The top-ranked restaurants in Lima receive most of the notoriety, but how most Peruvians experience their country’s excellent cuisine is from a seat at their kitchen table. Lucky for us, Cindy Courtney got in touch to share her memories of living in Peru, and to offer her mother-in-law’s version of a Peruvian favorite: an aji de gallina recipe, a traditional dish of creamy shredded chicken.
Aji de Gallina Recipe
signature aji de gallina CREAMY SAUCE
- 1 chicken that’s 3-4 lbs (Cindy’s Advice: If you can get a hen from your butcher, that’s even better!)
- 1/2 package galletas (Cindy’s Advice: You can substitute 1/2 package of saltines if you can’t find Spanish crackers.)
- 2 slices white bread
- 3 fresh (not canned) aji amarillo, chopped seeds and all (Cindy’s Advice: You can substitute jalapeños 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
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- milk, as needed
Side of Rice
Like many meals in Peru, aji de gallina is served with rice.
- 3 cups of water
- 2 cups uncooked extra long-grain white rice, well rinsed
- 1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
- 1 tsp oil
- pinch salt
How to Prepare
Aji sauce and Chicken (Gallina)
- 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, one 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 a cleaned stew pot, place 2 tbsp vegetable oil and sauté onions until slightly transparent on medium heat. Add cumin and turmeric and continue cooking a minute or so, often stirring to toast the spices. Add all but 1 cup of stock to sautéed onion, stirring to release the spices from the bottom of pan. Add the evaporated milk mixture to the pan and lower heat. Heat through, often stirring to prevent sticking. The sauce thickens quickly.
- Cindy’s Advice: 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 the pot until it is the consistency that you like. If it thickens too much, you can add the remaining stock and 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 spicy, but some people can’t tolerate too much heat, so I make it mild for them.
- 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.
Time to Eat
Serve aji de gallina 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, and it usually thickens more when refrigerated.
Aji de gallina is what was served at large family gatherings on Sundays when Cindy lived in Lima. All the steps make the dish time consuming to prepare, but it’s well worth the effort, and it also feeds a large amount of people for a small amount of money. It’s even better the next day because the flavors blend overnight.
Read more about Peruvian ingredients and dishes in our online publication Sense Peru – Lima Restaurant Guide.
*Last Updated October 2019 by Britt Fracolli
Matt left England for Peru in 2008, originally planning to stay for just 12 months but ending up settling down in Lima working for Latin America For Less for three fun-packed years. He remains a perpetual traveller, working and writing his way through Europe, North America and Asia but he has always saved a special place in his heart for Peru and South America.