A tasty Peruvian dish, this chilli chicken recipe will warm the cockles of your heart on even the coldest of days.
Originally a dish using an old hen (gallina) rather than a meat bird (pollo), this dish was refined by French chefs who came to Peru after the French Revolution. Some recipes now use chicken breasts and chicken stock, although chicken on the bone and water is just as tasty.
You want to aim for a yellow dish, so it is best to use the Peruvian ají amarillo (yellow chilli), fresh, dry or in a paste, although Scotch Bonnet or habanero are good substitutes for their fruity, spicy flavours. Also look for yellow potatoes to serve as an accompaniment and use hard-boiled eggs with a good colour to the yolk.
Ají de gallina (chilli chicken)
- 750g chicken portions on the bone (quarters, thighs or drumsticks)
- 500ml water (or enough to cover the chicken in the pan)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large white onion, finely diced
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 ají amarillo, finely chopped, seeds and filaments removed, or 1 tablespoon chilli paste
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 large pinch ground cumin
- 100g shelled walnuts, ground in a blender or pounded with a pestle and mortar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 200g white bread, crusts removed, torn into pieces
- 500ml milk (whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed)
- 50g grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, cut lengthwise into wedges
- 12 black olives, halved
- 1 or 2 fresh chillies of any colour, seeds and filaments removed, finely chopped
- Serve with yellow potatoes, boiled in their skins, then peeled and sliced lengthwise into wedges.
- Put the chicken and water in a pan, bring to the boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes until tender but not falling apart. Remove the chicken from the pan (do not discard the stock) and set aside on a plate to cool. When it is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and take the meat off the bones. Cut it into strips.
- While the chicken is cooking, heat the olive oil and lightly fry the onions and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently until the onions are soft and transparent but not brown.
- Add the turmeric, cumin and chilli.
- Add the walnuts, salt and pepper, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Soak the bread in 300ml milk for 5 minutes.
- Add the bread mix to the pan plus the remaining 200m milk. Cook gently, stirring, and test for seasoning and chilli heat.
- Add Parmesan cheese and chicken and mix well. If it is too stodgy you can add some of the reserved chicken stock to make a thick and creamy sauce.
- Serve with boiled potato wedges and garnish with hard-boiled eggs, black olives and chopped fresh chilli.
Extracted from Traveller’s Cookbook: South America – Classic Recipes From 40 Years of Travel by Ben Box (Bradt Guides, 2022). Photography by Larisa Blinova, Shutterstock.