Aji de Gallina is a medium spicy stew made with hen and aji that is the source of some controversy in my family – I like to use Aji Amarillo, the way it is made in Lima, but my mother and my aunts, insist the proper way is with Aji Panca, the way they learned from my grandmother.
The dish can be traced back to Inca times, when a type of bird called Hualpa was cooked then shredded and served with Aji sauce. Later, French chefs fleeing the French Revolution put their imprint on Aji 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 Aji de Gallina as well as Parihuela, also known as Peruvian Bouillabaisse.
My mom and my aunts learn from my grandmother to cook it with Aji Panca (Aji Colorado), which gives the chicken a red tint. They say this is the traditional – and correct – way, but I love to make it with Aji Amarillo, 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 instead of chicken.
Aji de Gallina is one of my favorite dishes and so easy to prepare. Try it with both Aji Amarillo and Aji Panca and let me know what do you think. Provecho!
*Now many local and Latin American Supermarkets sell Aji Amarillo and Aji Panca, you can also find them online in stores such Amazon.
Aji de Gallina
4 whole chicken breast, skin removed, about 1lb 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
1 bay leaf
½ loaf sliced white bread, crust removed
1 ½ cup milk
¼ cup canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
¼ cup Aji Amarillo paste
⅓ 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 saute 1 diced onion until translucent, then add chopped garlic, cumin and Aji Amarillo paste and cook for 5 min. 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, gentle stirring so the chicken pieces stay intact. Simmer for 8 minutes and adjust seasoning as needed.
Aji de Gallina is often served with a side of white rice and/or sliced potatoes and garnished with Botija olives and hard-boiled eggs.