What is picante de pollo?
Picante de pollo is one of the many creole recipes, originated from western Bolivia and is characterized by its aroma and spicy flavor. Bolivians are known to make this spicy dish on August 6th, Bolivia’s Independence Day and for many special occasions.
This spicy chicken recipe is perfect for the long winter evenings and especially better as it is a great one pot dish that is healthy and quick to prepare. Picante de pollo is a classic and traditional Bolivian chicken dish. A very spicy, rich, and satisfying dish that will awaken your taste buds, that’s for sure.
What are the variants of picante de pollo?
There are many variations of this traditional Bolivian dish, probably as many as there are cooks. This recipe is so easy and straightforward that any non-Bolivian can easily whip this up!
Those who are unfamiliar with the traditional cuisine of Bolivia assume that it is just like Ecuadorian, Peruvian or even Mexican food – this is far from the truth. Whilst there may be some similarities, Bolivian food is as rich and varied as its diverse indigenous population and its history.
Generally Bolivian food is not spicy, but a mainstay in most Bolivian dining tables is a local sauce called llajwa. Made with tomatoes and hot chilies, this is Bolivia’s version of the salsa.
The main meal for most Bolivians is lunch – massive in proportions and preferably eaten with their families. Lunch usually consists of soup, a main dish and it is capped with dessert. The streets of Bolivia also offer good, fast and cheap food and in the cities like La Paz and Santa Cruz, four-star restaurants offering fine dining and international choices also abound.
Bolivian cuisine stems from the combination of Spanish cuisine with indigenous ingredients and Aymara traditions, among others, with later influences from Argentinians, Germans, Italians, French, and Arabs due to the arrival of immigrants from those countries.
The traditional staples of Bolivian cuisine are corn, potatoes, quinoa and beans. These ingredients have been combined with a number of staples brought by the Spanish, such as rice, wheat, and meat, including beef, pork, and chicken.
Bolivian cuisine differs by geographical locations. In Western Bolivia in the Altiplano, due to the high altitude and cold climate, the cuisine tends to use spices, whereas in the lowlands of Bolivia in the Amazonian regions, dishes consist of products that are abundant in the region: fruits, vegetables, fish and yuca.
Some of the traditional dishes that locals swear by and visitors to Bolivia should try are the following:
– Salteñas are a popular street food in Bolivia, typically eaten for breakfast. The savory turnover is filled with any combination of meat and potatoes.
– Picante de pollo, also called sajta, is part of a famous Bolivian specialty called picante mixto, a very elaborate feast that is usually served for special occasions and festivities. Picante mixto consists of picante de pollo, picante de lengua (spicy tongue), chuno phuti de huevo (egg and dried potato omelet), papa rellena (stuffed potato), and pastel de macarrones al horno (pasta torte) and of course a good llajwa (salsa). When prepared as a single entrée, picante de pollo is usually served with two kinds of potatoes, fresh and dried (chuno).
In Bolivia, picante means “very hot”, but the amount of hot peppers used can be adjusted to your taste. The best thing to do is to add one tablespoon of the purée at a time, tasting and adding more until the desired level of heat.
What is aji?
The spiciness of the picante de pollo depends on the quality of aji – cayenne peppers, used to make this dish. Recipes vary dramatically from person to person and from region to region, depending on preference. Ají has been prepared in Andean countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru since at least the time of the Incas, who called it uchu.
In Colombia and Ecuador, for example, food is traditionally mild, so ají can be added to almost any dish to add some flavor and spice. It is usually added to other foods such as chugchucaras, soup, chorizo, or empanadas.
In Chile, there is a similar variety of the condiment known as ají chileno, which contains the additional ingredient of lemon juice. The ají pepper (Capsicum baccatum) is a pepper that originated in ancient Peru, while ají sauce is a condiment made with cilantro, green onions, and garlic.
What is dehydrated potatoes (chuno)?
Picante de pollo is usually served with a side of dehydrated potatoes, known as chuño (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtʃuɲo]).
