Culture: Cooking Class in Cusco – The Versatile Aji Amarillo Sauce
My mom has always been a wonderful cook. She’s a lot like me in that she loves to cook delicious dinners with rich sauces, spices and flavors, but is not much of a baker. She’s also been a huge proponent of eating various ethnic foods. Before she and my dad would head off on a big adventure, she’d always come home with what seemed to be very exotic ingredients (exotic ingredients to a pre-teen, that is!) She’d whip up various dishes typical to the place she was traveling. Of course, we kids would complain. She’d just inform us that if we didn’t try it, then we just weren’t up for traveling. Needless to say, I always tried everything!
Many years have passed, and her words of food wisdom have definitely stuck. I make this same comment to my kids all the time, and they always try the ethnic foods I serve, since they never want to miss out on a trip! So, when my whole family was in Peru, you can only imagine how excited I was when my mom told my sisters and I she had booked a special private cooking class for us! (The class was given at the Hotel Monasterio, in Cusco, Peru.)
I had no idea that Peru was a country obsessed on culinary delights. Our trip was a gastronomical feast from one meal to the next. The different flavors and presentation were impeccable– it’s no wonder there’s such a large culinary revolution going on there. In our cooking class, we were taught how to make the incredibly versatile Aji Amarillo sauce. A relatively simple recipe to make, it goes well as a dip for crudités, grilled vegetables, as well as chicken and seafood.
Above are some of the fresh ingredients Chef Frederico Ziegler used: aji amarillo peppers, red peppers, and limes.
Of course, sliced red onions were included too. Below is a picture of a few more ingredients for the sauce: the cream, the cheese, and the garlic. The crackers are used to thicken the sauce as needed.
To prepare the sauce, Chef Ziegler diced up the aji amarillo peppers into small pieces. He eliminated the seeds so the sauce was not too spicy.
Next, he sautéd the peppers, sliced onions, a dash of lime juice and a little garlic in olive oil.
The cream was added after about 3 minutes.
Once the cream had warmed up, the chef added diced cheese. I’m not sure the exact name of the cheese he used, but he mentioned it was similar to a queso fresco or feta cheese. There are many hard and slightly salty cheeses used in Latin American cooking, namely Queso Costeño, Queso Duro that would also both be suitable.
Once the cheese had melted, he poured the mixture into a blender. To thicken it (as needed), he crumbled a few plain crackers (like Saltines) into the mixture. The sauce was now complete. It was delicious for dipping vegetables.
Next, Chef Ziegler showed us how the sauce could be used for a chicken dish.
He shredded the chicken breast, and put it in a pot on the stove with the aji amarillo sauce. He allowed it to warm up, then he served it.
To add a little more flavor, he sprinkled a few puffed rice grains and dried black olives on top of the chicken and sauce. The colors were gorgeous, and the slight crunch a great addition to the smooth flavor.
Above is a picture of my sisters, my mom, and I with Chef Ziegler. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Unfortunately, I was not given the exact recipe for Chef Ziegler’s sauce, but have found many similar recipes online to share below:
Aji Amarillo Sauce Recipe on Serious Eats – This one adds kidney beans that could be removed if desired.
Aji Amarillo Sauce on South American Food – This one uses mayonnaise and sour cream instead of cream.
Peruvian Aji Amarillo Cheese Sauce on All Recipes – This one is very close to the recipe we tried. Diced onions could be added for more flavor.
Aji Amarillo Pastes, Sauces and More – This online store, Amigo Foods, sells many different styles of aji amarillo that you can use as a base for your sauce.
Cooking Class at the Hotel Monasterio, Cusco, Peru – We took our class while we stayed at the gorgeous and historic Hotel Monasterio in Cusco, Peru.