Aji de Gallina, a spicy Peruvian chicken dish, is comfort food with a twist

07/22/2014 7:00 AM

07/22/2014 6:25 PM

In Peru, birthplace of the potato, cuisine leans firmly on starchy dishes.

“Peruvians love their starches, and every dish will either have rice or potatoes, and oftentimes both,” says Gabriela Morales, a student chef at JCCC’s Hospitality and Culinary Academy.

Morales grew up in Peru, so her comfort food of choice is a chicken dish loaded with complex flavors and complex carbohydrates: Aji de Gallina With White Rice and Yellow Potatoes.

“Aji means chili in Spanish, and aji amarillo is a Peruvian chili that is essential to the cuisine,” Morales says.

A chili paste and turmeric give this dish a bright yellow hue, enhanced by slices of hard-boiled egg.

Most ingredients for this dish can be found in American supermarkets, though the chili paste is a specialty item. Morales buys her Latin cooking ingredients at Latino y Punto, 10452 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park.

The dish is a sentimental favorite for Morales, who says her grandmother frequently made it for her. “My grandmother used to make aji de gallina like nobody else,” she says. “I hope I do hers justice.”

About the column

Cooking 101 is a bimonthly column exclusive to The Star designed to introduce home cooks to basic cooking techniques. The recipe, food styling and photography are a joint project between culinary students in and instructors of Johnson County Community College’s hospitality management program.

About the chef

Recipe by Gabriela Morales, 25, a fifth-semester student in the Johnson County Community College hospitality management program. She works at Chaz on the Plaza, in the Raphael Hotel.

Aji de Gallina With White Rice and Yellow Potatoes

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Potatoes:

3 medium yellow potatoes

Water, as needed

Kosher salt, to taste

Rice:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 garlic clove or more if you choose, minced

2 cups long-grain white rice

3 cups water

Kosher salt, to taste

Gallina:

1 white onion, roughly chopped

1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

1 celery stalk, roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 (3- to 31/2-pound) stewing or braising hen, skin and fat removed

4 cups chicken stock

Water as needed

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Aji sauce:

3 bolillo bread rolls, or about 5 slices white bread

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

1/2 cup olive oil

1 large red onion, finely diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

4 tablespoons aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chili paste), available at any Latin food store

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Reserved chicken broth, as needed

1/4 cup lightly toasted pecans or walnuts, finely chopped

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Chopped cilantro and hard-boiled egg, for garnish

For the potatoes: Put potatoes into a pot with enough cold water to cover and kosher salt to taste. Boil potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes, and drain in a colander; allow to cool. Peel off the skin and cut into 1/2-inch slices.

For the rice: In a medium saucepan add the oil and minced garlic. Cook over medium-high heat for about 1 minute, just until fragrant. Add the rice, and mix evenly until all the grains are coated with oil and garlic mixture. Add the water and kosher salt. Bring the water to a full boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and allow the rice to slowly simmer and absorb all of the water, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat but keep the pot covered, allowing the rice to rest for about 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff rice using a fork.

For the chicken: In a large Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cut the hen to fit in pot, if needed. Add stock and enough water to cover, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil on the stove over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cover. While cooking, periodically skim the top of any impurities. Cook until chicken is fully cooked and registers 165 degrees on a meat thermometer, about 45 to 60 minutes.

Remove pot from heat, and allow the hen and broth to cool completely. Separate the meat from the bones and, using your hands, tear all the meat into large chunks. (The meat will shred more while finishing in the sauce, so be sure not to shred the meat too small with your hands.) Discard the carcass; strain the broth and reserve.

For the sauce: Tear the bread into big pieces and place into a blender with the evaporated milk and about 1/2 cup of reserved chicken broth; blend until smooth and reserve.

Heat a large, straight-sided skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Allow the oil to just begin to heat up, then add the onions, sautéing gently until the onions are tender and beginning to turn golden brown. Add garlic, aji paste and turmeric. Cook this mixture, called a sofrito, for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly so it does not burn.

Add the reserved pieces of meat to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Stir well to incorporate meat into the sofrito, and cook for a few more minutes until well combined and all the meat is coated evenly. Add the reserved bread mixture from the blender and stir in fully. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, adding a little bit of broth as it thickens. Stir in the nuts and cheese and stir until fully melted, adding more broth if it’s too thick. It should be loose but not runny in consistency.

Garnish chicken and serve with rice and potatoes.

Per serving, based on 4: 1,277 calories (40 percent from fat), 59 grams total fat (12 grams saturated), 132 milligrams cholesterol, 130 grams carbohydrates, 67 grams carbohydrates, 644 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.

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