Peruvian Creamy Yellow-Chili Chicken

by Liz Caskey on April 26, 2011

Shredded chicken with ground walnuts, cheese, and chilies is a flavorful main dish.

A fundamental of Peruvian creole cuisine, this dish known as Ají de Gallina in Spanish, is a hallmark. Its roots are firmly placed in the country’s colonial history when Lima was a center of wealth and power. At that time its shredded chicken base was combined with products imported from Europe, like cream and an aromatic mixture of onions, garlic, and nuts. This dish was usually prepared for the wealthy class. Today it is a popular dish countrywide and internationally, with a creamy, lightly piquant taste with deep, complex flavors. The addition of ground walnuts combined with chilies and Parmesan cheese is very exotic and unusual.

Ají de gallina is typically served with boiled white rice.  We suggest making this ahead of time as the flavors only deepen as they meld together. Perfect for your next Peruvian-themed dinner party.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

2 whole chicken breasts

1 bay leaf

4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in thick slices

11⁄2 cups evaporated milk

2 slices white bread

1⁄4 cup vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons yellow chili paste

1⁄8 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon cumin

1 cup chopped walnuts

1⁄2-1 cup chicken sauce

2⁄3 cup grated Parmesan

2 teaspoons salt

8 black olives

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and slices

  • Shred chicken meat to fine threads. Combine evaporated milk with bread and let absorb.
  • Heat oil in a saucepan; fry onion, garlic, chili paste, black pepper, turmeric, and cumin. Cook until onion is translucent. Blend onion mixture with milk, bread, and chopped walnuts to a smooth, thick consistency.
  • Return mixture to pan, adding 1⁄2 cup stock; fold in shredded chicken and Parmesan.  Adjust salt and pepper.
  • Serve with slices of cooked potatoes, black olives, and hard-boiled eggs.

Tips to poach the Chicken:

  • Completely cover the chicken with liquid. Start with cold water, a pinch of salt, and a bay leaf.
  • Poach chicken with bay leaf until cooked through. Reserve stock, let chicken cool, then shred
  • The heat should only be slightly above a simmer in order to gently cook the meat. Cook approximately 20 minutes.
  • Strain the broth to get rid of any fat and scum that was released during the cooking process.

Tips to make the Chili Sauce:

  • The addition of turmeric adds a mild flavor and intensifies the yellow color from the chili paste.
  • Finely chop the walnuts before adding to the blender.
  • The broth adds moisture to the sauce. If the sauce thickens too much, just add a little more broth to reach a creamy consistency.
  • Keep the heat on low to avoid scalding the cream sauce.

Make it Easy:

  • If you don’t have time to poach a chicken, buy a rotisserie chicken at the market and shred the meat. Substitute the poaching liquid with low-sodium canned chicken stock for a quick meal. If evaporated milk and bread are unavailable, substitute single cream and 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs per slice of bread.

Green Light:

  • Pastured, organic poultry is a better option than commercial varieties, which may have added hormones and receive antibiotics. The flavor is better, the meat juicier, and it’s nutritionally superior since the chickens feed in pastures with a natural, clean diet. The chickens remain healthier, which translates to a healthier meat with more vitamins E and C and beta-carotene, and no drugs.

This is an original recipe and photography from Liz Caskey & Francisco Ramírez’s cookbook, Knack South American Cooking. To get your copy, click here.

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