Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Aji de Gallina

This is hands down my favorite meal. Of all time. Seriously. It's that nostalgic comfort meal from childhood that immediately takes me back to my Grandparents house. How I loved this dish but didn't even know the name of it for years. It was just the creamy chicken with pecans and how delicious does that sound?
Between the time that my Grandmother passed away and I moved to New York, where seeking out Peruvian food became my ultimate culinary quest (and a lot more feasible given the immigration),  I don't think I had aji de gallina once. And even in New York, even at the most authentic of Peruvian joints across all boroughs it wasn't the same. There would be peanuts instead of pecans, not enough or too much spice, they would serve it with shrimp instead of chicken (more likely at the Peruvian fusion places, but still). So I decided I had to go back to the source, because if you want something done right (or at least done the way you prefer) you have to do it yourself. The first time I made it... well it was ok. Several tweaks later and I've found that to taste like my Grandmother's I had to use Kraft parmesan (yes, believe it or not... the fancy, unprocessed stuff didn't work). I had to use pecans and I had to throw in a little parsley. And most importantly, I had to use aji amarillo paste (some recipes say you can substitute with cayenne but I've tried this and not the same). Aji amarillo paste can be found at just about any South or even Central American market.

Still, it's not the same and it never will be. Because my Grandmother isn't the one at the stove. But knowing that I can make something that's a moderate second to hers, and the way I loved as a child, that helps. Even having been gone for over 10 years, she's never far  from my mind. And making her food just helps to keep her even closer. My sister also did an amazing post a few years back about tweaking recipes to make them perfect to memory and all I have to say is that this is so true. 

Aji de Gallina
1 1/2 lb. chicken (i tend to use just bone-in but de-skinned breasts) 
2 slices white bread
1 Tbl. aji amarillo (
Peruvian yellow peppers)- can find in South American markets
3 cloves garlic
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
1/2 tsp cumin
Pinch of saffron
2 Tbl. chopped parsley
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese (as I said, I use Kraft because using fancier Parmesan just didn't taste right to me. But if you have no base to go off of or prefer non-Kraft cheese then try whatever you'd like)
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1 Tbl. vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For Garnish
1-2 hard boiled eggs
2 Tbl. coarsely chopped black olives

1. Stew chicken in a pot with enough water to cover. In a skillet add 1/2 Tbl. oil and once hot add1/2 of the chopped onion. When translucent add the pinch of saffron and stir until just fragrant. 

2. While the onion is cooking in a food processor tear up the bread and add it in along with the evaporated milk, garlic, aji amarillo, 1/2 of the chopped onion, cumin and turmeric. Blend well until smooth. Add in the cooked onion and saffron and add in parmesan cheese. Blend well again.

3. When the chicken is cooked remove to cool slightly and reserve a cup of the leftover stock. Shred chicken into bite sized strips and heat skillet with the remaining 1/2 Tbl. oil and add the cheese mixture and stock. Cook until reduced to a creamy sauce and add the chicken and parsley.

4. Serve over white rice. Or white rice and quinoa like I did for some extra protein. Garnish with some chopped hard boiled egg and a sprinkle of olives.


  1. For my vegetarian friends you can substitute with seitan, extra firm tofu or any number of vegetables... I'm thinking broccoli or cauliflower in the cheesy sauce would be delicious!

  2. You have a great way of describing all the off the menu (read emotional)ingredients that make certain meals so much more than "food". Great post!



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