Aji Amarillo; Amazing Sun-Dried Yellow Chile from Peru
Some people get excited about big TV appearances and book releases, but you probably already know that I’m not really one of them. What gets me going are smaller things; four year olds who love the mac and cheese at the Roadhouse; regular folks who’ve been frustrated with the corporate world for so long they forgot things could be any other way until they get here to eat or work; little girls picking out goat cheese with their parents; older folks who grew up on great bread coming to the Bakehouse for the first time and discovering a source of traditional full flavored crusty loaves. I like it a lot when we make some small improvement in a long-standing popular product to make it even better still. And I get really excited when we’re able to get some really amazing—but almost unknown (in Ann Arbor)—traditional foods from other parts of the world to work with here.
While I haven’t yet been in person (I know I need to—I’ll get there before too long), I’m getting the sense that Aji Amarillo is to Peru what green chile is in New Mexico. While the latter likely means little to those who haven’t spent time a lot of time in the Land of Enchantment (see the essay I wrote on it ages ago on the Roadhouse website), I’ll just say that visiting New Mexico during chile season is . . . is a big deal. Green chile is in almost everyone’s kitchen. It’s on every restaurant menu and at every farmer’s market; New Mexicans long for it when they’re away from home for more than a few days. They put it in everything from salsas, to sauces, to sandwiches, pizzas and even bagels. I’m getting the sense that much the same is true for aji amarillo; I met a pair of Peruvians when I spoke in DC last month and their eyes lit up large when I told them we’d just gotten some in to the Deli.
Chiles . . . I think that chiles are likely a much bigger deal down there than those of us who didn’t grow up with them are likely to “get.” I’m thinking to say that they’re the “chime that rings the bell of Latin American cooking.” Maybe that’s not quite right, but you get the idea. Although it’s hard to convey up here in our meat centric world of North American menus, Rick Bayless taught me ages ago that although you often can’t really see them on the plate, chiles are actually the centerpiece of many Central and South American dishes. Down there chiles aren’t chopped liver; they’re the stars, the featured players, the sought after free agents. It’s the complexity of flavor of the peppers, not the pork, poultry, beef, or fish that accompany them, that are the center of culinary attention.
I have much more to learn about Peruvian cooking so what follows are merely my early attempts to work with the aji. You can use the aji amarillo in pretty much any way you want. Simple stuff like sprinkling it onto goat cheese, salad, fresh mozzarella, or French fries.
To learn more about all of our Peruvian Aji's visit the Zócalo Gourmet website.