SPICY CHICKEN IN CREAMY CHEESE, PECAN AND HOT PEPPER SAUCE.
Creamy, spicy, with the pungency of the Parmesan cheese and the delicate texture of the pecans, Aji de Gallina means hen´s chili. Hen used to be the meat of preference in Lima till a few years ago, hence the name, but its tough flesh took so much longer to cook than chicken, that people eventually switched to the easier, younger and less intimidating poultry. So you don´t need to find a hen for the recipe to be faithful to the original… buy a chicken and you´ll be good.
When I first became acquainted with this dish years ago, it looked so difficult to prepare that I decided I would just eat it when someone else was in charge of the cooking. At the time, I struggled with the right use of chili peppers, (Peruvians are masters in this issue), and I didn´t really learn how to make it until I went to culinary school. I have to admit I was wrong once I tried it, everything made sense to me and I understood that it is an easy preparation and not time consuming at all, but of course it is not fast food either.
This dish is neither a stew nor a fricassee, but a flavorful sauce to which cooked chicken is added. There are 3 basic steps in the preparation: cooking the poultry, preparing the sauce, and combining both to blend the flavors. Once this is done, don´t cook it any longer because the chicken will turn stringy. You just want to heat it briefly so everything is piping hot but not boiling. Feel free to use any part of the chicken you want, and always remove the skin before cooking. Versions of the dish are also prepared using shrimps, eggs, or even tuna instead of the chicken.
Some cooks substitute the pecans with sesame seeds or with almonds. This is a matter of personal taste, but I love it with pecans cause that´s how I came to know the recipe and it feels more authentic to me. The shredding of the meat is another point of discussion; some like it finely shredded and some prefer it chunky or with large pieces of meat. In this case I am giving you the traditional preparation, and if you like it -I am sure you will- you can then use the leftovers to stuff empanadas (turnovers), ravioli, sandwiches, etc. Or just reheat it and enjoy with more white rice on the side.
This recipe is very flexible; you can double or triple it if you feel like throwing an impromptu party with friends or family.
- 1 skinless chicken breast
- 3 cups water
- Salt and pepper
- 3 slices white bread
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ½ red onion finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon aji amarillo chili pepper
- 1 tablespoon aji¬ mirasol chili pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ cup pecans, finely chopped
- ½ cup evaporated milk or Half & Half
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 hard boiled eggs
- 2 potatoes, cooked in boiling water, peeled
- 4 black olives
- Parsley sprigs for decoration
- 2 cups cooked white rice
- In a heavy saucepan, cook the chicken breast in the water with salt and pepper, uncovered and over high heat (about 20 minutes). If you wish to add a parsley sprig or a bay leaf, you can and the resulting stock will be more flavorful.
- When it is tender, take out the cooked breast, shred the meat with two forks or with your fingers and reserve. Strain the stock.
- Put the bread slices in a bowl and add one cup of the stock. When the bread has soaked all the stock, process in a blender to form a loose paste. Reserve.
- In the same saucepan you used, heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic over medium heat (about 10 minutes). Stir continuously and don´t let them brown. When they are very soft and almost transparent, add and stir the aji¬ amarillo chili pepper and aji¬ mirasol, then add the dried oregano and keep cooking for 5 minutes.
- Add the bread and one more cup of chicken stock to the pan, (always stirring) for 3 more minutes or until the mixture starts to thicken.
- Add and stir the shredded chicken, pecans, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper but be careful because the cheese is already salty.
- Finally incorporate the evaporated milk or Half & Half, stir and turn off the heat. If it looks too thick, thin it with more chicken stock. The sauce should be creamy, like every piece of chicken is covered with the velvety sauce.
- Cut the cooked potatoes in thick slices and put 2 pieces on every plate. Cover with the Aji de Gallina and serve with white rice at the side.
- Decorate with hard boiled eggs cut in half or quarters, black olives and a parsley sprig.