Peruvian Aji Amarillo

Before these get pureed with the cheeses, here’s a bowlful of fresh Aji Amarillo, seed saved, along with some cores, in case more heat was needed. (It was fine without adding the cores.) The top one is the same pepper, second from the right, in the above picture. This is a few days later.

The seed gets rubbed( gloves on) with some dish soap and rinsed off before draining and drying. That bowl made about 3 cups of finished sauce. Again, no time to blanch and peel!


More sauce recipes. I made the first one this evening.

Here’s mine. Not blended. Not sure I want to.

Blended it.

The next one has lots of Aji Amarillo info, but my peppers aren’t “6-10 times hotter than jalapeños”, as they describe. I guess it depends on the jalapeños. That’s why I don’t buy jalapeños.

This next one has hard boiled eggs IN the sauce. It says sixty servings from 1/2 cup of aji amarillo!

A green one, with jalapeños. I’m added some serrano chili to mine, as I like my sauce spicer. But I would hate to miss the aji flavor.

Here’s the plant today.

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Shrinkrap, those recipes are definitely NOT Peruvian! Those are what appear to be American recipes. Mayo? Catsup? I had a lot of Aji sauce in various parts of Peru and these other ingredients were not in the sauce. Sliced, boiled egg might be covered with the sauce. Catsup is absurd as it’d add sugar and competing flavors.

It might taste good, but it is not Peruvian.

Aside from just the pureed Aji (Aji paste), the various sauces called “Huancaina” are more simple. These are the primary sauces served in Peru. I can hear my son, who grew up in Peru and is a bit of a minimalist/traditionalist, shriek in horror at the notion of adding mayo or catsup! Often, if the sauce is too runny, saltines may be added to thicken. Garlic, and or onion may appear. Queso Fresco is commonly listed as a substitute to a similar Peruvian fresh cheese. I’ve seen small amounts of feta added to the queso fresco to approximate the slightly stronger flavor of the Peruvian cheese.

Gaston Acurio wrote an excellent cookbook: “Peru the Cookbook”. That’s worth getting if you love Peruvian cuisine. He mentions two, different Huancaina sauces:
Huancaina a la Antigua-Old-fashioned and Huancaina Actual-Huancaina sauce. Here are some of his recipes, with some notes added from experience:

Aji peppers seeded, cored 13 oz. (375g)
vegetable oil 1/3 cup (75ml)
queso fresco 7 oz. (200g)
evaporated milk 14 fl. oz. (410 ml)
Saltine crackers about 1
salt 1 1/2 teaspoon

Since the Aji can be more or less hot and vary in moisture content, I don’t add the milk. Fresh Aji are moist enough and it’s optional. In Peru, some folks use a batan,. Try getting one of those shipped! A blender or processor works fine.

I also don’t add salt. To my taste, the cheeses add enough. This sauce freezes very well, whereas the following can get funkier in the freezer as garlic and onions don’t age well frozen for longer periods.

Huancaina Actual
Vegetable oil 1/4 cup (75 ml)
Aji amarillo 9 oz. (250g)
Red onion, 1/4 *Peruvian red onions are typically milder than the ones found in the US. Use less or maybe a sweet onion instead. Also onions vary a lot in size. I’d figure about 2-3 Tablespoons, finely chopped, would be plenty.
Garlic 2 Cloves * again, adjust for size.
Evaporated milk 1 3/4 cup (400 ml) *Don’t add it all! Might be too runny. Add towards the end of blending/processing.
Queso Fresco 4 1/2 oz. (130g)
Saltine Crackers about 4

The most common basic Aji “Aji Amarillo Licuado” is just peppers blended with a little oil.

Another recipe for Pasta de Aji Amarillo, Yellow Chili Paste, cooks the seeded chiles. For 2 1/2 lbs (1 kg) peppers:
“Place the chiles in a pan with enough cold water to cover and bring to a boil, then remove from heat and drain. Repeat the process 3 time, changing the water each time.”
Then, the Aji is blended with just a Tablespoon (15 ml) of oil.

When folks talk about the Scoville or heat level in peppers, it is based on the whole fruit/pod, core, seeds and all. Most of the heat in Aji is in the core. I save a few de-seeded cores to add at the end if the sauces are too mild. For parties, I keep the sauce milder.

