There’s a common misconception that South American food is all rice and beans. Before I went there myself, I have to admit that I was expecting something similar too.
But now I know better! Now, I’m blissfully aware of fresh tangy ceviche, hot meaty empanadas and creamy nutty huancaina sauce. Of course, the basics of South American home-cooking are hearty stews and carb-heavy meals – but again, these are far from boring.
From my treasured time spent in Peru, one of my favourite traditional dishes that I tried was Aji de Gallina – a creamy Peruvian chicken curry. This is a curry like no other, made from tender hen meat in a creamy sauce that is spicy and nutty all at the same time. It’s a Peruvian classic and you won’t try anything else like it. It’s uniqueness comes from the spicy amarillo peppers, native to Peru. It’s the unique flavour of the amarillo pepper and the fresh nutty cheese that makes the sauce so rich and creamy.
Having tried it in Tito’s Peruvian Restaurant in London Bridge (image above), I made a promise to myself that I would try to recreate this unique and special Peruvian curry. Lacking the amarillo peppers (which are near impossible to get in this country), I made some adjustments to the recipe that I found in Flor Arcaya de Deliot’s “The Food and Cooking of Peru”.
I spent a quiet Sunday evening trying to recreate this Peruvian memory of mine, where I hoped and prayed it would be like the one I had in Huancayo in 2011. Of course, it didn’t quite match up, but it was a pretty good attempt. It’s a thick creamy curry, rich in flavour but with a little kick to it.
Aji de Gallina
- 200g chicken thighs
- 2 sticks of celery
- 3 slices of white bread reduced to crumbs
- 1 can of evaporated milk
- Vegetable oil
- 1 large onion
- Ground almonds
- Parmesan cheese
- 2 red chillies, chopped finely and deseeded
- Rice (for side)
- Potatoes (for side)
- 1 boiled egg (for side)
- Black pitted olives (for garnish)
Fill a pan with water and cook the chicken in a pan with the chopped up celery and season with salt. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 40 minutes.
Lift out the chicken, reserving the stock and stripping the meat from the bone. Shred the chicken up finely with a fork, like you would with pulled pork.
To make the chilli sauce, blend the chillies with 100ml of water and blend to a purée. Soak the breadcrumbs in the half of evaporated milk for 5 minutes then blend to a smooth paste. Fry the onion in a pan, adding the chilli purée and then the bread and milk mixture, stirring until it thickens.
Once the sauce is thick, stir in the chicken with 750ml of the reserved chicken stock. Stir and cook until the sauce is hot and creamy, before adding the crushed almonds and parmesan cheese.
This dish is typically served on top of rice and boiled potatoes, (the Peruvian staples) and topped with half a boiled egg and olives on top.