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Recipe: Peruvian Roast Chicken

Here’s another one that we make every so often around stately Lowe Manor. When we had it last week, I just had to roast it in the oven – normally I’d put it on the rotisserie on the grill outside, but weather conditions did not allow it. Like many such recipes, this one is all about the marinade. You’ll need oil, lemon or lime juice, soy sauce, garlic, salt, black pepper, paprika, cumin, oregano, and sugar in this case (along with around a four-pound whole chicken), but you’ll find a number of variations around those ingredients and their ratios if you look around at other recipes. But this one comes out pretty much like pollo a la brasa when I have it at a Peruvian restaurant, which is close enough for me. I’m also including a recipe for a “green sauce” like you’ll often see at those places – if you’re making that, you’ll need some mayonnaise, sour cream, oil, fresh cilantro/coriander, garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper, and some source of pepper heat (jalapeños or other hot green chilis, bottled green pepper sauce, etc.)

A small food processor of some sort will come in handy with the marinade, but you don’t have to use one. Either way, combine 3 tablespoons (45 mL) oil (I generally use olive oil for this), 1/4 cup (60 mL) fresh lime or lemon juice, Edit: and 1/4 cup (60 mL) soy sauce, which I forgot while writing this!), four good-sized cloves of garlic (finely chopped if you’re not using a food processor, otherwise just tossed in with the rest), 1 or 2 teaspoons ground black pepper (about 3g), a tablespoon of kosher salt (13g if it’s Morton’s kosher, or weigh out other varieties of salt accordingly, because they sure do vary in density), one tablespoon (6g) of ground cumin (fresh is best if you can grind some from the seeds), one tablespoon (also about 6g) of paprika (it really does have a taste as well as a color, if you’re wondering – “Pride of Szeged” is a pretty solid supermarket brand of it), one teaspoon (1g) dried oregano, and 2 teaspoons (8g) sugar.

Mix all these up vigorously, by hand or machine, to produce a thick, intensely aromatic red/brown marinade. You can treat the chicken with it in a (nonreactive) bowl or in big plastic bag. But whatever you use, I recommend getting as much of the marinade under the skin of the whole chicken as you can manage (breast, thigh, wherever you can work it in without tearing the skin itself, making sure to keep the marinade stirred up to get the solid spice residue in there). Put some in the chicken cavity and pour the rest over it, and let it stand, with occasional repositioning, for several hours. Overnight in the refrigerator is not out of line.

Roast the chicken at that point in whatever way you usually do – I’m a 400 degree (F) oven guy myself or (as mentioned) an outdoor rotisserie if available, which is how the Peruvians tend to do it. You can either use a meat thermometer or use the “wiggle the leg” method to check for doneness, but I assume that a whole chicken will take at least an hour at that temperature and probably some more. You might need to tent it with some aluminum foil if it starts getting too brown on the surface – this recipe tends to do that, so don’t be fooled by the color into thinking that the whole thing must be done, because it may not be.

Now for the green sauce. If you’re making that in some quantity, a small food processor or something of the sort will again be useful – it’ll blend everything right up, but if you’re doing it by hand, just finely chop the garlic and cilantro and green peppers, if you’re using them.. You’ll need 1/2 cup mayonnaise (115 grams, 1/4 cup sour cream (60g), two cloves of garlic, the juice of one small-to-medium lime, about a teaspoon of table salt (6g), two tablespoons (30 mL) of olive oil, and about a cup of fresh cilantro. I’m told that the latter would weigh about 16 grams, but I’m sure that’s an approximation – well, actually, the weight (whatever it is!) is exact and the volume measure is the approximation, depending on how you pack it, but I hope that gives some idea. And as for peppers, this is a matter of taste. Two or three jalapeños should do it for this quantity, and you can decide how much of the seeds to include for heat. You can use other green chilis as you have available, but you’ll have to judge the heat on your own – another option is green chili sauce of some sort, of course, and no one will be the wiser if you use something red like Tabasco or Sriracha (the green of the cilantro will conquer all). The authentic ingredient would be yellow Peruvian chili peppers (aji amarillo), which can be pretty lively. But you’ll have to add any of these according to taste. Another ingredient often found in this sauce would be a couple of tablespoons of a grated hard salty cheese like cotija or Parmesan – I didn’t use this myself, but it’s probably closer to the source with it in there. Even closer to the source would be this same sort of recipe made with a Peruvian herb called huacatay instead of cilantro – sometimes you’ll see these served side by side with chicken or other dishes in a restaurant, and there are plenty of other Peruvian sauces where those came from.

