Latin America For Less website visitor, Cindy Courtney, got in touch to share her memories of living in Peru, and to offer her version of a Peruvian favorite: Aji de Gallina, a traditional dish of creamy shredded chicken.
Peru is a fascinating place with some incredible food and some of the most caring and giving people I’ve ever met. I used to go grocery shopping in the street markets. The chickens are alive when you pick them out in many of the markets. The variety of fruits and vegetables available there are incredible, and the one I miss the most is the little yellow papas amarillas (yellow potatoes).
Aji de Gallina is what was served at large family gatherings on Sundays when I lived in Lima. It’s even better the nest day because the flavors blend overnight. This recipe is the one given to me by my Peruvian mother-in-law and it’s my favorite version.
There are a lot of steps and it’s a bit time consuming but it’s well worth it – it also feeds a large amount of people for a small amount of money. If you double the rice serving, this recipe will easily feed eight people.
Aji de Gallina Recipe
- 1 3 – 4 lb chicken (if you can get a hen from your butcher that’s even better)
- 1/2 package galletas (you can substitute 1/2 package of saltines if you can’t find Spanish crackers) – more as needed
- 2 slices white bread
- 3 fresh (not canned) aji amarillo, chopped seeds and all (you can substitute jalapenos if you can’t find Peruvian yellow peppers)
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 can evaporated milk
- 1 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
- vegetable oil
- milk, as needed
Stew the chicken in enough water to come within an inch of the top of the chicken. In a blender or small food processor place the peppers, three cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt, end enough vegetable oil to process the peppers into a slightly chunky sauce. Set aside.
In a blender place the crushed crackers, bread, three cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon of the hot pepper sauce, and evaporated milk. Puree until smooth.
Chop onion and nuts and set aside.
When the chicken is done, reserve stock and shred the chicken into a separate container.
In cleaned stew pot place 2 tbsp vegetable oil and sauté onions until slightly clear on medium heat. Add cumin and turmeric and continue cooking a minute or so, stirring often to toast the spices. Add all but 1 cup of stock to sautéed onion, stirring to release the spices from bottom of pan. Add the evaporated milk mixture to pan and lower heat. Heat through, stirring often to prevent sticking. The sauce thickens quickly. (If the sauce isn’t as thick as you like you can put the reserved chicken stock in the blender with more crackers and puree smooth, then add to pot until it is the consistency that you like. If it thickens too much you can add the remaining stock and/or a little milk to thin it out.) Add the shredded chicken, parmesan cheese, and nuts. Add salt and more of the pepper sauce to taste and serve over rice. I always offer the remaining pepper sauce at the table, because this dish is best really spicy, but some people can’t tolerate too much heat so I make it mild for them.
- 3 cups water
- 2 cups uncooked extra long grain white rice, well rinsed
- 1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
- 1 tsp oil
- pinch salt
Boil water. Add oil, garlic, salt, and rice. Bring back to a boil, stir, then reduce heat to low and cover tightly. (Do not stir or remove lid while cooking). Cook for 20 to 25 minutes until all liquid is absorbed.
This dish is usually served over rice, with sliced boiled potatoes and olives on the side. (If you have any leftovers you can add a little milk when you re-heat it to thin it out, it usually thickens more when refrigerated).