Featured Country of the month: Peru
It’s been a while since I’ve featured a South American country and this month I have opted for one of the most renowned amongst foodies - Peru. In fact, Peru shines on a global stage as well, having won the title of ‘World’s Leading Culinary Destination’ at the World Travel awards for nine years in a row since 2012.
Like most cuisines, foreign influence has been key in shaping the dishes we associate with the Peru of today. However, indiginous methods and ingredients are still prevalent in the cuisine of Peru today. Pachamanca, or ‘earth oven’ refers to the process of cooking food underground, covered with hot stones.
One of the most common native ingredients in Peruvian cuisine and many world cuisines for that matter, is the humble potato. Originating in Peru, the country boasts over 2500 different varieties of spud. Other famous ingredients from Peru include guinea pig, which yes, is actually eaten here, and aji amarillo - a mild yellow chilli pepper which is ubiquitous within Peruvian dishes.
Spanish occupation in the 1500s brought Spanish ingredients and techniques, but that was not all. The Spanish brought slaves from Africa with them which introduced a whole new influence into the cuisine. The spices used and innovative methods for making the most of cheaper cuts of meat have led to some of the most iconic Peruvian street food of today - like Anticucho; grilled heart kebabs. The Spanish and African influenced Peruvian cuisine is referred to as ‘Criolle’.
The next wave of immigration came from China, which brought ‘Chifa’; Chinese dishes were introduced to Peru and new techniques such as stir frying were welcomed into the Peruvian cooking style.
Finally, in the 1900s, there was an influx of Japanese farmers which led to ‘Nikkei’ - the integration of Japanese flavours and techniques with Peruvian cooking.
Criolle, Chifa and Nikkei are all uniquely Peruvian, having each taken on aspects from both cultures - the Japanese food you find in Peru will not be like the food you would find in Japan or anywhere else in the world. The meticulous melding has led to some of the best ‘fusion’ food there is.
I was overwhelmed with choice when it came to choosing what dishes to make and eventually settled on a three course meal consisting of the below - no major disasters this month, largely in part to having chosen three very simple dishes.
The national dish of Peru is Ceviche, but unfortunately I already covered that in my Brazil newsletter. Instead, I decided to make Tiradito - a ‘Nikkei dish’. Unlike the traditional Peruvian Ceviche, in which the fish is cubed and ‘cooked’ in a citrus marinade, the fish is sliced thinly ‘sashimi style’ and the sauce is added last minute to prevent it from cooking the fish.
Aji Amarilo is one of the essential ingredients for this dressing, making Tiradito distinctly Peruvian. Aji Amarillo is not available to buy fresh in the UK but you can buy the paste, which is what I did. The yellow chilli pepper is what gives the sauce it’s vivid colour.
This was such a simple dish to make - no cooking! For the Tiradito sauce, the chilli pepper paste is combined with lime and orange juice, ginger, garlic and oil and blended until beautifully smooth. The fish is sliced sashimi style and then laid out on the plate. The sauce is added right before serving so that the fish remains uncooked. I garnished it with some spring onion and chopped peanuts.
Did you like it?
Yes - the sauce was citrusy with just a subtle amount of chilli pepper heat, which meant you could still taste the fish. I ignored the suggestion to serve it with crisps as this just seemed odd, but with hindsight, a bit of crunch would have been the perfect thing to go with it. I would highly recommend serving this dish as a starter at a summer get together with friends.
Marks out of 10: 9/10
Arroz Con Pato
Arroz con Pato; literally - duck with rice. I would never have thought to combine duck, beer and coriander but these three ingredients are staples in creating this Criolle dish. There are many variations on the dish across Latin America as well as Spain but the use of duck instead of chicken makes this version Peruvian.
This is not a quick dish to whip up but the steps involved are fairly simple. Duck legs are first browned in the pan, and then set aside. Onions and garlic are softened as you whizz together coriander and water to create an exceptionally green paste. The green paste is added to the pan along with beer, aji amarillo paste, stock and the duck legs and the result at this point, can generously be described as looking like swamp water. This is then simmered for an hour and a half until the meat is tender and just about falling off the bone. The duck legs are then removed and the swamp water that is left is used to cook the rice, with the addition of some peas and red pepper.
Did you like it?
The duck legs were meltingly soft and the rice was full of flavour - it’s a yes from me!
Marks out of 10: 9/10
Another one which does what it says on the tin, ‘upside down cream’, is the literal translation of Crema Volteada, and it is somewhat like a Creme Caramel. Crema Volteada differs in that it uses condensed and evaporated milk to make this dessert even more luxurious. It is often referred to as flan but there is no pastry involved in making this.
I started off by making the caramel for the top. I was convinced it was going to solidify in the tin and not ooze down the sides like in all of the pictures, however, I managed to get the right consistency, first time! Then it was just a case of whizzing together the eggs, milks and vanilla and pouring it into the tin. It’s cooked in a bain marie (water bath) in the oven until golden brown. The flan then needs to be cooled completely and refrigerated until set. I was very nervous when it came to the flipping it upside down part, but after a generous whack on the top of the tin, it slid out beautifully!
Did you like it?
I’m not sure I’d make it again but I did enjoy the velvety texture and the caramel flavour to it!
Marks out of 10: 7/10
You can view all previous 'Country of the Month' articles HERE.