Food Culture

Chicken Salpicón, Poetic and Delicious

Chicken Salpicón

Among the amazing dishes that make up Peruvian cuisine we find the chicken salpicón, a kind of chicken salad.  It is a dish with roots deep in Spain and yet which is very common in Peru as an appetizer or even a main dish.  Its basic idea is a “scattering” of ingredients since salpicar–its root–means “to splash”, “to sprinkle”, or “to fleck.”  This language creates a delightful image of small ingredients scattering onto a plate like flecks of ocean from a crashing wave.

Indeed that image of a splash of ingredients falling onto a plate captures the same idea as the Anglo American tossed salad, where ingredients are lifted and dropped to create that effect of a scattering.  Yet the salpicon has different roots.

This delicious dish is well known among Peruvians and other Latin Americans.  People like it because it is flavorful and yet has little fat.  It is also easy to make from a combination of shredded chicken with julienned vegetables, such as peas, carrots, tomatoes, and onion, on a bed of lettuce.   Although there are standard expectations the contents can vary from cook to cook as can the cuts of chicken used, such as thighs or breasts.

The basic idea is to have cold cooked chicken that is then shredded, either finely or more roughly according to taste.  The chicken is mixed with the other ingredients and then served, often with a bit of mayonnaise added to the combination at the time of mixing it.  This mixture is then spooned onto a plate, often on a bed of lettuce and served.  (Here is one recipe for Peruvian salpicón in English and one in Spanish.)

As a combination of cold ingredients centered on meats, salpicón is found referred to in sixteenth century Spanish writings.  Currently, it is strongly represented in Andalusia from which, undoubtedly, it made its way to the new world to develop into an almost infinite set of variations on single theme.  In this it is like so many other imports from Spain.

Chicken Salpicón For Sale at San Pedro Market
Chicken Salpicón For Sale at San Pedro Market

Although salpicón probably made its way to Peru along with so many other things in the early days of the Spanish invasion, references are made to it during the nineteenth century as a common food for ceremonies.   In Cuzco, though, its uneven spread suggests that it came more recently, as part of the general spread of creole foods from the coast, instead of as an early dish that adapted to local Cuzco ways.

While the most known salpicón is made from beef, in Peru chicken is a favorite.  This fowl has taken the country by storm and has become the favorite by far across the board.  As a result it is no surprise that salpicón would now be commonly made from chicken.

In Peru the salpicón includes potatoes.  This tuber is well known around the world, but is native to Peru and as a result in its infinite varieties makes its way into almost all dishes.  So it is not at all surprising that salpicón would also require potates.

As with most foods, this dish continues to evolve.  Lately people have been addings grains of sweet corn which makes a spectacular combination with the other ingredients.  Other people are adding celery.  The dish is not fixed.

Have fun trying this dish in Cuzco restaurants when it is offered (Antojitos almost always has it as an appetizer in its set lunch–menú) or enjoy making it at home.  It is simple and worth adding to your culinary repertoire.

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