Today we’re taking about the Pollo a la Brasa Recipe. We’re diving into a very specific dish with a lovely history, an exquisite taste and the ways it can be prepared. Also known as “Peruvian Roasted Chicken,” or “Rotisserie Chicken,” the Pollo a la Brasa is one of the most treasured dishes in Peru; also one of the most popular. It depends on who you ask, but this Peruvian Chicken might be even more popular than the ceviche itself! Make sure to visit any of the Gran Inka Restaurants for interesting alternatives to Peruvian chicken!
As you might guess, the dish and its preparation have multiple techniques and options regarding cooking and accompaniment side dishes. To begin with, we could take the Pollo al Spiedo as a starting point reference. In a few words, it’s a chicken cooking process where the chicken is skewered on a spit, cooked near to a heat source whether it’s an oven or a campfire. Having our starting point clear, let’s get into it!
What made the Pollo a la Brasa Recipe even possible?
Much have been said about the rotisserie chicken. But what was the idea behind this golden miracle, and how did it become a reality? It was the year 1950 when a Swiss migrant Roger Schuler settled in Peru in a little town call Santa Clara, in the east of the Ata District. He started working his own chicken breeding farm. There he noticed his cook was roasting some chicken inserted into an iron rod, spinning above a fire. This got Mr.’s Schuler mind going with something like: “What if I can mass produce this idea?”
He called a friend of his who happened to be an engineer: Franz Ulrich (also Swiss). He asked him to find a way to replicate this process in a way he could cook, evenly, eight chickens at the same time. It was no easy task, but Ulrich was able to create a special oven according to Schuler’s specifications. Using a synchronized assembly of gears, spirals, axed and rods moved by a special engine, Ulrich delivered a fantastic piece of work that could cook all eight chickens evenly. This would also add a very characteristic flavor to it. The system actually resembled the solar system and the rotation and translation movement of the planets.
The chicken production in Santa Clara, Peru was set in motion under the name “La Granja Azul.” This was the first chicken restaurant. Later on, a new restaurant called “El Rancho” was inaugurated. During the course of five years, around ten new chicken restaurants were already working all over Lima. Franz Ulrich also began to work for other chicken restaurants, helping them build their own rotating ovens. He also trained new workers and got them into the oven production business. The Pollo a la Brasa recipe kept spreading. The rest is history.
Once the Pollo a la Brasa preparation and particular cooking style spread up, nobody could have foretold this would be such a distinctive dish for the Peruvian nation. During the early years of the Pollo a la Brasa boom, it was consumed by a prominently wealthy public. Year after year, decade after decade the Pollo a la Brasa Recipe became so popular, it was a dish at the reach of everyone. The dish even got to a point where the National Institute of Culture declared it as a part of the legacy of Peru in 2004.
The Original Pollo a la Brasa Recipe
The most default (ish) way to prepare a Pollo a la Brasa consists in cooking it over wood coals. This part is really important, as it gives it a smoky/woody distinctive flavor. The chicken started being marinated only with salt, but we will see other recipes later on. The dish is usually served accompanied by a green salad and large French fries. Mayonnaise sauces and ají are also served as seasoners.
Now let’s get into details, shall we? The preparation of this dish per se starts with a young chicken, eviscerated, marinated in olive oil, lime juice, garlic and spices (pepper, oregano, one tsp salt). Also very important; you’re going to need a nice Peruvian trio of ingredients: Huacatay Paste, Aji Panca Paste, and Aji Amarillo Paste. Then you combine them until you have a smooth puree. Now we are getting into the chicken quite literally, as you’ll need to loosen the skin and rub some of the marinades under it. Be careful not to tear the skin! Season chicken all over with one tsp. of salt.
You can marinate the chicken one night earlier, so you can let it marinate for around 6 hours. Then transfer chicken, spread flat and skin side up to a roasting pan. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roast chicken for 20 minutes and then spoon or brush some extra marinade over it. Repeat every 10 to 20 minutes for about an hour. Let it oven-roast until the chicken is tender, juicy and crisp-skinned. If the skin starts getting brown too fast, lower the oven temperature. Reduce the heat accordingly.
