We had a lovely meal at the Peruvian restaurant, Para Dos, in Coral Gables. It was delicious, but the highlight was the Papas a la Huancaína. When I tell you this sauce is to die for, I’m not kidding. You’ll want to eat this by the bowlful, keeping it all for yourself. This sauce is creamy, with just a nice bit of heat from the lovely Peruvian chile, the ají amarillo. If you can’t find ají amarillo paste in your area, you can purchase it on-line here. I don’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but potatoes are indigenous to Peru. They have over 3,000 varieties! Seriously, can you just imagine? This is a remarkably simply dish, it is usually served over simple boiled potatoes, cold, as a first course, but the sauce…oh, yes, the sauce can and should be served on everything….
I use ají amarillo paste, but if you can find the whole chiles, by all means use them; they are usually in the freezer section, so you’ll want to thaw them before using. The Peruvian chiles pack some heat, but they are so much more than just about heat. They are nuanced. With layers of flavor…a little sweet…a bit of acid…and floral and fruity back-flavors. These chiles are one of my favorites. I always have jar of the paste in the fridge. I love to add some of the paste to mashed potatoes…seems fitting, doesn’t it?
Please note that this is gluten-free. Many recipes call for saltine crackers, which add both flavor and act as a thickening agent to the sauce. I suspect they are absolutely used in Peruvian kitchens in this manner. I’ve always found the sauce to be plenty thick…but if you want, add about 4 saltines, for this amount.
To prepare the sauce, it’s easiest to make this sauce in the blender (or an immersion blender). I sauté some onion in a little olive oil. You just want the onion to soften, not color at all. Once the onions are softened, dump them into the blender container,
add the other ingredients, pop the cover on (very important to remember this step!), whirl it up, and you’re ready to serve it. Huancaína sauce is better made the day before you intend to use it, but you may use it immediately. It also keeps for at least 5-7 days in a jar in the fridge, so you have some options. You can plan your entire week around this sauce. When I nap potatoes with this sauce, I prefer to use Yukon Gold potatoes. And I do love to serve this sauce with potatoes. But you may use this sauce instead of hollandaise the next time you make Eggs Benedict, pour it over steamed green beans, sautéed fish or shellfish, on a steak or grilled chicken breast, or in a bowl with a spoon!
Spicy Peruvian Cheese Sauce (Salsa a la Huancaína)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4-6 tablespoons ají amarillo paste (see NOTE)
- 1 1/4 cups Peruvian Queso Fresco (about 10 ounces—see NOTE)
- 3/4-1 cup evaporated milk, as needed
- 2-4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (optional, but I usually add some)
Heating oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. We just want it to soften, not pick up color.
Pour the onion mixture into the container of a blender. Add the remaining ingredients (start with the lesser amounts when given); blend until thoroughly combined and very creamy. The sauce should be an even deep yellow color. Add more evaporated milk, to thin, if needed. Taste; add salt, if necessary; this will depend on the cheese you use. The sauce should be about the thickness of a runny pudding.
Serve over boiled (either hot or cold) potatoes. You may add hard-boiled eggs, black olives, cooked shrimp or other seafood, etc. For a salad, place ingredients on a bed of shredded lettuce, top with cooked potatoes, nap with the sauce and then add the hard-boiled eggs, black olives, etc. Excellent as a dip for roasted potato wedges.
The sauce will keep in the fridge for several days. The flavor will develop more fully after at least 3-4 hours in the fridge. It may thicken as it chills. Thin, if needed (but I like it on the thick side).
NOTE: If you can’t locate the ají pepper paste or frozen whole ají peppers, you may substitute 1 orange bell pepper and 1/4 of a habanero. If you can’t find the Peruvian Queso Fresco you may substitute Queso Fresco from other countries, and in a real pinch use 1/4 cup feta cheese and 3/4 cup cream cheese. If you use these options, the sauce will be different, but it will still be wonderfully delicious.
Spicy Peruvian Cheese Sauce (Salsa de Huancaína) Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2021. All rights reserved.
For dinner, I made a chicken sandwich, topped it with this lovely elixir and dipped roasted potato wedges into this heavenly concoction. If I had fresh cilantro, I would have sprinkled some torn bits as both a garnish and for flavor. Heaven. Now, wasn’t that worth every bit of effort? Serve this at your next party. Seriously. People will line up and fall all over each other for this…try it with French fries, of course. But, it’s delicioso with pasta…mmmmmmm!!!