Let’s call it “healthy-ish.” This Healthier Ají de Gallina, based on a signature Peruvian dish, packs all the flavor of a traditional recipe without the white bread and canned evaporated milk. It’s comforting, creamy, and gluten free!
About Ají de Gallina
My introduction to ají de gallina happened at my brother and sister-in-love’s house in Newport Beach, California. Josselin is Peruvian, and she introduced me to Peruvian cuisine long before our first trip to Cuzco and the Andes Mountains in 2017.
First came ceviche, and what more can you say about Lima’s signature dish than A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.? Peruvian ceviche in its simplicity outshines (IMHO) the ceviche from other cuisines. But today we’re discussing ají de gallina.
Josselin is an amazing cook, and her favorite cookbook of authentic recipes is a Spanish language cookbook. While my Spanish is slowly improving, I am not there yet. I did take notes as I watched, though, and was able to recreate this pure comfort food in my own kitchen.
Ají amarillo is the star in this recipe, and there is no substitute. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise!
Aji de Gallina, according to one of my “go to” resources Peru Delights, translates “hens chile.” Lol. It hasn’t been that long since hens were a protein of choice in Peru, hence the name. To my knowledge, modern aji de gallina is typically made with shredded boneless, skinless chicken breast.
Ají amarillo is the star in this recipe, and there is no substitute. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise! This yellow-orange chile varies in heat level (usually mild to medium hot), and its heat is balanced by lovely fruity notes. You’ll find it in ceviche, in my Peruvian Ají Verde Recipe, in my Creamy Tomato Bisque Peruvian-Style, and many of my other recipes as well. You’ll always find a jar of the paste in my pantry, and frozen whole chiles in my freezer. Thus far, the fresh chiles have eluded me!
Traditional recipes for aji de gallina involve poaching chicken, and using the shredded poached chicken in a creamy sauce made with evaporated milk, white bread, pecans, and grated parmesan. Heart attack waiting to happen? Still, I have made this dish once or twice a year and enjoyed it.
Our 2017 and 2018 trips to Peru renewed my enthusiasm for creating a healthier version of the dish – so as to enjoy it more often!
Healthier Gluten Free Ají de Gallina
In looking over the ingredients list, I focused on two “offenders” – canned evaporated milk and white bread. Canned milk (as we called it in my early years) evokes negative feelings to this day. My parents loved it in their coffee, and my childish mind associated it with being the poor family of a grad student. Perhaps that is unfair, but food evokes memories for me, and this one has never been positive. White bread was something my young sons begged for, but I never allowed in my house.
I decided to ditch both ingredients. I hope the ají de gallina police don’t come after me… LOL. Given my love for nuts and cheese, of course the pecans and parmesan remain.
What can we use instead? I have often relied on coconut creamer when needing a dairy free replacement for cream, and it seemed an obvious choice to replace the canned milk. I have seen recipes that use actual coconut milk, but the fat, calories, and strong flavors are not appropriate here. If dairy is not a problem, try whole milk or half n’ half…
As to that white bread thickener? I have not been diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, but I do try to reduce consumption of products that contain gluten. Cassava flour yields a result similar to wheat flour, so I simply modified the cooking method to incorporate a roux based on cassava flour.
Healthier Ají de Gallina Work Flow
If you aren’t starting with a rotisserie chicken, the first step will be starting your chicken. It will require about the same total time on the stove as in the Instant Pot or pressure cooker given that it takes the appliance time to come to pressure and then you’ll need to release the pressure. Allow about 20 minutes with either method.
I have actually been known to cook my eggs in the same pan as the chicken, just adding them a little later.
While the chicken cooks, start the rice. It requires about 20 minutes as well.
Making the sauce starts in a decent-sized sauté pan, the ingredients go into the food processor, and back to the sauté pan to finish. Once the creamer is added, keep the sauce at a very low heat. You don’t want to boil it!
Once you have the consistency you want, add the chicken. You just want to keep it hot until ready to serve.
Lastly, prep any garnishes. As shown in the photos, we typically serve with hard-cooked eggs, olives (halved lengthwise), and chopped cilantro.
Tips and Pointers
In substituting 2 tablespoons of cassava flour for approximately 3 slices of white bread, and 1/2 to 3/4 cup coconut creamer for canned evaporated milk, I shaved off 69 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 11 grams of carbohydrates. I use MyFitnessPal.com for macronutrient calculations. I entered both a traditional aji de gallina from Peru Delights, and my lightened version. Given that my recipe does not lack any of the creamy delicious flavor, I am very pleased with the results!
- 24 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- water to cover
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
Aji de Gallina
- 2 tablespoons refined coconut or olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup (25 g) pecans (can be whole or chopped)
- 1 teaspoons cumin
- 1/2 cup aji amarillo paste (see notes)
- 2 tablespoons cassava flour
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons Mexican (or Mediterranean) oregano leaves (see notes)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup coconut creamer (see notes)
- .5 ounce parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
- sea salt/ fresh ground pepper to taste
- boiled potatoes (traditional see notes)
- hard-cooked eggs
- black olives
- cilantro, chopped
- Cook and shred the chicken on the stove or in the Instant Pot. If using rotisserie chicken, shred and set aside.
- Hard cook the eggs.
- Add the oil to a deep sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and pecans. Cook until onions are transparent (3-5 minutes).
- Add the cumin, (dried oregano leaves if using), aji amarillo paste, and cassava flour. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until flour is toasted.
- Whisk in the chicken broth and bring to a boil.
- Scrape into the bowl of a food processor. If using fresh oregano, add at this time. Pulse until very smooth.
- Scrape back into the pan over medium heat. Whisk in the creamer or milk and the grated parmesan. Bring almost to a boil - but don't boil it. Reduce heat to low.
- Stir in the shredded chicken. Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
- Cover and keep hot until ready to serve.
- To serve: Top rice with the Aji de Gallina. Garnish as desired. Enjoy!
I'm typically cooking for 2, but I make 4 servings knowing I will have leftovers either for lunch or for the freezer!
Aji amarillo does vary in heat level. If you're unsure, start with less and add as the sauce finishes to taste.
I have fresh oregano going nuts in my herb garden, so I use fresh. I don't like to cook my fresh herbs longer than necessary, so I add them to the food processor. If using either dried Mexican or Mediterranean oregano, and them with the cumin.
Traditionally, aji de gallina is served atop white rice, garnished with black olives, with a side of boiled potatoes and hard-cooked eggs. I need to green it up a bit, and hence the chopped cilantro. I don't want more starch, and opt to omit the boiled potatoes, but I do love the hard-cooked egg!
Leftovers are excellent for lunch the next day, or frozen for later use.
Macronutrients are an approximation only from MyFitnessPal.com, and DO NOT INCLUDE rice or garnishes!
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Amount Per Serving:Calories: 400 Total Fat: 17g Carbohydrates: 17g Protein: 45g