here.

Aji de Gallina

Ingredients, per serving:

  • Chicken breast, 1 (bone-in will give more flavor)
  • Aji amarillo pepper, a Peruvian yellow chili, which is quite hot, 1
  • Garlic, 10 grams (5-6 small cloves)
  • Whole milk, 50ml
  • Bread crumbs (Traditional Peruvian cooks use fresh, white bread, not dried)
  • Grated cheese (use a fresh cheese like mozzarella or feta)
  • Red onion, 1/4
  • White potato (Yukon Gold work well, but any good baking potato)
  • Egg, 1
  • Black olives, 2-4
  • Pecans, 4, roughly chopped
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt

Split and de-seed chili. Chop roughly. Saute with whole garlic cloves until brown in a small amount of vegetable oil. Process until smooth.

Preheat oven 250C. Bake potato 30 minutes or until done. Peel and slice into 3-4 thick rounds. Put on serving plate and keep warm.

Roughly chop onion. Blanch chicken, onions, salt in enough water to cover for 12 minutes or until just cooked. Hard boil egg in the same pot. Save stock. Shred chicken. Discard bones. Take out the egg, remove the shell and cut into 3-4 slices.

Saute pureed chili and garlic paste in a deep pan with a small amount of oil for 2 minutes. Add 3/4 cup reserved chicken stock (about 200ml). Mix milk with bread crumbs. Add mixture to pan. Stir and reduce to a thick consistency.

Add grated cheese and shredded chicken. Salt to taste. Heat through. Pour thick chicken mixture onto potato slices in heated serving dish. Garnish with slices of hard boiled egg, chopped pecans, olives. Additional garnish of cilantro and colorful peppers is also attractive, if desired.

I arrived early and had a drink while I waited for class to start. Times are very “fluid” in Latin America, so our 2:30p class started almost an hour late. This spicy drink of purple corn, lime juice and star anise with rum was very refreshing.
This is my work station with all my ingredients.
Hard at work, prepping the food.
All plated and ready to be served.
And now for the best part–eating our creations.

Sonccollay, a pre-Inkan restaurant

Amy didn’t really like the idea of cuy and politely avoided looking at it. She ordered alpaca, which she enjoyed. It’s a good thing that she’s a great companion since it took well over 1.5 hours between ordering and seeing our food! We drank a local fermented drink, called chicha de jora, made from purple corn. It was a very lightly alcoholic mixture.

My friend, fellow teacher Amy, and I decided to splurge a bit and try what seems to be a fairly unique restaurant, not just in Arequipa, but in South America. Sonccollay is located on the Plaza de Armas and is listed as a “pre-Inkan” restaurant, serving the traditional foods of the Andean region. I was most interested in the cuy–local guinea pig. I’d had it earlier in the week, but it was fried and I wanted to try a traditional roasted dish.

One of the side dishes including tomato, cape gooseberry and avocado.

Amy and I had each met the owner, while we were on separate free walking tours. The tour ends at the restaurant, which has an impressive view of the plaza below and the surrounding mountains. The owner is personable with a commanding voice, but seemed quite disheveled and stressed both times I saw him. He seems to run the restaurant almost entirely alone!

Here’s the cuy, dusted with herbs and roasted in the oven. As a farm girl from the Midwest, I couldn’t help but think that the cuy (guinea pig) looked a LOT like squirrel. It had been roasted in the oven with a weight on top to keep it flat. There was surprisingly little meat on it and if it hadn’t been fairly fatty to start with, probably would have been quite dry. As it was, it tasted like dark meat chicken. Most of the fat had dripped away, so it don’t think I over indulged, too much. On the other side of the cuy are two small alpaca steaks which Amy said were quite tasty.

While I had a good time (mostly because of good company) and enjoyed the food, I’m not sure if I can recommend the restaurant. It was a bit over-priced and we waited almost 2 hours to eat, despite being one of the few diners. They also took almost all my cash, since they had “trouble” accepting credit cards, though the menu had indicated that they did. I also felt the owner was openly disappointed with our orders–we hadn’t spent enough money to satisfy him. I won’t go back.

This is the land of potatoes, so you’ll usually see them served with any dish. These included three varieties of potato–white, purple and a sweet potato that was tasty, but beige in color. The corn is the local, native variety, called choclo. The kernels are large and it’s not terribly sweet. Honestly, it always tastes a bit like field corn to me.