The picture below is our kitchen table, though, with a chicken prepared as above, some of the green sauce, some fresh red onion-cilantro-lime juice relish, homemade French fries, and some choclo al comino. That was made by quickly boiling a frozen bag of Peruvian corn (choclo) and serving it with butter, freshly ground cumin, and lime juice. I have two college-aged kids in the house at the moment, so nothing was left of any of this (and there’s more food not in the picture!.) It’s like keeping Great Danes, although I don’t know what Great Danes think about Peruvian corn.

15 comments on “Recipe: Peruvian Roast Chicken”

  1. John says:

    The first paragraph says you’ll need soy sauce for the marinade, but I don’t see it mentioned again…

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Here I am finally reading the comments at 5:30 PM and I see that I left that out! Fixing it now. Some recipes have it and some don’t, so it’ll be good stuff either way.

  2. En Passant says:

    Even closer to the source would be this same sort of recipe made with a Peruvian herb called huacatay instead of cilantro

    The sauce sounds delicious, in part because anything with cilantro sounds delicious to me. Definitely worth trying.

    But, as a non-chemist, non-biologist, I note that statistically about 15 to 25 percent of people on the planet will find the sauce tastes terrible, also because of the cilantro. So the Peruvian huacatay herb would be necessary for those people.

    A quick dash to wikipedia indicates that a variant in the human gene OR6A2 is a likely culprit. I know nothing further.

    Of all the blogs on the planet, this is the right one to bring up that odd phenomenon of human taste perception that will affect sauce recipe choices.

    Thanks again for the recipe, and many happy returns of new years.

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      My daughter is one of them! Cilantro tastes, she says, like “dish soap”.

    2. Barry says:

      The offensive aldehydes that make cilantro taste like soap to some of us are pretty fragile. Just mashing the cilantro and exposing it to air (or cooking it) destroys them. it’s the fresh green stuff that we struggle not to spit out.

      1. Morgrim says:

        I strongly dispute that. I’m in that unfortunate category, and cooking is often not enough to purge a dish of the soapy taste.

        1. Just me says:

          Agree! I can’t tolerate any dish that has cilantro/coriander in it, whether cooked or especially raw. To me it doesn’t taste like soap – it just tastes indescribably awful. This is a shame since my wife absolutely loves the taste of cilantro and I feel like I’m really missing out on something.

    3. Chris Phoenix says:

      My daughter, otherwise mostly normal, likes the taste of soap. She also likes cilantro – but maybe for the wrong reason!

  3. Steven says:

    As a Peruvian, I can say that I’m impressed with the detail in your recipe. I can share a secret that is not a secret in every Peruvian kitchen. For the sauce, you should saute (saltear) the yellow Peruvian chili peppers (aji amarillo) until a part of the pepper just turn a little brown. When buying the yellow peppers look for the frozen ones. Try this easy sauce, in a blender put 2 sauteed aji Amarillo, milk and soda crackers, fresh cheese (optional), and blend it at max speed for 2 min. The result is the famous Huancaina sauce, the city version (because you are using a blender).

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      I am very happy to see someone from Peru show up! I’ll look out for the frozen ajis amarillos next time I’m in a good market. I figure the same places that have the frozen choclo must have those, too.

      1. eub says:

        I had never heard of choclo and now I’ll be looking out for it in likely markets — sounds intriguing! (and yeah I see that it’s not a sweet-corn breed, but we love plantain recipes)

        Does huacatay taste anything like its genus-mate Tagetes lucida? Which I grow since tarragon plants always seem to die on me after a year or two.

  4. Great recipe, I should admit. However, I am getting it difficult to get the color similar to the picture. I am getting a yellowish color. What am I doing wrong?

  5. boronsaur says:

    Derek, as a peruvian I was happy to read this post. The level of detail is quite impressive, and to be sincere, I have never cooked “pollo a la brasa” myself. Perhaps one of the reasons is that, growing up in Lima, I could find “pollerías” (restaurants that prepare pollo a la brasa) almost on every corner. In fact, one semester that I was forced not to enroll in college circa 2000, I worked as a waiter at a pollería, and I remember their recipe was a little different and included black beer!
    Thanks for posting this!

  6. Chris says:

    Thanks for the great recipe Derek. Along with the chicken and sauce we made some Yucca fries that were a fantastic addition to the meal.
    Appreciate all your scientific analyses throughout the year, and the food ideas too.

  7. Linda R says:

    Simply delicious! I skipped the cilantro sauce (yup, one of those people!), roasted some lightly par-boiled potato slices in the pan for a delectable dinner.
    Thanks for the science too. It has been a pleasure to read your informative and in-depth analysis of the news this year.

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