This dish is an unmissable classic of Peruvian cuisine that is a perfect combination of many of Peru’s usual culinary suspects: ají amarillo (the yellow Peruvian chili pepper), potatoes, garlic and fresh cheese. Almost everyone that tries this cold starter is won over by its creamy texture and its spicy touch which, fortunately, is balanced out by the base of sliced potatoes.
There’s even a saying in Peru: “el gringo que come ají, no se mueve de aquí”, which loosely translates to “the foreigner that eats hot peppers, will never leave Peru”.
Whereas this includes the whole colorful array of chili peppers present in Peruvian cuisine, after trying Papa a la Huancaína, you will certainly identify with the saying and might just book a one-way ticket to Peru, hungry for more!
Before we move on to the recipe itself, let’s delve into the history of this dish. Papas are potatoes and Huancaína refers to a lady from the Andean city of Huancayo. This gives us an idea of its origins, although historians haven’t quite managed to agree on one single version. The most popular story goes that the dish was prepared for the men working on the construction of the railroad connecting the capital city of Lima with the Andean city of Huancayo, located at approximately 190 miles away, at around the turn of the 19th century.
It is said that a lady from Huancayo came up with this recipe originally using a different type of pepper (rocoto instead of ají amarillo) which is more prevalent in the Andes. The dish became popular quite quickly during the construction and must have travelled with the first passengers of the train when the railway opened, taking it to Lima and beyond.
It isn’t known whether it was served hot or cold or whether it was a starter or a main dish back then, but its unique flavor has made it survive and thrive up until this day. It stands strong as one of the most popular dishes throughout the country and is a staple offering in Peruvian restaurants in all corners of the world.
A secret revealed
You might ask yourself how this brilliantly inventive lady from Huancayo managed to achieve the consistency of this sauce that we can now only make with a blender? Well, she would have used a batán, a traditional giant pestle and mortar made out of stone common throughout South America.
In fact, many traditional and top-end restaurants in Peru, especially in the countryside, still choose to use the time-consuming and bicep-building bátan to prepare the sauce since it gives it the perfect texture.
Your stomach might be rumbling by now so, without further ado, let’s roll up our sleeves and prepare our very own Papa a la Huancaina!
Course: Lunch, Starter
Papa a La Huancaína
- 17 ounces floury potatoes
- 5 ounces fresh cheese
- 4 large leaves iceberg lettuce
- 3 fresh ají amarillo chili peppers
- 3 cloves peeled garlic
- 1 boiled egg
- 4 black olives
- 1 Teaspoon olive oil
- 1 Teaspoon milk
- Salt to taste
- 2-3 breadcrumbs or salty crackers optional
- Cover the potatoes with salted water, boil until soft and remove from the pan to cool. You can peel the potatoes or leave the skin on.
- Remove the veins (ribs) and seeds from the chili peppers. Lightly fry the chili peppers with the whole cloves of garlic in a little bit of oil.
- Put the chili peppers, garlic, cheese and salt in the batán or your blender and grind/blend until smooth. If you are using a blender it might be necessary to add some breadcrumbs or crushed salty crackers to achieve the correct consistency, or on the contrary, add some more milk if it is too thick.
- Slice the potatoes once they have cooled sufficiently, using 2 potatoes per serving. Place on a large single lettuce leaf. Pour a generous portion of sauce over the potatoes and lettuce and decorate with a few slices of boiled egg, and 1 or 2 olives.
- Enjoy the result and wait for the compliments from your diners to come pouring in!