Citizens! First off, please accept My best wishes for a very merry Christmas and happy holiday season to all of TFD Nation, noted as I reign supreme in My sanctum sanctorum perched here on the shoulders of Mt. Erebus in Antarctica! As Our gastronomic world domination plans become an unstoppable tsunami of revolutionary zeal, I recognize all of YOU as the reason for the season!
I am beyond grateful to each and every Citizen for your continued loyalty to the Cause and supporting TRUE cuisine, TRUE history, with your fervorous proselytizing of Our message! A message of strength, a message of unity, a message transmitting the POWER inherent in even the most simple of meals to delight the senses!💪🧖
I could, of course, regale you with a typical Christmas recipe on this day – but that would be jejune. No, My gift to TFD Nation is not one recipe, not two recipes, but *3* recipes this Christmas – and none of them are holiday-related. You want normal, go somewhere else – TFD marches to the beat of His own little drummer boy! However – for all My previous outstanding Christmas recipes, just click here.
My first recipe is a fascinating dish beloved in modern Peru and the proud descendant of a 16th-century dish from Spain brought by the swaggering conquistadors as they cut a bloody swath through the region. Married wuth local ingredients, ají de gallina became a creamy and spicy dish redolent with Peruvian chili peppers and potatoes and truly elevates the humble chicken to Andean heights!
Potatoes are a very important part of this dish, and in Peruvian cuisine in general – in fact, we can thank Peru for our communal enjoyment of the humble tuber!
The potato was the first domesticated vegetable in the region of modern-day southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia between 8000 and 5000 BC. Cultivation of potatoes in South America may go back 10,000 years, but tubers do not preserve well in the archaeological record, making identification difficult. The earliest archaeologically-verified potato tuber remains have been found at the coastal site of Ancón (central Peru), dating to 2500 BC. Aside from actual remains, the potato is also found in the Peruvian archaeological record as a design influence of ceramic pottery, often in the shape of vessels. The potato has since spread around the world and has become a staple crop in many countries.
In the Altiplano, potatoes provided the principal energy source for the Inca Empire, its predecessors, and its Spanish successor. Andean Indians prepared their potatoes in a variety of ways, such as mashed, baked, boiled, and stewed in ways similar to modern methods. The Andean Indians also prepared a dish called papas secas, which was a process that involved boiling, peeling, and chopping. These potatoes were then fermented in order to create toqosh: and ground to a pulp, soaked, and filtered into a starch referred to as almidón de papa.
However, the cash crop of the Andean people was chuño: created by letting potatoes freeze overnight, then allowing them to thaw in the morning. Doing this repeatedly allowed for a softening of the potatoes. Farmers then extract the water from the potato, leaving it much lighter and smaller. This new creation was then prepared into a stew, and usually was an addition to a stew. The benefits of chuño are plentiful. Its primary benefit is that it can be stored for years without refrigeration, which came into use especially during years of famine or bad harvests.
Secondly, this long shelf life allowed it to be the staple food for the Inca Armies, due to how well it traveled and maintained its flavor and longevity. The Spanish fed chuño to the silver miners who produced vast wealth in the 16th century for the Spanish government.
It arrived in Europe sometime before the end of the 16th century by two different ports of entry: the first in Spain around 1570, and the second via the British Isles between 1588 and 1593. The first written mention of the potato is a receipt for delivery dated 28 November 1567 between Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Antwerp. In France, at the end of the 16th century, the potato had been introduced to the Franche-Comté, the Vosges of Lorraine and Alsace.
By the end of the 18th century it was written in the 1785 edition of Bon Jardinier: “There is no vegetable about which so much has been written and so much enthusiasm has been shown … The poor should be quite content with this foodstuff.”
It had widely replaced the turnip and rutabaga by the 19th century. Throughout Europe, the most important new food in the 19th century was the potato, which had three major advantages over other foods for the consumer: its lower rate of spoilage, its bulk (which easily satisfied hunger) and its cheapness. The crop slowly spread across Europe, becoming a major staple by mid-century, especially in Ireland.
