Food Culture, Peruvian Cuisine

Chef’s Sunday: Peru’s Christmas Cuisine

Pavo al Horno with Mashed Potatoes
Pavo al Horno with Mashed Potatoes
Pavo al Horno with Mashed Potatoes

Every year in December, people begin to absorb the spirit of Christmas. Children jump with joy, knowing they will get the gift they have hoped for all year long because they have behaved well. Their parents will make sure their dreams come true. Their houses get decorated with trees, manger scenes, and multicolored lights that in sum create the Christmas scene.

On the other hand their mothers and grandmothers rely on their creativity to think what delights should accompany Peru’s famous baked turkey (pavo al horno).Without doubt it is the best part of Christmas.  In different parts of Peru women have their own, family recipes for the turkey that are passed down from generation to generation. It comes accompanied by different side dishes. Although turkey is very common, it is not the main dish eaten in every region of our country on Christmas Eve.  Many families have the tradition of eating other preparations.

In the Peruvian jungle families have the custom of eating chicken instead of turkey. They flavor it with spices from the zone and with exotic fruits. They stuff it with a green rice made with seasonings and herbs of the region that is very similar to the arroz con pollo (chicken with rice). It is a mixture of sweet and salty that is delicious.

Pato a la Chiclayana (http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Archivo:Arroz_con_pato_a_la_ chiclayana.JPG)
Pato a la Chiclayana (http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Archivo:Arroz_con_pato_a_la_ chiclayana.JPG)

In Peru’s north they exchange the turkey for the fantastic pato chiclayano (Chiclyo style duck). The duck is seasoned with the classic herbs and spices of the north, such as their classic hot peppers (ajies) and fine herbs. The duck goes into a wood fired oven for two hours so that the heat of the wood works its magic and incredible flavors bloom from this bird. It is accompanied by a mash of racacha, a tuber similar to the sweet potato and that is indigenous to Peru.

In the highlands they substitute their traditional cuy chactado (guinea pig) for the turkey. But since it is Christmas they stuff the animal with a flavorful filling, fine herbs and vegetables finely diced. They tie it well and submerge it in abundant oil so that the whole surface of the cuy will be crunchy.  It is accompanied by boiled tubers with the option of rice.

Cuy Chactado (http://commons.wikimedia.org/ wiki/File:Cuy_chactao.jpg)
Cuy Chactado (http://commons.wikimedia.org/ wiki/File:Cuy_chactao.jpg)

In Lima the custom is to  serve the marvelous turkey from the oven with different sides.  There are the classic mashed sweet potatoes, the apple sauce, and the Arabic rice.

But in my case, I exchange it all for a different accompaniment: a fusion of native potatoes with fresh green apples, Andean peas, and mayonnaise dressed with salt from the famous salt mines of Maras in Cuzco and northern pepper.

I exchange the Arabic rice for a subtle rice with finely minced parsley and peppers in a brunoise slice (about 2 ml wide).

Christmas Turkey (http://renzogourmet.files.wordpress.com/ 2011/12/pavo252812529.jpg
Christmas Turkey (http://renzogourmet.files.wordpress.com/ 2011/12/pavo252812529.jpg

Since it is Christmas, I will tell you my family’s secret for a good turkey.  Before the bird goes in the oven, I cover it with lime juice from the special limes of the Peruvian north and salt so that its pores open and it absorbs all the flavor of the seasonings that you prepare. The most important thing is that I inject pisco (the Peruvian liquor par excellence) throughout the bird. This will keep the turkey juicy and assure its internal fibers not get dry. More than anything else the pisco will impart an amazing flavor in the cooking of the bird. I promise you.

What ever mode you have of preparing your turkey, I am sure that it will be delicious because you will be making it with lots of love and family unity. I hope you enjoy all that this world-wide feast called Christmas brings int he company of the people you love the most.

Santa in Cuzco
Santa in Cuzco
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