Besides the classic cebichería, there is another kind of gourmand temple adorning almost every street of every city in Peru. Known as pollerías, these informal eateries serve one of our gastronomy’s champions: pollo a la brasa, or Peruvian roasted chicken, in English. This coal roasted chicken is golden, juicy, and the perfect size to enjoy every bit of its tender meat, full of secret flavors that are the product of a wise combination of spices and seasonings.
From what I know, the creator of this specialty dish was Mr. Roger Schuler, a Swiss immigrant and founder of one of the most respected culinary families of Lima. He invented this method to properly cook the chicken, and founded La Granja Azul, (back in the 1950´s), one of the most popular restaurants in Lima to date. This country roasted chicken haven had a very unique style, that gave it immediate fame and became a socialite magnet: designer drinks, non-stop service (waiters literally kept bringing chicken to your table continously until you said stop), crêpes as the only dessert on the menu (very good crêpes, I’ve got to say), glamorous parties, and a huge playground for the kids, with ponnies and lakes included. The place was, and still is a mega success, and has become timeless. It also marked the beginning of the Golden Age of this rustic style of cooking.
Schuler’s success was so big that soon other pollerías opened their doors in the city: El Ají Seco, La Caravana, El Rancho, Don Tito, among many others. Don Tito first opened in the neighborhood of San Borja, back in 1984, and is one of the most promising businesses of its kind, with big plans for expansion in the next few months, as Alberto Fiorini, one of the owners, tells us. I talked to him a couple days ago and asked him this very important question:
What is the secret for a great pollo a la brasa? As I was expecting, there is more than just one.
1. The size of the chicken (ranging from 900 to 1800 grs.) Don Tito favors the 1500 grs chicken.
2. The chicken needs to be cooked with wood fire or coal (a few years ago, carob wood was in vogue because it gave a subtle flavor to the meat, but now is an endangered species, so these chicken joints had to turn to other types of wood.) Never use a gas range, it won´t be the same.
3. The chicken should be crispy and golden on the outside, but juicy and tender inside, without being raw. And I mean juicy, not greasy.
4. Two types of marinades are needed: a) a liquid one, with beer, garlic and spices; and b) a dry one, with salt, pepper, cumin, and the secret ingredient of every chef.
5. A master rotissier knows the right temperature to achieve the perfect texture.
6. Compulsory side dishes: A light, fresh and basic lettuce, tomato, and avocado salad with vinaigrette dressing, and thick French fries, cooked twice for the perfect crispiness. We prefer Peruvian potatoes, of course!
We have noticed that in the United States and other countries, these pollerías are increasingly popular, but their offering is also more varied. As side dishes you can find rice, black beans, plantains and some other favorites, like tallarín saltado or arroz chaufa.
Did you have leftovers? I love to shred the chicken and add it to a salad made with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, olives, avocado and red onions. Other options are to chop the chicken meat and use it to stuff ravioli, or slice it and make sandwiches, with thick tomato slices and a good quality mayo.
If you want to indulge in a real celebration, we have the National Pollo a la Brasa Day, which takes place on the 3rd Sunday of July. You must have realized by now that we look for any reason to celebrate, right? Hey, it’s not a bad way to be!
We published this post some weeks ago, but people keep asking about the recipe, so we scanned our cookbooks and found this recipe in one of Gastón Acurio´s cookbooks: Las Cocinas del Futuro. And here it is, the much requested recipe for pollo a la brasa, according to our admired celebrity chef.
- 2 tablespoon roasted garlic paste
- 1 cup black beer
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1 chicken
- In a bowl combine garlic paste, black beer, vegetable oil, soy sauce, pepper, cumin and salt.
- Marinate the chicken in this preparation up to 12 hours.
- Drain and roast in an open fire until it is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.