Having returned from a recent trip to Peru, I am enjoying experimenting with some of the techniques and ingredients I discovered there.
“Pollo a la brasa” is ubiquitous in Peru. This seasoned whole chicken, roasted on a spit and served with “aji verde” sauce, is an iconic dish that is offered in eateries all over the country.
Few U.S. home cooks have access to a spit or a rotisserie, so this version is adapted to a home kitchen using an oven. Aji peppers, which form the basis for the sauce, are not easily found stateside, but a jalapeño or any spicy chili pepper is a suitable substitute.
I made this dish for dinner one Sunday, and it was a hit. The leftover meat became a delightful chicken salad studded with celery and laced with the aji verde and mayo the next day, and the pan drippings and carcass delivered a flavorful, slightly reddish chicken soup.
A word on the roasting technique: We are fans of the braise in pretty much any meat; our family favors meat that is tender to the point of nearly falling apart and is well infused with seasoning. If your crew prefers a more traditional roast chicken, cooked at a slightly higher temperature, uncovered, resulting in a firmer texture, stick to that cooking method and just follow the recipe below for the marinade.
A note on the peppers: I used jalapeños and included the seeds for more heat. If your crew has more timid palates, remove the seeds, or use a milder pepper such as a fresh poblano or even a quarter of a sweet bell.
1 roaster chicken, about 7 pounds
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 whole jalapeño or chili pepper
1 whole lime, juice plus rind
¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
Puree all the ingredients in a blender.
Place the chicken in a large zip-seal bag or a bowl, and pour some of the marinade into the cavity. Separate the skin from the meat and add the remaining marinade, rubbing the mixture in to ensure optimal flavor. Let the chicken marinate for 2-24 hours. Bring it to room temperature before roasting.
Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the chicken in a large roasting pan with a cover. Pour any remaining marinade over the chicken, cover it and cook until done, about 15-20 minutes per pound. (Cooking the bird covered often accelerates the process, so if you use that method, check it for doneness about 30 minutes ahead of schedule.) When done, let the chicken rest for 10 minutes, carve it and serve it with the aji verde sauce.
Aji Verde Sauce
Aji amarillo refers to the yellowish hot peppers that are used in many Peruvian dishes. Jalapeños are a solid substitute. This sauce is traditionally made with a combination of sour cream and mayonnaise, but for this recipe, as it was served with chicken, I omitted the dairy and added a bit more mayonnaise for texture.
If you are serving fish, sour cream (or Greek yogurt) would work well, and this sauce would complement pretty much any fish. It is also excellent as a vegetable dip, a sauce for tacos or quesadillas, stirred into tuna salad, poured over roasted veggies, mashed into potatoes or mixed with mayo and spread on a sandwich. I have not yet tried to drink it straight or ice a cake with it, but I just might: It’s that versatile and delicious.
3 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño pepper
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup fresh cilantro, well rinsed
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup mayonnaise (or ¼ cup mayonnaise and ¼ cup Greek yogurt or sour cream)
1 tablespoon canola oil
In a blender, puree all the ingredients until smooth. If the sauce needs “loosening” in the blender, add a teaspoon or two of water. Serve it chilled or at room temperature.