Recipe for Seco de Pollo Peruano as prepared by my Peruvian abuela.
Cilantro, red wine and potatoes make this a gourmet, home-cooked meal.
I came to Lima to visit my adopted Peruvian grandma, Alex, who owns a home in the outskirts of the city called Rimac (where she’ll be visiting for a little over a month), in addition to her Manhattan home. To clarify, she worked for my mother’s family as a maid/nanny, and has therefore became part of the family, showing up for every holiday and birth. I call her “mi abuela” and she calls me her “nieta.” She is family in everything but blood. Growing up, I’d always get so excited to see her at our front door step, just in time for Rosh Hashana or Christmas (mom’s Jewish, dad is Catholic). Every time she came to our house, she’d cook something amazing out of nothing. I’d come downstairs to find her in the kitchen, using long-forgotten ingredients that she’d find in our pantry or fridge or freezer to create something rich smelling that would make my mouth water and my stomach grumble. She’d find left over roast chicken and left over french fries and somehow combine that with vegetables and spices that I’d never dream of using and cans of tomato paste and wine (who even drinks wine in my house?), and call it a Peruvian delicacy. And then there’s the rice, always her flavorful rice with corn or peas and a hint of garlic. I’d eat it in spades as a kid.
As an adult, I hover over her shoulder whenever I get the honor of watching her cook, asking questions and taking notes and tasting her concoctions every five minutes, smearing sauce from the cooking spoon over bits of bread. I’m a picker. Last week, I stood in her tiny, tiled kitchen in the duplex she shares with her daughter when she comes to Lima, and marveled once again at the patient way Alex washed a chicken or peeled a potato. As the smells of the seco, a recipe that changes from Peruvian household to household, city to city, wafted up my nostrils, I began my ritual note-taking. Below you’ll find the recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Seco de Pollo
1 bunch of cilantro
1 red onion, rough chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine
4-5 yellow potatoes
1 whole chicken, cut up
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced hot pepper
pinch salt, pepper, cumin
1 cup peas, or carrots, spinach (whatever veggie you like- Abuela used peas, but I used carrots when I made this for my host family)
-Add cilantro, onion, oil and about 1/3 cup of water to a food processor. Blend ingredients.
– Heat oil in a large saucepan and add garlic, hot pepper and blended mixture. Under high heat, bring the mixture to a boil as you add the salt, peppers and cumin. Cover and let boil until the mixture is reduced by a third, mixing occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the pan. This should take about 10-15 minutes.
– When it is reduced, add the peas and stir, then move the mixture to one side of the pan with a spoon, clearing a space to place the chicken pieces on the bottom of the pan. Continue this until all the chicken is nestled flat on the bottom of the pan, covering the tops of the pieces with the sauce as you arrange the meat.
– Pour the wine evenly over the meat, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover.
– While the chicken simmers, peel the potatoes and cut each in half. I like to do this when the chicken is on the stove, not before, because the time it takes to prep the potatoes is the time you need to cook the chicken a bit before you throw the potatoes in.
-Arrange the potatoes around the pan, then add about a half cup of water to the pan, reduce heat to low and cover again. Let sit for another 40 minutes or so, occasionally moving the chicken around and adding water if it looks too dry.
-When finished, leave uncovered for 10 minutes to let it settle.
by Rebecca Bellan