This is an ancient technique in which cooking takes place underground as a celebration of the Pacha Mama, Mother Earth. Traditionally, the meat is marinated in a paste of chilli and other flavourings, vinegar and a wide variety of aromatic Andean herbs. A hole is dug in the ground and stones from the river are heated in a fire until they glow red hot. The hot stones are then placed in the hole, and on top of them the meat and accompaniments. More stones are added to cover, followed by banana leaves or corn husks, then finally the hole is sealed with earth. Here is a recipe adapted for the hob.
- 1 whole chicken, about 2 kg, cut into quarters
- 3 sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
- 3 potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
- kernels from 3 fresh sweetcorn
- 450 ml water
- 30 g huacatay leaves (see Note) or coriander, chopped
- 3–4 corn husks, optional
- 200 g ají panca paste (see below)
- 3 tbsp onion and garlic paste (see below)
- 15 g coriander leaves
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 40 ml white wine vinegar
- 2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Ají panca paste
- 250 g dried ají panca chillies (see Note) or Mexican guajillo chillies
- 60 ml white wine vinegar
- 375 g caster sugar
Onion and garlic paste
- 90 ml sunflower oil
- 250 g garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
- 1 kg onions, cut into large dice
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Soaking time 5 hours
Marinating time 2 hours
To make the ají panca paste, cut the chillies in half lengthways and remove the veins and seeds.
Wash the chilli halves in 4 changes of fresh water with a tablespoon of vinegar added each time.
Leave to soak in cold water for 5 hours.
Drain the chillies and place in a saucepan, cover with water and add all the sugar. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 8 minutes.
Drain and then repeat the simmering process 5 times (but without sugar), changing the water each time.
Drain the chillies, place in a blender and blend to a smooth paste. Cover tightly and refrigerate until required, or store in the freezer. (Recipe makes 250 grams.)
To make the onion and garlic paste, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over a medium heat. Add the whole garlic cloves and sauté until slightly browned.
Add the onions and cook over a low heat for about 40 minutes or until light brown and caramelised.
Transfer to a blender and blend to a purée, then pass through a fine-mesh sieve. Leave to cool, then cover tightly and refrigerate until required, or store in the freezer. (Recipe makes 300 grams.)
Place all the dressing ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Place the chicken quarters in a non-reactive bowl with the sweet potatoes, potatoes and corn kernels. Add half the dressing and mix to coat well.
Cover and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Cover and chill the remaining dressing in the refrigerator.
Layer the ingredients in a large flameproof casserole dish or saucepan in the following order: the 450 ml of water, chicken quarters, sweet potatoes, potatoes and corn kernels. Finish by adding the chopped huacatay or coriander and the remaining dressing.
Cover with the corn husks, if using, or a circle of baking paper cut to fit the pan, and cover with the lid.
Cook for 1 hour over a low heat, keeping the pan sealed to prevent the steam from escaping, until the chicken is cooked through and all the ingredients are tender.
• Huacatay, also known as Peruvian black mint, has a very distinctive flavour and is the most emblematic of the Peruvian herbs, used in several traditional dishes as well as modern ones. It isn't easy to find fresh outside Peru, but ready-made huacatay paste is available from specialist suppliers.
• Ají panca chillies are more often used dried than fresh, but you can buy these in Peru either whole in their dried form or ground as chilli powder. The colour ranges from red to brown, and they're hot!
Recipe from Lima: The Cookbook by Virgilio Martinez, with photography by Erik Andia Pomar and The Graztronome (Hachette Australia. Hardback RRP $39.99).
View our Readable feasts review and more recipes from the book here.