Do not expect beef, chicken, garlic, onions or cilantro when eating here. The main meats are alpaca, cuy, duck and “river shrimp.” And everything is a little charred, typical of the use of stone and wood logs. Most of the reviews I read simply raved about the food, but I thought it was good, but not fantastic. Of course, I’m really put out by being expected to wait a long time to order and receive food in what was clearly not a busy night. I also felt I was slightly over charged based on the menu prices.

There are highlights, however. The restaurant seats diners on a second story balcony over looking the Plaza de Armas. It’s great for people watching and we even observed the ceremony to take down the flags in the courtyard. The owner will give you a brief tour of the kitchen, which should not be missed. And the view from the roof is simply spectacular.

Misti Volcano is visible from much of the city.
I met Amy on the corner of the park, near the bridge where the alpaca are. I’ve grown quite fond of them. They remind me of a cross between a sheep and a long necked teddy bear.

Sonccollay

  • Address: Portal de San Agustin 149 | Terraza de la Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
  • Location: South America  >  Peru  >  Arequipa Region  >  Arequipa
  • Phone Number: +51 54 281219

Tasting cuy and alpaca

Both of the meals described here were eaten at Wayrama, located near the Plaza de Armas, Santa Catalina Calle, 200, Arequipa, Peru.

Those who follow this blog probably also know my slogan: “Traveling the World, one bite at a time.” I’ll taste almost anything at least once. This week, I’ve crossed two more culinary milestones off my list: Cuy and Alpaca.

I started with a beer, the local brand is Arequipena. These roasted corn nuts are are served everywhere–very dry and salty. Perfect in bars to get the customers to order a second. Or third.

I’ll start with the Alpaca. It was a steak filet (lomo), grilled (asado) and served medium with a fresh vegetable sauce and french fries (papas fritas). Alpaca is a very lean meat, much like deer, so roasting needs to be slow. Overcooking could quickly dry out and toughen this meat. Fortunately, my chef was an old hand and I suffered neither issue, though it seems to be a naturally tough meat and I neede a knife to cut it. Despite the outward resemblance to deer, the meat was mild with no gamey taste. It was much like beef, frankly, and I’m not sure I could tell the difference. It was flavorful. I can recommend it!

This is alpaca (lomo de alpaca) with fresh vegetables. Every dish in Peru is served with potatoes, usually papas fritas (French fries), like these. The meat was a tad tough and very lean, like deer. But the taste was very close to beef, mild and not “gamey.” It was served medium and I assume more cooking would have dried it out and toughened it even more.

The cuy was not quite as I was expecting. First, let me explain that cuy is guinea pig, native to the Andes and once a staple in this area. I was ordering from a menu entirely in Spanish, so sometimes I’m a tad surprised by the resulting dish. Good thing I’ll eat almost anything. I’d expected the cuy to be roasted, which is traditional. This was deep fried filets, dipped first in cornmeal. I suspect the same cornmeal is used for trout. Tucha is very popular here and it’s usually deep fried. I detected a fishy smell with the first bite, which was disappointing. This turned out to be a very fatty piece of meat, so deep frying made for a somewhat greasy, heavy dish. After a few bites, I pulled away the breading and fatty skin and just ate the small amount of meat remaining, which, tasted like dark meat chicken. Isn’t that always the way? The saving grace to the meal was the creamy “Andean herb” sauce. It looked like it might taste too “green” but proved mild with a hint of mint. I used a couple of the ubiquitous french fries to sop up the last of the sauce, though I left most of the fatty skin and breading.

I’m going to have to give cuy another try, but find a roasted dish. I’m dining with a friend Sunday, so may try it then.

Eating in Peru

Purple corn is popular here, and often made into a drink. It’s not called Maize (southern US) or Elote (Mexico). Here it is Choclo (also referred to as Peruvian corn or Cuzco corn) is a large-kernel variety of field corn from the Andes.
In Peru, choclo is commonly served as an accompaniment to dishes such as ceviche, and its toasted, salted form, similar to corn nuts, are customarily given free to restaurant patrons upon being seated. Full ears of choclo are also a popular street food in Peru and other Andean countries, typically served with a slice of cheese as choclo con queso.

I’ve officially tried the top two dishes in Peru: ceviche (fish “cooked” in lemon or lime juice. Also spelled cebiche here since the v and b sounds are the same and, hence, interchangeable) and lomo saltado (stir fried beef with french fries). I like them both and I can buy them at the grocery’s prepared foods section. Other delicacies I can buy there include Rocoto Relleno (Stuffed Spicy Peppers), Pollo a la Brasa (Roasted Chicken) and Causa (a type of Potato Casserole). Remember this is the land of potatoes, so they are served with everything (much as when I was growing up!).

