Golden ají de gallina, shredded chicken and ají, is the favorite dish of many Peruvians, especially children. Strange enough it is not the fried food they usually clamor for. Instead the creaminess of a yellow ají sauce combined with chicken broth makes them delirious with pleasure when they taste it.
Hardworking mothers, who day by day invent new dishes thanks to their need and creativity. When they saw they only had a couple of yellow hot peppers, dried bread remaining from earlier breakfasts, and some chicken their instincts kicked in and they created this fabulous dish.
It consists of chicken boiled with vegetables, which when cooked is shredded, mixed with a paste made from the yellow peppers and moistened bread. The result is served to the side of white rice.
With the passage of years and the development of Peruvian cuisine, this dish has improved to such an extent it is now considered one of the top ten Peruvian dishes and is served all over the world where people enjoy Peruvian food.
One improvement was getting rid of the ordinary Peruvian bread and opting for white bread from a loaf, which has a finer grain and less crust. It is also very white and so does not ruin the amazing color of the yellow ají sauce.
New culinary techniques were adopted to get a better result from cooking the chicken. The goal was for it not to be dry and flavorless from being over cooked. Instead chefs obtained a juicy, flavorful chicken to give more vigor to the sauce and intensify the flavor.
Some people played with the combinations of flavors and added new ingredients to try to obtain a better mixture of flavors. And, of course, the dish was fused with other dishes and cuisines to create something even newer by reinterpreting this classic. Sometimes it was kept the same but chefs played with the way it was plated and presented worthy of being served in any of the great world restaurants.
Forgetting for now about high cuisine and focusing on the original, I remember that when I was a boy every time my mother said she was going to cook an ají de gallina, I jumped with joy along with my brothers and my cousins who were always at our house.
On tasting the creaminess of the sauce mixed with chicken and yellow potatoes, I would sigh in pleasure. It was the best and I felt happy.
This was the first dish I learned to cook when I entered culinary school. It was also the first I made for my family, something that was a very important step for me. It is easy to make but one must pay attention to the details. If you do, I assure you that the dish will delight all at your table.
Ají de Gallina
- 1 large chicken breast
- 2 medium onions
- 1 tomato
- 1 tbs garlic paste
- 7 tbs yellow aji paste
- 2 tbs ají mirasol paste
- 5 slices white bread.
- 100 Evaporated milk
- 50 Fresh milk
- Boiled egg
Fill a pot half full with water and add an onion cut into fourths, the tomato cut in fourths, salt and heat. Once it boils add the chicken and let it cook until the chicken is just done. Remove the chicken, cool, and shred into strips about 1/2 cm wide and reserve.
Add oil to a fry pan and heat. Then add the sliced onion. Let it sweat for a few minutes and then add the yellow ají and mirasol ají pastes. Cook for a few minutes until the onion loses its bitterness.
To this we add a mixture made in the blender. For this we slice the crust off the white bread and add the bread to the blender, with a bit of boiled chicken stock and blend well until smooth.
Once we have added the blended bread we place the shredded chicken in the sauce and heat. Finally we add the evaporated and fresh milk.. We rectify the seasoning and make sure the sauce ends up somewhat thick.
We serve the chicken to the side of a mound of white rice and boiled potato. We decorate the dish with a sliced, boiled egg and an olive. In Peru we use botija olives.
Yellow ají is the dried form and ají mirasol is a fresh pepper, available frozen in Peruvian markets and on line.
To make a paste of the dried ají, soak them in hot water until soft, blend, sieve the liquid to remove solids and thicken the sauce over heat into a thin paste. Add salt to taste.
With the fresh mirasol pepper, a paste is made by blending it with water, sieving, thickening and seasoning.
Garlic is ground or blended into a paste.
Botija olives can be found in Peruvian stores or from importers on line. If you cannot find them you can substitute a strong dark olive, such as a kalamata.