This gluten free Ají de Gallina, is based on the signature Peruvian dish – a creamy Peruvian chicken stew with the flavorful ají amarillo chile paste served over rice and garnished with hard-cooked egg and olives. My version of this dish was inspired by the traditional recipe without the white bread and canned evaporated milk. It’s comforting, creamy, and loaded with flavor!
👩🏻🍳 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.
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 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 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.
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 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, 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, 2018, and 2019 trips to Peru renewed my enthusiasm for creating a healthier version of the dish – so as to enjoy it more often! After our 2022 and 2023 trips, I’m more convinced than ever that my rendition honors the traditional version.
Note: I am not attempting to re-create a truly wonderful authentic Peruvian dish. I am attempting to bring Peruvian flavors to American home cooks by using a combination of authentic ingredients (ají amarillo) with familiar, healthy ingredients available to American cooks. I love the authentic version, and it is out of respect that I spent time developing this version that brings the essence of the dish!
🐓 Healthier Ají de Gallina
In looking over the ingredients list, I focused on two – 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 it in my house.
I decided to work around 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.
📋 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.
- 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.
- nuts – Pecans are most common, but walnuts are a good substitution. You can use whole or chopped as they will go in the food processor.
- ground cumin
- ají amarillo paste – There really is no substitute, however, you can start with whole frozen, jarred, or fresh peppers, and make ají amarillo paste. Blanche peppers to remove skins and seeds, then purée with liquid. Save the seasoning for the recipe you’re using them in.
- 2 tablespoons cassava flour – The traditional thickening is white bread or crackers. I wanted to lighten this up, and chose to use cassava flour.
- chicken broth
- oregano – I have Mediterranean oregano growing in my garden (taking over the other herbs!), so I always use that. You can used dried, but reduce the amount to about 1 teaspoon.
- coconut creamer – I like the creamy mouthfeel and taste of coconut creamer (in the non-dairy section), but half n half and canned evaporated milk are good substitutions. Evaporated milk is traditional, but as mentioned above, I don’t care for it, and I wanted to cut a few calories.
- cheese – I specify parmesan, but queso fresco is a great option and widely available.
- boiled potatoes (traditional see notes)
- hard-cooked eggs
- black olives
- 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 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.
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!
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.
- Rotisserie chicken is a great time saver.
- OR make a large batch of shredded chicken in your Instant Pot or on the stove.
- I used cassava flour (an excellent gluten free substitute for wheat flour) but you can substitute regular flour if you prefer.
- I specify coconut creamer which I find provides the creaminess of evaporated canned milk without the canned taste. You can use half n half or full fat milk if you prefer.
- 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 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 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!
Healthy Ají de Gallina
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- 24 ounces boneless - skinless chicken breasts
- water to cover
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
Aji de Gallina
- 2 tablespoons refined coconut, vegetable, or olive oil
- 1 small onion - chopped
- 2 teaspoons garlic - minced
- ¼ cup 25 g pecans (can be whole or chopped)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ cup ají amarillo paste - see notes
- 2 tablespoons cassava flour
- ¾ cup chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons Mexican - or Mediterranean oregano leaves (see notes)
- ½ cup coconut creamer, half and half, or evaporated milk - see Post for more information
- .5 ounces 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!
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.