mercredi, octobre 11, 2006

Belated Ají de Gallina

OK, so this blog post is being dated to Wednesday, but I'm actually writing it Friday morning. When you read Thursday's post, you'll see why I didn't get around to it.

Wednesday was a long day at work, it took a fair bit of effort just to get out the door 30 minutes after I was supposed to leave. I was still thinking of doing a shopping run for a few things, but at that point I was pretty tired, so I just zipped home and started making...

Ají de Gallina

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  • 1 hen (if need be, a chicken, but reduce cooking time)
  • Aromatics (onions, carrots, celery)
  • 1 head of Garlic (½ for the stock, ½ for the sauce)
  • Cooking Oil (1 or 2 Tbsp.)
  • 2 large Sweet Peppers and 2 Hot Peppers (1 if you're using a habañero). This is for a medium-spicy result; adjust to taste.
  • 2 medium-sized Red Onions or one huge one.
  • 3-4 tbsp. of Cumin
  • 2-3 tbsp. of Tumeric
  • 2-3 tbsp. of Ají Amarillo (I suppose you could do without, but, well...)
  • At least ½-loaf of stale Bread (more = thicker sauce), preferably whole weat or rye.
  • ½ L of Milk.
  • 2 cups (or more) of Walnuts or Pecans
  • Serve with: bed of rice


  • Hands
  • Pressure Cooker or large stockpot
  • A couple of mixing bowls and/or casserole dishes for holding things
  • Strainer
  • Hand Blender or traditional stand blender

Day 1: Hen and Stock

  1. So, start with a hen and basic aromatics you would use for making stock: i.e., onions, carrots, celery. In this case, I had bought a "pot au feu" packet that also included a parsnip and some leeks. Halve the veggies lengthwise and don't even bother to peel them (the onion skins give good colour). Lay a bed of veggies, starting with onions, on the bottom of your pressure cooker (or pot).
  2. Take the hen, stuff a couple of smashed cloves of garlic in the body cavity and fill the rest of the cavity with veggies (this helps the carcass hold its shape and makes it easier to remove later). Lay it on top of the layer of veggies in the pot.
  3. Use the remaining veggies to fill around the hen. Drop in the remaining garlic cloves (remember to leave ½ of the head for the sauce). Salt, pepper, water. If your're using a pressure cooker, take note of the instructions that came with your pressure cooker on how far to fill it. If you're using a stockpot, enough water to cover the hen by an inch.
  4. If youre using a pressure cooker: bring to boil and cook for 45mins-1hr after the steam valve begins to hiss. If you're using a stockpot: bring to boil and reduce to a simmer; simmer for at least 3 hours.
  5. Leave overnight to cool. If you can't wait that long, take the lid off the pot/cooker to cool for an hour, and use tongs or two spoons when removing the carcass.

Day 2: The ají

  1. Ideally, the contents of the cooker/pot should be completely at room temperature. With your (clean) hands, reach in and remove the hen and place it on a large dish or casserole.
  2. These next steps require the use of hands, so if the carcass is still hot, you just need to wait.
  3. Set up a working station sort of like what I have in the photo below. Ideally, you'd do this on a tabletop or counter with something liquid-proof underneath (or something absorbent) and two bowls: one for the meat and one for the "remains." These photos were taken after I had begun working on the carcass.
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  1. Separate the hen's flesh from the bones and shred the meat along the grain, to create string-like strips (see image).
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  1. You will have a fair bit of skin and bones and cartilage left over. Chuck it.
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  1. Pour the contents of a stockpot through a strainer and into a large bowl. Toss whatever is in the strainer and keep the stock. Put the stock and the shredded hen to one side.
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  1. Heat enough cooking oil to cover the base of the pot. Chop the red onions and peppers (both hot & sweet) and toss into pot. If we were in Peru, we wouldn't need the mixture of sweet and hot peppers; we would use about 5-6 ajíes mirasol. See images below for a suggestion for cutting the onions for an even cooking.
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  1. Sautée on medium-high heat until the the onions have become glassy. Be wary of the fumes coming up from the cooking hot peppers.
  2. Add the remaining garlic, smashed or chopped, with cumin and tumeric. You may have to add some oil to keep the powdered spices from sticking. Mix to coat well and let the garlic mellow off. NOTE: Tumeric is some serious stain-making mojo. Don't wear anything light-coloured and/or valuable while working with this.
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  1. Add about ½ L of stock and bring to a boil. It's better to add too little liquid now, because it's a pain in the ass to reduce this mixture once the milk and bread have been added. If you want, you can add most of the stock now and reduce it before the next step, but reserve some stock for thinning just in case.
    Also, this is a good moment to add the ají amarillo.
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  1. Take the stale bread and lay it down in a casserole dish or bowl. Pour milk to almost cover it and let it soak. After a few minutes, mash with fingers (see below for before/after shots).
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  1. Add milk-soaked bread to mixture and stir at a simmer until the bread begins to come apart and the sauce begins to thicken. Add more bread+milk if needed; the sauce will loosen again when you blend it. NOTE: you are now in scalded milk territory, which means STIR FREQUENTLY, or you'll be scraping burnt milk solids from your pot for days.
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  1. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a bit. If you're using a hand blender, simply drop the walnuts/pecans into the mix and blend. If you're using a "standard" blender/mixer, spoon the mixture into the blender in batches, being careful not to overfill the blender. Either way, you want a smooth finish with bits of crushed nuts.
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  1. Toss in shredded meat and mix. Add stock if the sauce is too thick. You can use the leftover stock to prepare a bed of rice.
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  1. Serve on a bed of rice
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