While I had eaten Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken before, aji de gallina was my first taste of “real” Peruvian fare. You see, Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken has become somewhat common here in the United States (I mean there are two eateries serving this in Pittsburgh alone, a city lacking on the Latin food and culture fronts). But my first time dining at the long-since shuttered Aji Picante restaurant in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, this is when I first tried aji de gallina, the dish that when literally translated means “hen’s chili.” When loosely translated, it can best be summed up as chicken in a spicy sauce. And everything about it is to die for.
One of the things that makes aji de gallina so memorable (besides its addicting taste) is its rather bright and colorful look which it gets from the aji amarillo (yellow chile) which also happens to be the most common pepper cultivated and consumed in Peru. When I visited Peru back in 2014, I definitely had a traveler’s checklist and on that checklist were matters of a food nature. I was not to come home without eating IN Peru, lomo saltado and aji de gallina. Naturally this was not difficult to do as I had a rather delicious version of the latter on our first day in Cusco.
Ever since I returned home I had wanted to make my own aji de gallina, especially since getting it from Aji Picante wasn’t an option and a place like Miami isn’t exactly close by to Pittsburgh. But I felt somewhat stuck since Pittsburgh being the non-Latin anything city that it is, there are no aji amarillo to be had and that is truly the one ingredient you do actually need in order to make a successful aji de gallina (i.e. no substituting). So after months (okay, closer to well over a year) of saying I really wanted to make this and needed to find a way make it happen, I discovered aji amarillo hot yellow pepper paste. It seems to be sold all over the Internet, I happened to purchase a jar through La Tienda, a store that primarily sells food wares from Spain although it does also sell a small amount of merchandise from Latin American countries, Peru being included in this.
After more than a year since my trip to Peru, last fall I finally made my own aji de gallina. Sure, the presentation wasn’t nearly as pretty as what I had in Cusco, or the version D had on our last night in Peru when we dined at the famous Huaca Pucllana restaurant in the capital of Peru. Not to mention, I can never seem to hard boil an egg to perfection. But you know what? Taste wise, my aji de gallina was spot on. The sauce that’s found in the dish is one of the most superior tasting ones in my opinion-rich and creamy with a fantastic amount of kick to it (don’t worry, it’s nothing overly spicy, you just can definitely taste the peppers).
Have you ever eaten aji de gallina before? What about Peruvian food? Is it a cuisine you’d like to try sometime?