Thursday, August 26, 2010
Aji de Gallina: Shredded Spicy Chicken Casserole
I guess I had to give the popular peruvian Ají de Gallina, a fancy descriptive name, so that you would know off hand what it was all about. It is a wonderful dish, which if seasoned right, it could turn into a special concoction of which your guests and family would ask for seconds and wish that you would make it more frequently! It is a plate whose origins go back as far as the Middle Age in Europe, and has been influenced by the traditional cooking of the different invaders who occupied Spain, our mother country. Without doubt, we can say that it was born from the marriage of the Spanish cuisine(influenced by the moor, roman and french traditional cooking) with the peruvian piquant chili. The 400 year occupation of the peruvian territory by the spanish conquerors, created a new culture which was enriched by the mutual influence of foreign and native in their art, in their religious and philosophical thinking and especially, through the exchange of edible plants, which, through the years, would revolutionize the eating habits of the whole world and influence in their commercial ventures. This was the real treasure that the Spaniards got from their conquest, while we also benefited from the produce and animals they brought to Perú, as well as from their imposed culture.
The recipe is very simple and its presentation could vary according to your taste. Please let me know if you cook it, as well if you have any doubts about its preparation.
This recipe is for aproximately 8 to 10 people:
1 whole chicken boiled in a pot of water with a small chopped onion, 1 diced carrot, 2 coarsely chopped celery stalks, and some parsley sprigs; Salt and pepper to taste. Reserve the stock (dispose of the vegetables...or mix them with the stock if you have any left after you prepare the dish) and let the chicken cool off and shred it. Put aside.
In a pan, pour some vegetable oil and fry one diced onion with 2 chopped garlic cloves (did you know that in order to remove the skin from the garlic clove you only have to press it with the flat part of a knife, and it comes right off?). Add two fresh yellow chilis seeded, deveined and liquified with a bit of water. Cook until the onion and the chili are soft, but not brown. Usually the garlic cooks faster than the onion, so first start cooking the onion and when half way done, add the chopped garlic.
Soak 8 slices of whole wheat bread (it has a nutty flavor) in one cup of the reserved chicken stock and make sure that the bread is completely shredded. Add this to the pan with the onion and garlic and stir constantly, until it thickens up a bit. Add the shredded chicken, and mix well...always stirring. Add one cup of parmesan cheese, and about a can of evaporated milk. Add a handful of pulverized nuts, for an added nutty flavor. Salt, pepper, a pack of Goya seasoning with saffron, and a little bit of cumin to taste. Stir until the mixture appears to be not so liquid...not so thick. You can judge for yourself looking at the picture. And that's it!!!! Hope you like it!!!
Now, the way to serve it, because in Perú we have a tradition of mixing starches....make some rice with corn inside (add salt and garlic and oil to the water, to make it tastier!)...is : a laddle full of the shredded chicken, a side of rice, one halved yukon gold potato under or on the chicken's side, an Alfonso olive (It's peruvian, but I don't care what nationality it has, as long as it is black...I hope my compatriots don't kill me!!) and half a hard boiled egg.
Now, if you want to serve it as hors de ouvres, get some canapés from your local bakery shop and fill them with the hot chicken mixture. I guarantee your guests are going to love it! Sometimes people are a little bit renuent to eat unknown dishes, but a canapé with any of these preparations is a good introduction to a new recipe! Enjoy.