Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Aji de Gallina

Aji de Gallina
This delicious Peruvian dish (chicken and peppers) comes to me courtesy of my friend Eduardo Vivanca, who along with his wife Alicia, owns and operates Rocky Point Rides, the first direct shuttle service between Tucson, Arizona and Rocky Point/Puerto Penasco. They also own Cameo Designs, a custom, handcrafted tile and mural business in Tucson.

Not surprisingly, considering the recipe, Eduardo is originally from Peru and he thought we might enjoy tasting some of the dishes native to that country. He's absolutely right, and hopefully this will be the first of many (or at least several) such recipes.

I tried this recipe out, of course, and it was every bit as good as he said it would be. Though it uses some ingredients common to Mexican dishes it really is quite unique in flavor and appearance, and it's something I will make regularly in the future.

Eduardo presents this dish as follows: "This is a modern Peruvian dish, by modern I mean about 100 or more years old as compared to other typical dishes from Peru. In Peru 'aji' is what in Mexico is known as 'chile or chili'. We have as many varieties as Mexico and some might be similar, others are completely different. Some are exclusively used for flavor, non hot, and others are flavorful and hot at the same time. Unfortunately, most Peruvian chiles are not available unless purchased thru an internet vendor. Luckily there are a few that carry a variety of chiles both dried or processed into a past. I'd rather use the dried ones since they are not processed and mixed with preservatives or vinegar, which ultimatelly alters the taste, or they can be substituted with Mexican chiles."

The two 'ajis' used in this recipe are aji panca powder and aji amarillo powder. I looked them up online, and as it turns out these are the two most commonly used peppers in Peru.

Aji Amarillo, the number 1 most commonly used pepper in Peru, is a long yellow pepper, about 5 to 6 inches in length, that turns orange when it matures. It is described thusly: "It may be hot but it won't leave your mouth with that burning sensation. That is the beauty of the ajis. They have a very distinctive taste and flavor that cannot be found anywhere in the U.S." One website describes it like this: "If there were a chile to taste like sunshine, this would be it."

Aji Panca is a long, deep red to burgundy color pepper, growing to about 3 to 5 inches long. It is the second most commonly used pepper in all of Peru and is found growing near the coast. It has the same shape as the Amarillo pepper, but it is less hot, with more of a berry and woodsy flavor to it. Panca can be used as a flavor and thickening agent, or the pepper can be dried and sprinkled on top of prepared dishes as a garnish. For pictures of both peppers, go to

Since I had neither of those ajis on hand, I took Eduardo's advice and substituted turmeric for the aji amarillo, and some ancho chile powder for the aji amarillo. I'm sure the flavor was somewhat different than it would be with the right peppers, but using the axiom that what I don't know can't hurt me, I really really loved the flavor and texture of this dish. (And I had leftovers, which I got to enjoy for lunch the next day!)

Do try it, you won't be sorry!

Serves 10

  • 1 large chicken (substitute with already charbroiled chicken from Costco or grocery store)
  • 1.75 oz of aji panca molido (can be replaced with your favorite hot chili to the heat desired)
  • 1.75 oz of aji Amarillo molido (can be replaced with 1 flat teaspoon of turmeric for color)
  • 1 chopped onion

  • 8 chopped garlic cloves
  • 6 slices of white bread (can be substitute with ½ cup bread crumbs or equivalent)
  • 1 cup of evaporated milk
  • 8.75 oz of crumbled queso fresco (salted or unsalted)
  • 1.75 oz of parmesan cheese

  • 1/4 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • Salt to taste

  • 1/3 cup of chopped walnuts or peanuts
  • 1 cup of chicken broth

  • 10 black olives
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • Chopped cilantro or Persil

Soak bread in milk and put in refrigerator. Boil chicken for about two hours. When done, take chicken and shred all meat (if you like skin, you can use that, too).

In a pot over medium heat, pour some oil (about a tablespoon) and add onions, garlic, pepper, cumin, aji panca, aji Amarillo or turmeric (aji mirasol can be used, too). Cook until onions are transparent, then add the bread soaked in milk, or bread crumbs and cup of milk. If too thick, thin it with the chicken broth but not too much, you want a thick consistency.

Add the shredded chicken and the queso fresco, mixing all well, add the walnuts, parmesan cheese and taste for salt.

Serve with white rice, cooked with salt and garlic to taste, (or boiled potatos instead of rice) and garnish with one olive and sliced hard boiled egg on top of Aji de Gallina. Add a leaf of lettuce, either on the side or half underneath the Aji de Gallina and sprinkle some cilantro on top.

Thanks, Eduardo! And to everyone else,

Buen provecho!

If you have a favorite recipe for a Mexican or Mexican-inspired dish, I'd love to add it to our recipe box! email (and put "recipe" in the subject box so I'll know what it's about)