Using the flavorsome Peruvian yellow pepper (ají amarillo) as its main ingredient, ají de gallina – a creamy, curry-like shredded chicken dish – has long been Peru’s favorite comfort food. In recent years, however, the dish has won itself a spot on some of Lima’s top restaurant menus. We stopped by TASTE Peruvian Cooking Studio to chat to Lima-born Le Cordon Bleu chef Christian Manrique to find out how to make the famous ají de gallina at home.
CT: Where do you think the love for ají de gallina comes from in Peru?
Chef Christian Manrique (CCM): Ají de gallina is a meal that reminds every Peruvian of one’s childhood home. I remember when I was younger my mother and grandmother would often make huge pots of the stuff, and we would eat it together at the table as a family. It’s the ultimate home-cooked comfort food.
CT: Before we start cooking, what, for you, makes an authentic ají de gallina?
CCM: Definitely the use of the Peruvian ají amarillo, as this makes up 90% of the dish’s unique flavor. You could use a different type of mild chili, but it just wouldn’t be an ají de gallina. A rich queso fresco (soft Andean cheese) that isn’t too salty and has the perfect creamy consistency is also essential.
CT: What are the common mistakes you see when newbies take on this iconic dish?
CCM: Cooking the ají de gallina may look simple at first, but there are two mistakes people often make: overcooking the chicken and under-/over-seasoning the sauce. The chicken should be nice and moist, not dry or chalky. I make sure my chicken is always cooked at an internal temperature of 70 degrees Celsius (160F) by using a kitchen thermometer. The sauce should be a nice creamy consistency (not too thick or runny) and be seasoned at the last minute; this way you can allow for the saltiness of the cheese.
CT: Any final tips before we take the plunge?
CCM: Be sure to cook your sides, such as the rice, potatoes and eggs, before you start making the ají de gallina. This way, you can serve up the dish as soon as it’s ready, which is when the flavor of the ají is at its tastiest.
What you’ll need
Now that you’ve got the lowdown on Peru’s favorite home-cooked dish, it’s time to get down to business. According to Chef Manrique, here’s what you’ll need for a knockout ají de gallina.
For the Ají
1 chicken breast (on the bone)
1 red onion, roughly chopped
3.5 oz (100g) roughly chopped garlic
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
Salt and pepper
2 bay leaves
17 oz (482g) deseeded and deveined Peruvian ají amarillo (You can buy frozen or dried ají amarillo peppers in most Latin markets all over the world. If you can’t get hold of them, substitute with another mildly spiced pepper.)
2 oz (57g) peeled pecans
Soda crackers (as needed)
3/4 cup + 1.5 Tbsp (200ml) evaporated milk
5 oz (150g) queso fresco (feta or halloumi would also do the trick)
2 lb (0.9 kg) yellow potatoes, peeled and sliced
A handful of sliced, pitted olives
4 hard-boiled eggs
Boil the potatoes, rice and eggs. Set aside.
Clean the chicken breast, removing all of the skin and fat but leaving the meat on the bone. Set aside for a moment.
Place your sliced leeks in a saucepan filled with water, along with the bay leaves and peppercorns, and put on a high heat. Once the water starts to boil, add the chicken breast.
Once the chicken is cooked, take the pan off the heat and let the broth cool down. Strain the stock into a jug and put to one side (we will be using this in a moment). You will need about 2/3 cup (150ml).
Once the chicken has cooled down, shred it into bite-size chunks. Set aside.
Next up, place the ají amarillo peppers in a deep pan with a little oil and sauté them along with the garlic and onions. Cook until soft.
Take the ají, garlic and onions off the heat, and leave to cool for a few minutes. Then, place the ají mixture into a blender, along with the evaporated milk, soft cheese, the chicken stock you set aside earlier, pecans and soda crackers (put in as much as is needed to get a nice consistency).
Put the blended mixture onto the heat and add the shredded chicken. Reduce the sauce on a low heat until a creamy, curry-like consistency is achieved. Be careful here: you want a sauce that isn’t too runny but not too stodgy either.
Serve with your cooked white rice, yellow potatoes, a sprinkling of black olives and a couple slices of hard-boiled egg.
Meet the chef
Christian Manrique is a Peruvian chef who trained at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts school. After working in top-end restaurants and five-star hotels in Sydney and Miami, he returned to Peru to set up his own cooking school in Cusco, where, through combining Andean ingredients with contemporary cooking techniques, he aims to showcase his country’s diverse culinary roots to the world.
Note: Our photographed version uses dried pulla (or puya) peppers instead of traditional ají amarillo due to availability at the local grocery store. You can similarly replace your peppers with any mildly spicy red, yellow, or orange pepper as well.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.