Dehydrated potato is a freeze-dried potato product traditionally made by Quechua and Aymara communities of Bolivia and Peru and is known in various countries of South America, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. It is a five-day process to make, and it is obtained by exposing a frost-resistant variety of potatoes to the very low night temperatures of the Andean Altiplano, freezing them, and subsequently exposing them to the intense sunlight of the day (this being the traditional process). The word comes from Quechua ch’uñu, meaning “frozen potato” (“wrinkled” in the dialects of the Junín Region).
The existence of chuño dates back to before the time of the Inca Empire in the 13th century, based on findings that have been made of the product at various archaeological sites. Specifically, they have been found at Tiwanaku, site of a culture which developed in the Collao Plateau, a geographic zone which includes territories of Bolivia and Peru.
It had been described in 1590 by Spanish chronicler José de Acosta. Due to its portability, long shelf life, and nutritional value, chuño was eaten by Inca soldiers on marches. Indeed, Carl Troll argued that the nighttime sub-freezing temperatures of southern Peruvian highlands that allowed for chuño production favored the rise of the Inca Empire.
Chuño is made during June and July, during which time the temperatures reach around −5°C (23 F) at elevations of over 3,800 meters (12,500 ft.). After harvest, potatoes are selected for the production of chuño, typically small ones for ease of processing. These small potatoes are spread closely on flat ground, and allowed to freeze with the low night temperatures and dehydrate in the daytime, for about three nights. This process results in natural freeze-drying.
By the end of this process, usually around May, the potatoes are taken to chuñochinapampas – flat areas where the potatoes can be laid out. The term is Aymara in origin and translates to “the place where the chuño is made”. Once they make it to the chuñochinapampas, they are trampled by foot. This eliminates what little water is still retained by the potatoes, and removes the skins, enabling subsequent freezing and drying. They remain as they are for over a week, depending on weather conditions.
During the process of manually squeezing water out of the potatoes via stepping on them, whole families will participate. The previous freeze-drying breaks down cell walls, making it easier to remove water from the potatoes. They build a small pile of potatoes with their feet and then “dance” on the pile, removing the skins as they do so. This will not entirely remove the skins, so the remaining skin is removed by hand afterwards.
There are a few variations of picante de pollo, one of which is frying the chicken first and then coating it in the aji sauce. Another more popular method is boiling it in the aji sauce. You can even use your slow cooker for this. Just imagine setting this to cook all day and coming home to your home smelling like a Bolivian restaurant!
Remember to adjust the spiciness of the sauce to your taste buds! Enjoy.
This recipe is validated by our Bolivian culinary expert, Lizet Flores de Bowen. You can find Lizet on her bilingual food blog Chipa by the Dozen.
- 1 chicken , cut into pieces (or 6 chicken thighs)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 tomatoes , chopped
- 1 large red bell pepper , cut into strips
- 3 ají panca (red hot peppers)
- 3 onions , chopped
- 3 cloves garlic
- 4 oz. peas , cooked in water (firm)
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 cube chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- 6 white potatoes
- Long grain white rice , cooked
- Cook the potatoes with their skin in a large volume of salted water. Set aside.
- In a Dutch oven, add ¼ cup of vegetable oil and heat.
- Fry the chicken until golden.
- Remove from heat and reserve. Keep the cooking oil.
- In another pot, add the rest of the oil and heat over low heat.
- Sauté the onions for 20 minutes, stirring regularly until translucent.
- Add the garlic, bell pepper, tomatoes, bouillon cube, cumin, oregano and ají panca (hot peppers).
- Cover and cook on low heat for 15 minutes.
- In the Dutch oven where the chicken was fried, add 1 cup of hot broth and stir.
- Add this mixture to the mixture in the Dutch oven (with peppers).
- Add the remaining broth and the chicken and mix well. Season with salt, cover and cook for about 30 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and add the cooked peas.
Serve the picante de pollo with boiled potatoes and white rice.
Picante de pollo can also be served with chuño puti (side of dehydrated potatoes, eggs and tomatoes) and k'allu (tomato and onion salad).