Ají de Gallina

Recipe contributed by Peruvian chef Marita Lynn. Her company, Catering by Maria, serves New York City and Greater New Jersey.

Ají de Gallina is a spicy stew made with hen and ají, and it is a source of some controversy in my family – I like to use ají mirasol, the way it is made in Lima, but my mother and my aunts insist the proper way is with ají panca, the way they learned from my grandmother.

The dish can be traced back to Incan times, when a type of bird called hualpa was cooked then shredded and served with ají sauce. Later, French chefs fleeing the French Revolution put their imprint on Ají de Gallina, and the dish also became known as Spicy Peruvian Chicken Fricassee. Many of these chefs worked for wealthy Criollo families (a social class of people born in the New World with pure Spanish ancestry), bringing their recipes and techniques with them. This fusion of Peruvian tradition and French cooking can be seen in Ají de Gallina as well as Parihuela, also known as Peruvian Bouillabaisse.

My mom and my aunts learned from my grandmother to cook it with ají panca (ají colorado), which gives the chicken a red tint. They say this is the traditional – and correct – way, but I love to make it with ají mirasol, and the resulting yellow color is what is most commonly found in Lima. Traditionally the dish is made with non-laying hens, but today most people use chicken, and there are also other variations, for example using seafood and shellfish instead of chicken.

Ají de Gallina is one of my favorite dishes and so easy to prepare. Try it with both ají mirasol and ají panca let me know what you think.
¡Buen Provecho!

Serves 6

4 whole chicken breasts, skin removed, about 1 lb each
4 cups chicken stock
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped plus 1 medium white onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery with leaves, stalk roughly chopped and leaves reserved
1 bay leaf
½ loaf sliced white bread, crust removed
1½ cups milk
¼ cup canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ cup ají mirasol paste
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
¼ cup walnuts, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook chicken breast with 4 cups of chicken stock, carrots, 1 chopped onion, chopped celery, celery leaves and bay leaf in a pot on medium heat, simmering for about 40 minutes. Once cooked, let chicken cool then shred into bite-size pieces. Reserve two cups of the stock.

In a bowl, crumble the bread and soak in the milk for 10 minutes, then put the mixture in the blender to form a panada that will bind the dish.

In a medium pan, heat canola oil and sauté 1 diced onion until translucent, then add chopped celery, garlic, cumin and ají mirasol paste and cook for 5 minutes. Add the soaked bread mixture and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 10 minutes, then start adding hot chicken stock slowly, stirring constantly to maintain a creamy consistency. Add stock whenever the sauce thickens too much. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Finally, add the shredded chicken, parmesan cheese and walnuts. Add a little more stock if necessary, gently stirring so the chicken pieces stay intact. Simmer for 8 minutes and adjust seasoning as needed.

Ají de Gallina is often served with a side of white rice and/or sliced potatoes and garnished with botija black olives and hard-boiled eggs.

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