Contrary to popular myth, Peruvian ceviche dishes don’t usually contain Aji Amarillo, but I have seen it once in awhile. More commonly, Aji Limo* is used, a fiery C. chinense which is commonly red, very shiny and lacks the “goaty” aromas one finds in Habaneros and Scotch bonnets. Rocoto is also frequently used. My first encounter with Rocoto (C. pubescens) was in Lima, a half served in ceviche. As soon as I popped that into my mouth, thinking it was a pimiento, my brother in law said “Este es Rocoto!” That’s a Rocoto! About then, my mouth lit up.

  • As mentioned above, Aji Limo is NOT Lemon Drop or C. baccatum ( a yellow, smaller, hotter relative of Aji Amarillo). Wm. Woys Weaver wrote an incorrect article that resulted in great confusion by misnaming Lemon Drop as Aji Limo. The web is now full of errors regarding this.
    This is Aji Limo, red form:

Back to Aji amarillo: I am curious how cooking or blanching effects the flavor. The fresh, uncooked puree is so good, it’d be a shame to lose some of the fruitiness. Guess that’s why I haven’t done it yet. Maybe if a mother load comes in, it’ll get me to experiment more. Speaking of which: I had to find a small, forked tree and cut it into a support “Y” for one of the plants bending under the weight of peppers! It was pulling the 3+ inch diameter bamboo stakes over. Hadn’t seen that before.


That was SO helpful! Thank you. FWIW, I didn’t have catsup, and another recipe
suggested tomato paste, so that’s what we we used, and my daughter loathes mayo, so that was a hard sell, but we did end up really enjoying the sauce.

Shrinkrap, you’re welcome! Tomato paste sounds better. I don’t know if it’s my age, but it seems catsup has become too sweet. I’m looking to make my own catsup, just to lower the sugar…yuck! Enjoying the sauce is what it’s all about. Glad it turned out well.

Here’s the branch supporting the mother load of peppers. most peppers are hidden behind foliage:

I set up a small space heater inside the tent today, since frost is possible. Man, if there isn’t a major haul on Aji, I’ll be really bummed out!

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Beautiful! Good luck! Earlier this year I made “plum catsup”, but didn’t remember in time to try it.

I just finished some experiments with blanching, peeling, tasting Aji Amarillo in side by side comparisons with the raw peppers. This is what I found; all started with fresh Aji:

Blanched, peeled
It took 10 minutes in a covered saucepan to get whole Aji to loosen skins. I avoided halving the peppers prior to boiling, figuring it would dilute too much flavor. This is one method a Peruvian lady uses, the mother of a neighbor.
•Makes a smoother product without the skin
•Very easy to halve, then scrape out the core and seeds
•Color is still good.
•Flavor good, but very much changed

•Adds time and the peppers are a pain to peel, especially ones which are not straight or wrinkled
•The fresh, citirc flavor associated with this pepper vanishes. The flavor has more of a roasted, cooked pepper taste with a more vegetal note.

I tried boiling times from 3–10 minutes. Shorter cook times resulted in better flavor but skin tightly-held and near impossible to peel.

The takeaway for me is it’s much easier to just core, de-seed the raw peppers and use them. I don’t mind the minor texture of the skin and the flavor of the raw peppers is better, more characteristic of the variety. Cooking renders the flavor much more similar to other types of peppers, which is OK for certain recipes, but for Huancaina sauce, I strongly prefer the raw peppers. Maybe that’s. why Gaston Acurio’s recipes above do not include cooking, peeling. To fully appreciate the flavor and how different it is compared to other peppers, use them raw. It’s also way easier!

One of my goals is to freeze dry raw, fresh Aji (cored, de-seeded). Since it freezes so well, it should freeze dry beautifully. Once freeze dried, I can powder the brittle peppers and reduce the skin to dust, if desired, to create a product which will be smooth upon rehydrating. This should make an instant Aji paste with the flavor of fresh Aji. Sealed with oxygen absorbers, it should retain quality at room temperature for 10+ years. It’ll be awhile before there are enough peppers to warrant a freeze drier load. Until then, it’s uncertain.

