Peru has a large variety of Aji (hot peppers), varying in sizes, colors, shapes and flavors. Aji has been known to be used in Peru for several thousand years, since Pre-Inca times, and every region has a different type of Aji.
My family and I love to cook with Aji – it always gives a special flavor to my dishes and immediately takes me back to when I was growing up in Peru. I remember my mom cooking most of her dishes with Aji Amarillo and Aji Mirasol, in addition to her favorites Rocoto and Aji Limo, which is mostly used in ceviche.
My favorite Aji is Aji Amarillo, which I use mostly in dishes such Papa a la Huancaina (potatoes with a yellow creamy sauce) or Causa (a cold potato dish colored and flavored with yellow aji) or as a side dipping sauce that can accompany any meal. Also Aji Amarillo is used for many other dishes such Papa a la Diabla (a warm potato dish with a creamy Aji sauce), and as a garnish on Escabeche (recipes coming soon).
For cooking, the one I love to use is Aji Mirasol, also known as dried Aji Amarillo. You can add it when cooking a sofrito or use it in any dish. I especially like to use it as a rub for meats that I would like to roast and for Aji de Gallina (Peruvian chicken fricasse). To use, soak in water and blend with oil to form a paste.
Another great Aji is Aji Panca or Aji Colorado, which has a great smoky flavor and reddish color, great for Carapulcra (dried potato stew), for chicken stew or any roasted meat. Unlike me, my mom uses this Aji for her Aji de Gallina (Peruvian Chicken Fricasse) which gives it a red color. It is also used for soups such Parihuela (seafood soup) and Escabeche. To use, soak in water and blend with oil to form a paste.
Rocoto is many people’s favorite but it is extremely hot! Unfortunately we cannot get them fresh in US yet, but you can find the frozen or canned version. Many people, especially in the Cuzco and Arequipa areas eat them stuffed, like a stuffed pepper. Every time we go back to Peru, my Uncle Berly, who is from Cuzco and a member of the Cuzco Club in Lima, takes us to spend a day at the club and we always order stuffed Rocoto.
Rocoto is also used to give color to creams and foams to garnish any dish. To take the spiciness out, soak overnight in water and boil three times, then put in a blender with oil to form a paste.
I have been able to successfully introduce several types of Ajis to my clients, fusing them with other ingredients when roasting meats. Feel free to try them, you won’t regret it!