Roast the chicken until the temperature of the chicken reads 160°F. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Tent the chicken with foil for 10 to 15 minutes, reserving pan juices. Remember to serve with Peruvian Aji Verde Sauce. You can get it done by mixing jalapeno peppers, cilantro leaves, a small clove of garlic, and a chopped green onion. Then add two teaspoons of Huacatay paste, 2 of fresh lime juice, 2 of Parmesan cheese,one tablespoon of aji Amarillo paste, a quarter of a teaspoon of salt, a quarter of black pepper and half a cup of mayonnaise. Make sure y6ou get a smooth paste. You can keep it for up to a week.
Interesting alternatives inspired by the Pollo a la Brasa Recipe
As you can see, the recipe is very straightforward. Taking care of the marinade, and allowing the chicken to get to its golden sweet spot are key to get a perfect Pollo a la Brasa. Out of the original recipe, you can find interesting experiments and variations. For example, Chef Sara Moulton offers one of these variations such as her Peruvian Baked Chicken Thighs.
For this recipe (that makes 4 servings) we need 3/4 c fresh cilantro leaves, 1/2 c soy sauce (low sodium, if you prefer). Also 3 T distilled white vinegar, 1 1/2 T vegetable oil, 1T ground cumin, 1 1/2 t hot paprika. Then add 3/4 t dried oregano, 1/4 to 1/2 t cayenne, pepper, 6 cloves garlic, 12 small bone-in chicken thighs with skin (about 4 pounds), Green Sauce (recipe follows), and as suggested accompaniments; Organic red quinoa and Steamed corn rounds.
We need to start combining the vinegar, the soy sauce, the cilantro, the vegetable oil, the cumin, the oregano, the paprika, and a desired amount of cayenne in the blender. Press in 2 tablespoons of garlic and puree for the marinade. Then combine the marinade and the chicken inside one of those resealable plastic bags, and set aside at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Then preheat the oven to 450°F while placing an oven rack on the top shelf of the oven. Pat the chicken dry discarding the marinade. Place the chicken in the roasting pan, and roast it between 20 to 30 minutes tops. Once it’s crispy, let rest for 10 minutes before you serve it. Top each portion with green sauce or try the Peruvian Aji Verde Sauce above. Feel free to experiment within the boundaries of the good taste! The total preparation time for this dish is about an hour and a half, with a hands-on time of 15 minutes. Voilá! You’ve got a Pollo a la Brasa recipe come true!
Why is the Pollo a la Brasa Recipe so important in Peru?
At the beginning of this entry, we mentioned that in Peru, the National Institute of Culture declared the Pollo a la Brasa Recipe as a part of the legacy of Peru in 2004. But what does it mean for this dish to be a National Heritage in Peru? Let’s better understand how a roasted chicken gets this honor.
Let’s begin with the fact that 27 million Peruvians have this dish on a frequent basis. The cultural importance of the Pollo a la Brasa Recipe is huge. Even if Peruvians go out to have lunch or dinner, out to a road trip or a mall, they’ll prefer this dish over pizza, hamburgers or even over ceviche. The dish was born as a choice only the upper-class people could take back in the mid 20th century.
Later on the Pollo a la Brasa Recipe was at the hands of a whole nation, and everyone would abandon forks and knives and eat it with their hands. Yes, that is part of the experience, and it’s an amazing one. Also including the combos with a variety of salads and fries! We could say Pollo a la Brasa united a whole country.
If you visit Peru, tt’s not odd to find more than one chicken restaurant in the same neighborhood. Sometimes you can find them within the same block if you’re in an area with a high volume of businesses. This is also a tendency that permeated to neighbor countries like Colombia and Brazil. The Pollo a la Brasa dish is a beloved part of the life of all Peruvians. And let’s remember it is quite affordable!
Preparing, cooking and marinating a Pollo a la Brasa is also part of the tradition. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the restaurant or preparing it at home. Watching the chickens spinning (you can see now over a dozen chicken in the same oven), feeling the scent of its particular smell it’s part of the experience too.
Let’s not forget that in Peru, the Pollo a la Brasa dish has a national holiday during the fourth Sunday every June. The Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture, took this nemeasure to both honor the dish and to encourage and promote its consumption. Peru also has the Ceviche Day and Pisco Day; Peruvians know how to honor their traditions, not for nothing they have one of the most famous and respected gastronomic cultures in the world.
If you are not traveling to Peru anytime soon, you can find Peruvian restaurants with the best Peruvian food in Miami. You can find the Pollo a la Brasa recipe available of course! For example, if you go to either the Gran Inka Restaurant Key Biscayne or Aventura, you will find amazing Peruvian chicken options such as the Pollo Ahumado, the Pollo Agridulce, or the Aji de Gallina!