I took this photo at the grocery store, but didn’t buy the item. According to Wikipedia, Chuño is a freeze-dried potato product traditionally made by Quechua and Aymara communities of Bolivia and Peru, and is known in various countries of South America, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. It is a five-day process, obtained by exposing a frost-resistant variety of potatoes to the very low night temperatures of the Andean Altiplano, freezing them, and subsequently exposing them to the intense sunlight of the day (this being the traditional process). The word comes from Quechua ch’uñu, meaning ‘frozen potato.’

I don’t really eat out that often. I buy prepared foods at the grocery and rely on fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, tuna and crackers in my room. I’ve got access to an extremely ill-equipped kitchen (for example, we have 2 forks, 2 plates, one glass and about 2 dozen coffee mugs), so I mostly use the fridge for yogurt, take out food, cheese and hard boiled eggs (which I boil in my electric kettle). I only got out to eat about once a week or less. Remember, I’m a poor teacher trying to live within my means! But even a trip to the grocery or a walk down the street in Arequipa can be a cultural experience. These are just a few food related photos I’ve not posted.

This is better known as passion fruit. I didn’t buy this, but bought a similar fruit…..
This is granadilla another type of passion fruit. It is native to southern Brazil through Paraguay to northern Argentina.
Here’s the granadilla after I got them home. The outside “shell” is hard.
…and this is the inside. It was sweet and the seeds are edible, but it’s never going to be one of my favorite fruits. It is cultivated commercially in tropical and subtropical areas for its sweet, seedy fruit. The passion fruit is a pepo, a type of berry, round to oval, either yellow or dark purple at maturity, with a soft to firm, juicy interior filled with numerous seeds. The fruit is both eaten and juiced; passion fruit juice is often added to other fruit juices to enhance aroma.
Aguaymanto: The plant and its fruit are most commonly known as Cape gooseberry, a member of the nightshade family. It’s quite tart. I liked it, but it won’t be one of my all time favorites. The fruit is indigenous to western South America, but has been cultivated in England since the late 18th century.
Physalis peruviana is closely related to the tomatillo and to the Chinese lantern–and all have a distinctive, papery covering on the mature fruit. Aquaymanto it is distantly related to a large number of edible plants, including tomato, eggplant, potato and other members of the nightshades.
Aji is a pepper and the one used here is a spicy yellow pepper. This sauce, cream of pepper, is common here. The fruit is very pungent and hot, 30,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville Heat Unit scale. The variety here is the Ají amarillo, also called amarillo chili and ají escabeche. Originally, I mistook the word “aji” for “ajo” and was quite surprised. Ajo is garlic, not pepper!
Traditional foods here don’t use onions or garlic, though they’ve been widely adopted, especially in the Pervuian/Chinese fusion dishes, known as chifa and so common here. In traditional dishes, peppers and herbs add the flavor.
There isn’t much street food here, but queso helado, a traditional ice cream, is an exception. It’s usually served by attractive young woman in traditional dress, from big buckets like this. Despite the very sunny skies, it’s quite cool in the shade here, rarely getting above 75F, so the ice cream doesn’t melt quickly.
Queso Helado translates as “iced cheese” but it’s really great. It tastes like creme brulee, but frozen. I’m glad they only serve it in tiny cups, so I don’t eat more. It’s topped with cinnamon.
These are some sweets I found at a temporary market, set up in a park at the foot of Puente Grau. On the left are overly sweet lemon candies. I thought the coating was white chocolate, but it didn’t taste like it. The cake is actually called King Kong cake! I couldn’t believe my ears and had the vendors write it down for me. It’s just a layered cake, but filling between the layers are a sticky caramel (called manjarblanco), pineapple (pina) and mani (peanut butter).
According to wikipedia: Manjar blanco, also known as manjar de leche or simply manjar, is a term used to refer to a variety of related delicacies in the Spanish-speaking world, all milk-based. In Spain the term refers to blancmange, a European delicacy found in various parts of the continent as well as the United Kingdom. In the Americas (South America primarily) it refers to a sweet, white spread or pastry filling made with milk. This term is sometimes used interchangeably with dulce de leche or cajeta (as in Mexico) in Latin America. According to Google Translate, Manjar means “delicacy.”