Saturday, June 27, 2015

Aji Amarillo Chicken Skewers w/ Aji Sauce

As far as the traditional food from Peru goes, I enjoy a good Causa and I'll never say no to a Saltado, particularly with lamb. My favorite Peruvian dish, however, is hands down aji de gallina: a flavorful chicken dish with a spicy yellow gravy which is made delicious and unique by the inclusion of the star of the dish: aji amarillo peppers. Aji is a type of chili from Peru which is of medium to high heat, depending on your tolerance (the pepper averages out at about 50,000 units on the Scoville scale). As its name suggests it is yellow as it grows and reaches an orange-ish yellow upon maturation. This dish is hearty, comforting and rich without being overly so. Traditionally the dish is made with bone-in, skin on chicken, which is simmered in chicken stock and aji amarillo paste until the chicken is fall off the bone tender. At some point cubed potatoes and sliced hard boiled eggs (big in Peruvian cuisine) are added and the sauce is thickened with breadcrumbs. Olives, particularly green ones, are popular in Peru and often included in this dish. I love for my husband's Peruvian relatives to show up to a family gathering with a delicious, aromatic pot of this dish. It was only a matter of time before I tried to make it at home. Of course me being me and this being grilling season, I had to put my twist on it. I felt grilling chicken thighs and quail eggs brushed with aji amarillo paste would lend a smokiness to the dish's rich and spicy flavor and I am very happy with how it turned out! Initially I had hoped to find really small new potatoes and pop them onto skewers, so I could pack a little more smoke flavor into my dish, but I could only find smallish Yukon Golds, so I parboiled them and finished them in the aji de gallina sauce, which I ended up preferring anyway, but I recommend the idea as something to play around with if you can find gold fingerling potatoes.

I cannot find fresh aji peppers here, so I make do quite nicely with aji amarillo paste. There is no substitute for it and I can order a jar of it online. One jar goes a long way and it can be used to spice up your chicken, pasta or potato salad, or in place of sriracha in any sauce.

Stay tuned to for an upcoming post on a traditional aji de gallina.

Grilled Aji de Gallina

Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
3 Tablespoons aji amarillo paste, divided equally in two
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (preferably homemade)
1/2 cup milk
20 quail eggs
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

1. Cover potatoes with water in a pot. Add salt. Bring to a boil and cook for about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Cover quail eggs with water and when they have reached a simmer, swirl them around carefully but vigorously to ensure yolks will rest in the center of the egg. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Cut up chicken thighs into large bite sized pieces and thread them onto skewers. Peel eggs and thread them onto their own skewers, to avoid the risk of cross contamination.
4. In a small bowl add milk to bread crumbs.
5. In a large pot bring chicken stock, 1 1/2 Tablespoons aji paste, 1 cup water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and add potatoes.
6. Mix water into the remaining 1 1/2 Tablespoons of aji paste to form a slurry. Baste chicken and egg skewers with aji paste slurry. Salt skewers to taste.
7. On a charcoal grill over medium high heat, cook the chicken skewers for 4 -5 minutes per side (or until cooked through) and egg skewers for 2 - 3 minutes per side (or until they develop some lovely grill marks.
8. As the skewers are cooking add milk and breadcrumbs to the chicken stock and aji paste mixture in the pot. Reduce heat to the laziest simmer and when the skewers are ready the sauce will have thickened.
9. Serve over long grain rice and garnish with sliced green olives.

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