The potato diffused widely after 1600, becoming a major food resource in Europe, North America and East Asia and to a lesser degree, in Africa. Following its introduction into China toward the end of the Ming dynasty, the potato immediately became a delicacy of the imperial family. After the middle period of the Qianlong era (1735–96) in the Qing dynasty, population increases and a subsequent need to increase grain yields coupled with greater peasant geographic mobility led to the rapid spread of potato cultivation throughout China, and it was acclimated to local natural conditions.
In India, Edward Terry mentioned the potato in his travel accounts of the banquet at Ajmer by Asaph Khan to Sir Thomas Roe, the British Ambassador in 1675. The vegetables gardens of Surat and Karnataka had potatoes as mentioned in Fyer’s travel record of 1675. The Portuguese introduced potatoes, which they called ‘Batata’, to India in the early seventeenth century when they cultivated it along the western coast. British traders introduced potatoes to Bengal as a root crop, ‘Alu’. By the end of the 18th century, it was cultivated across northern hill areas of India. Potatoes were introduced to Tibet by the 19th century through the trade route from India.
Early colonists in Virginia and the Carolinas may have grown potatoes from seeds or tubers from Spanish ships, but the earliest certain potato crop in North America was brought to New Hampshire in 1719 from Derry. The plants were from Ireland, so the crop became known as the “Irish potato”.
Ají de gallina or Peruvian curry is a Peruvian chicken stew that – of course – also includes potatoes in the recipe. Ají de gallina is composed of a sofrito base made by sautéing onion, garlic, and ají amarillo together, and adding shredded poached poultry and stock. The stew is then thickened with bread soaked in milk or evaporated milk, cheese such as parmesan, and ground nuts such as pecans or walnuts. Ají amarillo (‘yellow chili’) is a mildly-spicy pepper native to South America, common in many Peruvian cuisine dishes. Ají de gallina is typically served with boiled potatoes and white rice, and garnished with both black olives and hard-boiled egg.
Ají de gallina is believed to have evolved from ‘manjar blanco’ or ‘white dish’, a combination of ground almonds, milk, sugar, and chicken or fish, first introduced to Spain by the Moors prior to the Reconquista. While in Europe white dish became a dessert after the Middle Ages (it was known then as blancmange), in colonial Peru the stew was combined with indigenous chili peppers to form a savory entree. Oral histories say it was created by former chefs to the French aristocracy fleeing the French Revolution and finding new employment in the Viceroyalty of Peru, or some say it was brought by a conquistador’s personal chef.
Ají de Gallina means ‘hen’s chili’. Old hen used to be the meat of preference in Lima until quite recently, as the flavor of the bird at that age is simply unparalleled (and the hen is no longer productive laying eggs) – but that meat is also very tough. As such, people eventually switched to the easier, younger and less intimidating regular poultry that is easily found in your supermarket and most Peruvians these days simply use chicken breast alone in the recipe, which I heartily endorse!
The downside of using breast only is that making a flavorful stock is critical to the final quality of the dish, and one breast alone with just water makes a lousy stock. So, I have added some classic stock herbs to the pot as well as one extra leg to add extra body.
Ají amarillo chilies are not easy to find in this country at all – a farmers market, hispanic grocers and home gardeners are most likely to have it and it cannot be substituted. Thankfully, you can very easily buy either seeds or a bottle of fresh ají amarillo paste online, so no compromises are required here! I include instructions on how to make a perfect hard-boiled egg in the recipe, and have made a few tweaks to the classic version (of course).
First, instead of dried oregano, I call for fresh as I prefer its flavor in ají de gallina – I also added a hint of turmeric to the stock to make it even yellower, plus one very heretical addition. That would be the use of Japanese red yuzu kosho paste in the recipe, which isn’t as weird an addition as it sounds! There is a huge Japanese presence in Peru as noted here and it adds both flavor, salt and color to the dish. Feel free to omit it. The use of Parmesan in ají de gallina is not my affectation, it is a standard in Peruvian cooking due to Italian immigrants to the country!
Citizens, this holiday season, I hope you and yours find comfort and safety from COVID-19 – I wish you good health, great eating and transcendent joy in 2022!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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