Tag Archives: Ají amarillo

Recipe: Peruvian-Style Peanut Chicken (Pollo Arequipeño)

31 Aug

There are two signature Peruvian dishes consisting of boiled potatoes topped with a spicy, creamy, cheese sauce:  Papas a la Huancaina and Ocopa Arequipeña. They both feature yellow chilies, cheese, and milk–and frequently, onions and garlic. An Ocopa sauce often contains nuts as a thickener, while a Huancaina sauce usually includes crackers (and an herb that is difficult to find: huacatay, sometimes referred to as black mint). However, I’ve seen Ocopa made with crackers, too…. Regardless, both sauces and their many variations are delicious!

The following recipe departs from the norm: it features an Ocopa-style sauce over chicken rather than potatoes, and it is broiled in the oven until the sauce begins to turn golden brown.

Peruvian Peanut Chicken

Peruvian-Style Peanut Chicken (Pollo Arequipeño)
Serves 8

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
juice of 2 lemons or limes
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
2 scallions (green onions), trimmed and sliced
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp. aji amarillo (yellow chili) paste –add more if you like your sauce hot
1/2 c. roasted, salted peanuts
1/2 c. grated Münster cheese (or feta or queso fresco)
3/4-1 c. evaporated milk
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste

chopped cilantro
Kalamata (or other black) olives


1. Trim the chicken breasts and cut each into two pieces.
2. Combine the lime juice and olive oil in a glass container and add the chicken. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper to taste, mix well, cover, and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the red onion and scallion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and aji amarillo paste (and huacatay puree if available/desired) and cook for another couple of minutes. Turn off the heat. Put the onion mixture into a blender along with remaining sauce ingredients; blend until smooth. If the sauce appears very thick, add a bit more milk. Place the sauce in a  covered container and refrigerate until needed. Set the skillet to the side on the stove; do not clean or rinse.
4. After the chicken has marinated, heat the skillet over high heat and cook the chicken (in two batches if needed) until the pieces are golden brown on both sides (no need to add extra oil to the skillet first, since the marinade contains oil). Place the chicken pieces in a single layer in a baking dish, top each piece with an ample amount of the peanut sauce, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil, sprinkle Kalamata olives around the chicken, and broil until sauce begins to turn golden brown in spots.
5. Remove the chicken from the oven, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.

Recipe: Peruvian Chicken in Creamy Walnut Sauce with Chili (Ají de Gallina)

4 Jun

We lived in Peru for a couple of years, and considered ourselves to be in gastronomic heaven. Peruvian cuisine takes advantage of the country’s geography (coast, jungle, mountains) and history (including the Inca, Spanish conquistadores, African slaves, Chinese indentured labor, and many other immigrants). All these influences–different foods and cooking techniques–came together to contribute to an absolutely wonderful cuisine, one that continues to evolve.

Of the many Peruvian dishes I like, Ají de Gallina is one of my favorites. Ají means chili; the yellow in this dish comes from the signature yellow chili peppers that symbolize Peruvian cooking (plus a bit of turmeric). Gallina means hen–in this case, shredded chicken. And the creamy, cheesy, nutty part of the dish speaks to European influences. It is traditionally served with black olives (which I had on hand) and boiled yellow potatoes and quartered hard-boiled egg (which I belatedly discovered I did not have on hand).

This is not a difficult dish to make, but does require some preparation time, so if your weekdays are busy, this may be best made on a weekend. I tend to make it in stages while taking care of other tasks around the house and in the garden.

Ají de Gallina (Peruvian Chicken in Creamy Walnut Sauce with Chili)
Serves 8

3 lb. (1.4 kg.) boneless chicken breast halves
½ onion
2 carrots, peeled
2 bay leaves
4 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into quarters
1 (12-oz./354 ml.) can evaporated milk, plus extra milk if needed
3 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
2 large onions, diced
4-6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. aji amarillo paste (yellow chili paste)–available at international/Latin food markets
2 tsp. turmeric
1.5 tsp. salt
pinch pepper
1 cup (120 gr.) chopped walnuts, toasted (see below)
¾ cup (84 gr.) grated Parmesan cheese

boiled yellow potatoes, peeled and halved
black olives
hard-boiled eggs, quartered


1. Place chicken breasts in a large pot, and add onions, carrots, and bay leaves. Add enough water to cover the chicken, then lightly salt the water. Bring water to a boil, immediately turn off the heat, cover pot, and let the chicken poach for about an hour. Remove chicken from the broth, let cool, and then shred with clean fingers. Reserve all of the broth.
2. Meanwhile, soak the bread in the milk.

Clockwise from top left: chicken broth from poaching process, shredded chicken, aji amarillo (yellow chili) paste, bread soaked in milk.

3. Sauté onion in oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch Oven or large pot over medium heat until softened and turning golden at edges. Add garlic, cook 2 more minutes, then add the turmeric, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, then add aji amarillo paste and cook for 5 more minutes. Note: 2 tbsp. chili paste gives this dish a nice little kick; for more heat, add 3 tbsp.
4. Toast the walnuts (place walnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer, and toast in a 350-degree oven for about 5-10 minutes or until lightly golden and aromatic; be careful not to burn them, as I have done on more than one occasion when trying to do too much multitasking….).

Left: onion-garlic-chili paste mixture. Right: toasted walnuts

5. Put the bread and milk into a blender or food processor, add the toasted walnuts and a splash of reserved chicken broth (about 1/4 c.), and blend until smooth. Add this mixture to the onions in the pot, cook for a few minutes, adding more broth if necessary to thin, then add chicken and parmesan cheese. Thin as needed with more milk or broth (you will probably need a fair amount; add more milk for a creamier texture, more broth for a lighter dish). Add more salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve over rice and with suggested accompaniments. Garnish with some chopped parsley for additional color, if desired.