That was great! Thank You! I think I’m going to try some raw. I have one ripe 9ne on the plant, and its pretty convoluted for easy peeling. I wonder if freezing raw ones would soften them enough to remove the skin with a food mill.

So far, of all the methods I’ve tried, the best (non-freeze drier) method is to core, de-seed the raw peppers and cut them in half or thirds, crosswise. Add a little Feta and 2-4x as much Queso Fresco, all to taste, plus a little dribble of oil, e.g. peanut oil, neutral flavored oil. A blender or a Vitamix does a much better job at pureeing, than a food processor. Today, I used the Vitamix, low speed & plunger to get stuff going. Then, gradually ran the low speed to max and let it grind everything together for a bit. I switched it to “Hi” for about ten seconds and cut it off.

The sauce came out very creamy with really no noticeable skin bits or grittiness. There was no need to add liquid or crackers. I bet the pepper juice got emulsified with the oil and dairy. So, it largely depends on how you grind the peppers. The Peruvian grinding stone ground up skins to nothing, but a strong blender or Vitamix can do the same. In the hierarchy of best>worst: Vitamix>Blender>Food Processor. Of course, if you like your sauce with more texture, reverse the order!

Shrinkrap, the freeze>food mill is an interesting idea! It might make juice after freezing and thawing, but it might work if the skins stay in the food mill. You would not want to refreeze again, since each time you do that, there’s more water separation. I don’t know; it could be a good idea. One of us should try it! After freezing and thawing, those saltines mentioned in some recipes might help thicken it.

For simple Aji paste, I put the raw, cored, chopped Aji in the Vitamix with a dribble of oil and let it rip. A blender also can work and is the most common tool used in Peru. That puree gets frozen in jars with a little air space and a tight seal. Half-pint mason jars work well. I bet one could put a thin top layer of oil in the jars, before freezing, to cap the puree and prevent freezer burn or oxidation.

Again, onion or garlic can be added, but do not survive well frozen for long periods. You can add these right before serving or for short-term freezing. Myself, I prefer simple, where the peppers really stand out as the dominant flavor.

Okay, thanks!

“For simple Aji paste, I put the raw, cored, chopped Aji in the Vitamix with a dribble of oil and let it rip”

That’s what I’m doing, but maybe into ice cube trays.

So I ate one straight of the plant, not a particularly symmetrical pepper, and the blossom end , no seeds, was fruity and sweet! Another bite, with seeds and placenta/membrane was decidedly hot! Interesting.

Yes, almost all the capsaicin is in the veins and core, which is why it’s not just delicious, but versatile. You can make it so mild, it’s suitable for “young children and cowards”, medium or blazing. That’s why I keep a few of the cores outside the blender, in case it’s too mild. Generally, by leaving a generous amount of the “veins”, the septa, a good level of heat, for my tastes, is present. A small number of de-seeded cores might get added, after tasting, but not always.

Shrinkrap, if you have a vacuum sealer, you can vacuum seal those frozen “pepper ice cubes” so they’ll keep much longer. Jars are handy because it’s quick to take them out of the freezer for a few minutes and dig out what you need with a fork or stout knife, then return the jar to the freezer. I can’t tell you how many Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter jars are in the freezers! Some have blanched pureed basil with oil, Huancaina sauce, Aji puree, Thai pepper oils, etc. There’s no way moisture gets out or in, and products can’t give off or absorb other odors. Ball even makes these cute, 4 oz. jars, which are great for potent condiments.

Less plastic waste with jars, although I do use mylar and plastic when it’s the best choice. Mylar bags get washed and reused; vacuum-seal bags are also often reused, both getting smaller with each use.

I’m wondering if a mix of blanched and raw Aji make the best condiments. After the above comparisons, there were a bunch of raw and blanched peppers which went into the Huancaina, which really came out great. The ratio was about 1/3 blanched + 2/3 raw. I left the cut, blanched peppers uncovered in the fridge for some hours, which dried them out a little. This last batch had perfect texture and rich flavor, the bright of raw and mellow of cooked. A side by side comparison is needed.

That sounds handy! I actually have THREE vacuum sealers, one that seals re-usable “Ziploc” bags. I have been putting individual peppers in the freezer one by one, but there are quite a few coming along now. Decisions, decisions!

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold