Ají de Gallina (Spicy Peruvian Chicken)

Ají de Gallina (Spicy Peruvian Chicken) is a classic Peruvian dish known for its rich and creamy texture, with a balance of savory, nutty, and spicy flavors. The dish typically consists of shredded chicken cooked in a creamy, mildly spicy sauce made from ají amarillo peppers (yellow chile peppers), bread, milk, cheese, pecans or walnuts, and spices. Traditionally, it is served with boiled potatoes, rice, and hard-boiled eggs, and garnished with olives and parsley. It’s a beloved comfort food in Peru and is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

2 bowls of Ají de Gallina with white rice on a black, round plate with print napkin.
2 ají amarillo peppers.

Ají amarillo is the star in this recipe, and there is no substitute. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise!

~~ Tamara

👩🏻‍🍳 Tamara Talks – What is 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. She taught me to make ají de gallina from her Peruvian cookbook in Spanish. It was love at first bite!

Ají de gallina, according to one of my “go to” resources Perú Info, is a traditional Peruvian fusion of Spanish and Inca ingredients and methods. It literally 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 ají de gallina is typically made with shredded boneless, skinless chicken breast. Perhaps it should be called ají de pollo?

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, Peruvian yellow sauce, escabeche, Peruvian Chicken and Rice, and many of my other Peruvian 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 ají de gallina involve poaching chicken, and using the shredded poached chicken in a creamy sauce made with evaporated milk, white bread, walnuts (or pecans), and grated parmesan. Still, I have made this dish once or twice a year and enjoyed it. However, I cannot abide the evaporated milk. My dad was a graduate student until I was 7. We couldn’t afford fresh milk, and used a lot of evaporated milk. I. JUST. CAN’T.

I love authentic ají de gallina. I just needed to make a very minor change. I’m swapping out evaporated milk for half and half or non-dairy creamer. I have also made it gluten free by thickening it with cassava flour. NOTE: I will include instructions for thickening with cassava flour at the very end of the post.

2 white bowls with spicy Peruvian chicken stew, Peruvian rice, and salsa criolla.

🐓 Healthier Ají de Gallina

In looking over the ingredients list, I focused on one – canned evaporated milk. I initially cut the bread, but bread is really fine. Canned milk (as we called it in my early years) evokes negative feelings to this day. My parents loved it in their coffee and other things, 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. I am not a fan of white bread, but it “made the cut.”

What can we use instead of evaporated milk? I prefer this unflavored non-dairy creamer to half and half, though I do occasionally use it. My non-dairy creamer has the body of half and half, but comes in at 15 calories per 2 tablespoons. Conversely, half and half and evaporated milk each have about 40 calories per 2 tablespoons.

As to that white bread thickener? Go for it! And it will be with my blessing because GOOD FOOD! This is a recent development. I went with a gluten-free cassava thickener initially, but it never quite rang true to me. If you need a gluten free option, feel free to connect via tamara@beyondmeresustenance.com or substitute a fluffy, white gluten free bread.

📋 Ingredients Notes

Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.

Ingredients for Healthier Aji de Gallina laid out on a cutting board.

Shredded Chicken

  • chicken – Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are traditional. Make a large batch of shredded chicken in your Instant Pot or on the stove. You can also use rotisserie chicken.
  • water – If you’re cooking your chicken (rather than using rotisserie), you’ll need water or broth to cook your chicken.
  • sea salt

Ají de Gallina

  • oil – I like refined coconut or olive oil, but vegetable oil is fine as well.
  • onion – Peruvians use tons of red onion, but you can use yellow, white, or even shallots.
  • garlic
  • nuts – Walnuts are traditional. I have a reaction to walnuts, and always use pecans (also common). You can use whole or chopped as they will go in the food processor.
  • ground cumin
  • turmeric – Turmeric was a more recent addition to my recipe, mostly for its brilliant color. It is not shown in the ingredients image above.
  • ají amarillo paste – There really is no substitute, however, you can start with whole frozen, jarred, or fresh peppers, and make ají amarillo paste. If fresh, blanch peppers to remove skins and seeds, then purée with liquid. Save the seasoning for the recipe you’re using them in.
  • bread – 4 slices of white bread are about right. I actually use the bakery french bread, and cut 4 slices about 1/2″ wide. If your bread has tender crusts, no need to remove them. If it’s crusty bread, you will want to remove them.
  • chicken broth
  • oregano – I have Mediterranean oregano growing in my garden (taking over the other herbs!), so I always use that. You can use dried, but reduce the amount to about 1 teaspoon, and add with the cumin and turmeric.
  • milk – Peruvians use evaporated milk. PERIOD. They use it in many things, but I get the impression it’s non-negotiable in this dish. As I mentioned above, I don’t care for it. I like the creamy mouthfeel and taste of half and half. Non-dairy creamer is a product I often substitute if I’m counting calories or having GI issues that require it. Half and half and evaporated milk are equivalent in calories, but the non-dairy creamer is less than half the calories of the others.
  • cheese – I specify 1 ounce of parmesan, but you can use a different hard cheese like romano or asiago. Keep in mind that grater size does impact the volume. I prefer to go by weight.

Garnishes

  • boiled potatoes (traditional see notes)
  • hard-cooked eggs
  • black olives
  • cilantro

🔪 Step-By-Step Instructions

A bowl of shredded chicken and a bowl of bread with milk on the stove in preparation for ají de gallina.
  • Step 1 – Prepare your chicken. This recipe requires pre-cooked and shredded chicken. I often use the breast meat from a rotisserie chicken. See How to Make Shredded Chicken for 2 methods if starting with raw chicken. Add milk/cream to the bread in a bowl. Press bread into the milk so that it absorbs it.
  • Step 2 – Add a little oil to a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, garlic, and pecans until the onions soften.
  • Step 3 – Add the ají amarillo paste, ground cumin, Mexican oregano, turmeric, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Gently boil 3-4 minutes to completely cook the onion.
  • Step 4 – Add the bread and milk mixture.
  • Step 5 – Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. NOTE: If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can put it in a processor or blender, but BE CAREFUL! Add cheese. Stir to incorporate. Taste for seasoning, and add additional cream or milk and/or chicken broth as desired.
  • Step 6 – Lastly, when the sauce is perfect, add the shredded chicken. Reduce heat, and cover. Keep at low heat until ready to serve.
  • Step 7 – To serve, scoop ají de gallina into a shallow bowl with rice (and/or potatoes). Garnish with hard-cooked eggs, and olives as desired. Enjoy!
A close up of the chicken stew - A white bowl with ají de gallina over rice with hard-cooked egg halves.

Work Flow

  • If you aren’t starting with a rotisserie chicken, the first step will be to cook 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.
  • 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 half and half or 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, while the stew simmers, prep any garnishes. As shown in the photos, we typically serve with hard-cooked eggs, olives (halved lengthwise), and chopped cilantro.

❓ FAQ

What should I serve with my ají de gallina?

We like it with this simple Peruvian rice, but plain white rice is fine. Peruvians typically also serve boiled potatoes, but I can’t do so many carbs! Salsa criolla usually accompanies this dish as well!

Is this spicy Peruvian chicken stew good leftover?

Yes. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and the freezer 1-2 months. I make a big batch for my husband and me, and plan on freezing leftovers for another quick meal. If it’s gotten too thick, thin it with a little chicken broth.

💭 Tips

  • Rotisserie chicken is a great time saver.
  • OR make a large batch of shredded chicken in your Instant Pot or on the stove.
  • When I’m cutting calories or want to avoid gluten, I use cassava flour (an excellent gluten free substitute for wheat flour) in place of the sliced bread. The flour gets sautéed with the cumin, and the milk/cream will get added with the sauce.
  • Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and in the freezer for 1-2 months if stored in an airtight container.
  • I have actually been known to cook my eggs in the same pan as the chicken, just adding them a little later.

In substituting 2 tablespoons of cassava flour for approximately 4 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 per serving. I use MyFitnessPal.com for macronutrient calculations, and entered both a traditional ají 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!

Signature in red and green with chiles and limes.

Spicy Peruvian chicken stew in a white bowl with black flatware and grey napkin.

Ají de Gallina Recipe

Ají de gallina is a creamy chicken stew with ají amarillo, parmesan, and pecans served over rice, and garnished with hard-cooked egg and olives. This traditional Peruvian dish is not at all difficult to make, and is sure to be a crowd pleaser!
4.62 from 13 votes

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Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Course Main Dishes
Cuisine Peruvian
Servings 4 servings
Calories 402 kcal

Ingredients
  

Ají de Gallina

  • 16 ounces cooked and shredded chicken breast - see Ingredients Notes in post
  • 4 slices white bread (about 1/2" thick) - see Ingredients Notes in post
  • ½ cup non-dairy creamer, half and half, or evaporated milk - see Ingredients Notes in Post
  • 2 tablespoons refined coconut, vegetable, or olive oil
  • 1 small onion - chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic - minced
  • ¼ cup pecans - whole or chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • cup ají amarillo paste+/- - see Ingredient Notes in Post
  • ¾ cup chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons oregano leaves - Mexican or Mediterranean
  • 1 ounce parmesan cheese - grated*
  • sea salt/ fresh ground pepper to taste

Garnishes

  • boiled potatoes - traditional see notes
  • hard-cooked eggs
  • black olives
  • cilantro - chopped

Instructions

  • 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), and ají amarillo paste. Cook 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Whisk in the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Simmer 2-3 minutes.
  • If using fresh oregano, add at this time. Add the soaked bread. Using an immersion blender or food processor, blend until very smooth. Add back into the pan if you didn't use an immersion blender.
  • Whisk the grated parmesan into the sauce. 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!

Notes

I’m typically cooking for 2, but I make 4 servings knowing I will have leftovers either for lunch or for the freezer!
If you prefer to use cassava flour (or other thickener), add it with the ground cumin. It needs a little time to cook to lose the raw flour flavor. Then, add the milk/cream with the parmesan at the end.
Macronutrients are an approximation only from MyFitnessPal.com, and DO NOT INCLUDE rice or garnishes!

Nutrition

Calories: 402kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 34g | Fat: 19g

NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and/or star rating! Email us with any questions: tamara@beyondmeresustenance.com

🥘 More Traditional Peruvian Main Dishes

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A white oval baker with Peruvian fish escabeche with garnishes.

Peruvian Fish Escabeche

A cast iron skillet with Peruvian fried rice and shrimp with copper serving spoon and fork.

The Best Arroz Chaufa

A black plate with pollo saltado, french fries, and Peruvian rice with black flatware and garnishes.

Pollo Saltado

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17 Comments

  1. I love a lot of Peruvian dishes (ceviche de trucha, adobo, sopa criolla, arroz con pollo, etc.), but this one is probably my all-time favorite.

  2. I loved this recipe and noticed that you recently updated it. Can you send me the recipe that used cassava flour? Or remind me when to add it in. 😀 Thank you!

    1. Good morning Kaylinda! You want to add the cassava flour with the spices. I still make it that way at home. Unfortunately, the updated post does erase the earlier version. Since it’s a traditional Peruvian dish, I was afraid my substitutions were off-putting as the post has not gotten much traffic over the years. The cassava flour needs to cook a little before the liquid is added so that it loses the raw taste. Add the milk or cream when you blend it all up. I hope this is clear? I’m working on additional instruction to the post right now…

  3. This dish is amazing! As are most things in the cookbook. I had never heard of this but we had leftover chicken which made this even easier. It reminds me of an Indian butter chicken or something similar. My wife is allergic to coconut so we used goat milk and it still turned out perfect. This will be a “comfort” dish we make on repeat.

  4. I am Peruvian and your healthy recipe is great, and I would still call it aji de gallina! I love the healthy version. Thank you!

  5. Please don’t call it aji de gallina!!! It’s an aji de gallina like dish, but not really aji de gallina. You can’t appropiate a cultural element of a country, change it to your individual tastes and wants, and keep pretending that is the real thing.

    Have respect for other cultures.

    1. Wow. Is this necessary? Did you read the post? I do not claim to have “the real thing” at any point in this post. I have traveled extensively in Peru with a university studies abroad program. My husband’s colleague is an Andean specialist. His wife is an indigenous Peruvian. I respect and love Peruvian culture, people, and food. That is why I spend time adapting traditional Peruvian dishes to work in the US using ingredients that we’re familiar with that are “healthy.” I’m sorry that you find that disrespectful. My friend (husband’s colleague), his wife, and my Peruvian sister-in-law would disagree. You have many traditional Peruvian cookbooks that present Peruvian classics the “authentic” way. Use them. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” ~~ Oscar Wilde.

  6. This looks delicious! I absolutely love aji de gallina but since it’s a heavy dish I don’t have it as often as I’d love to. I was looking for a healthier version and found yours. Can’t wait to try it. I’m not dairy free so I will probably go for regular 2% fat milk but I was wondering if almond milk would work better than coconut milk? Maybe I’ll try half and half milk and almond milk. 😊

    1. Hi Nathalie! Sorry for my late response, but I’m on vacation. Yes, 2 percent is a great option… Just avoid any milk that has sweetness. I’d love it if you come back and let me know your results as it helps my readers! Thanks for taking time to ask!

  7. I’m Peruvian and being looking for change a little the ingredients so I can make for my daughter it looks really good I personally love aji de gallina I always had to decide in between the rice or potatoes. Is a heavy dish but delicious and going back to the ingredients the cassava flour is dairy free as well or if is not any other recommendation my daughter is dairy free. Thank you for sharing your recipe.

    1. Thanks for taking time to send your question Jackie! Cassava flour is ground from the yuca root, and is a great gluten-free substitute for flour. For more on cassava flour see https://downshiftology.com/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-cassava-flour/. It has no dairy, so you’re good there. With the coconut creamer, you avoid dairy as well. Parmesan, however, might be a problem. If your daughter has an issue with lactose, parmesan can be lactose free. For more on cheeses see https://lifehacker.com/the-best-cheeses-to-eat-if-youre-lactose-intolerant-1563386663. To avoid dairy altogether, you can look for a dairy free aged, hard cheese substitute, or omit it altogether. I hope this helps! BTW, after 3 separate month long trips to Peru, I’ve left a bit of my heart behind!