A spicy and creamy chicken stew, aji de gallina is classic Peruvian comfort food at its best.
Without question, my favorite Peruvian dish is Aji de Gallina — a spicy and creamy chicken stew that made me fall in love with Peruvian food during a spicy epiphany many years ago. But only recently did I learn that its origins can be traced to Medieval Spain and to Roman and Arab cuisines. It’s a true comfort food for me, and a wonderful example of how a dish can evolve, transform, and taste uniquely Peruvian.
According to research done by Isabel Álvarez Novoa, a sociologist and expert on Peruvian cuisine, Aji de Gallina originated from a dish called Manjar Blanco which was a thick and creamy mixture of chicken, rice, almonds, and sugar. Once it arrived in Peru, the creole cooks quickly adapted it using local ingredients such as the aji amarillo, and a new dish, the Aji de Gallina was born.
But the story doesn’t end there. Manjar Blanco is also the name of the sweet custard filling used in the Peruvian Alfajores. And food historians believe that the dessert version also originated from the chicken version, except that the chicken was removed when meat was not allowed in a diet during religious holidays. So as it turns out, one of my favorite Peruvian desserts is inexorably intertwined with my favorite dish.
There are many variations but the recipe here is mine, and is the result of decades of cooking sessions in my mom’s kitchen. Some recipes call only for chicken breast but I find that also using dark meat gives added flavor. Aji amarillo is the key spice and I add some turmeric for added color. And though it takes patience to poach the chicken and slow cook the stew, after one bite you may just have your own spicy epiphany and fall in love with Peruvian food.
Want to learn how to make it? Get the recipe here!
Cover photo: El Comercio
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