This Peruvian-inspired Cod with Huancaína Sauce features baked, seasoned panko-crusted cod portions generously sauced with my twist on the classic Peruvian huancaína sauce. The creamy ají amarillo and queso fresco sauce is addictive and so easy to make! Serve with simple Peruvian-style rice and salsa criolla for a truly memorable meal.
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks - About the Peruvian Flavor Profile
As I mention in my cooking with flavor profiles post that I posted recently, I have started a series that aims to teach my readers how to use flavor profiles to create recipes from a well-stocked pantry and a few fresh ingredients. There will be 6 recipes in the series, and each will feature cod (or other firm, mild, white fish) and a different flavor profile.
I started with this pan-seared Mexican fish, and followed it with this Greek-style panko crusted cod and this coconut cod curry. They're all healthy, make good use of your pantry, and can be completed in about half an hour.
Peruvian flavors can be hard to define. You'll find Quechua and Incan, Spanish, African (comida criolla), Chinese (Chifa), and Japanese (Nikkei cooking) influences. The influences are vast and varied, and that is part of my attraction to Peruvian cooking.
When you think of "Peruvian cuisine," what comes to mind?
Ceviche. Right? I love ceviche, and I have both a fish ceviche and a vegan "ceviche" on Beyond Mere Sustenance. I adore Peruvian-style ceviche, but there is so much more to their food.
In the Andes, you'll find a focus on alpaca, trout, chicken, cuy (aka guinea pig), root vegetables, corn, and quinoa. Juane is a celebrated traditional rice-based dish from the Peruvian Amazon basin that includes meat, boiled egg, black olives, and spices. The ingredients are then wrapped in bijao leaves (which look like banana leaves) and are plants from the jungle. It is then boiled as is in clay pots and served in its leaves. The coastal regions (especially the North coast) focus on the sea - pulpo (octopus), conchas (scallops), tiradito (Nikkei thin-sliced fish), and of course, ceviche of all kinds!
Many key ingredients are not available in the United States (or elsewhere outside of Peru), but the export market has expanded. I have only rarely been able to get fresh Peruvian chiles, and never huacatay (black mint). I do put the pastes and jarred chiles to work though. I long for the day that I can get these fresh ingredients and some of the incredible root vegetables we enjoy when in Peru.
If I had to pick the most important ingredient in Peruvian cooking, it would be the Peruvian peppers (chiles). See The 6 Most Important Ají Chili Peppers in Peruvian Cuisine for the "lowdown" on Peruvian peppers!
Peruvian pantry ingredients for non-natives:
The following lists are by no means exhaustive. These are items that I keep in my pantry or refrigerator, and most I can find locally.
- ají amarillo - paste, in a jar, dried powder, or frozen (by all means buy some if fresh is available!)
- ají panca - dried or paste
- huacatay (black mint) - available in the US in paste
- ají limo - fresh, paste, in a jar, or frozen
- rocoto chiles - fresh, frozen, or in a jar
- ají mirasol - these are actually dried ají amarillo and have a quite different flavor!
- maíz morado - dried purple corn for making chicha morada
- dried corn - mote pelado and cancha
- dried potatoes - aka papa seka
- good olives
- ground cumin
- long grain white rice
Peruvian fresh ingredients:
- red onions
- queso fresco
- cheese - queso fresco and queso cotija especially
- yuca root - also known as cassava
🐟 How to Make Fish "Peruvian"
As I mentioned earlier, we're using a firm, mild, white fish. On photo day, I used some nice, thick Atlantic cod portions. Barramundi is another great sustainable option. See "fish" under ingredients for more suggestions.
I knew I wanted the fish to have a crunchy coating because I love crunchy fried yuca root (yuca frita) with huancaína sauce. So, once again I went to panko (bread crumbs) with simple additions to boost the flavor - smoked paprika, garlic powder, lime zest, and sea salt. Ground cumin would be nice in addition to or instead of the smoked paprika. I just love smoked paprika in breading.
It is the huancaína sauce that makes this fish dish "Peruvian." It is eaten and celebrated all over Peru. I've had it in fine restaurants, family-owned cafés, hole-in-the-wall dives, and while trekking in the Andes Mountains. It is a quintessential Peruvian cheese sauce that make anything taste good!
🧀 What is Huancaína Sauce?
Huancaína sauce is a traditional Peruvian sauce that is both cheesy and spicy. It is served either at room temperature or cold, and most often with papas (potatoes).
Huancaína literally translates to a woman from the city of Huancayo. The papa a la huancaína recipe originated when the trans-Andean highway was being built, and the women looked for food suitable for selling to the workers. It is simple and quick to make, and keeps well when refrigerated.
📋 Ingredients for Baked Cod with Panko
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.
- ají amarillo - You need about ⅓ cup of ají amarillo purée. I always have the paste, and I often have the whole chile peppers packed in water. I like the whole ones in this recipe because they're easily sautéed with the onion and garlic. However, the paste works fine, and you can still get the added flavor boost of sautéing it with the onion and garlic. Of course fresh ají peppers are amazing if you can get them. You will need 2 to 4 peppers (depending on your heat preference).
- cream - Peruvians use evaporated milk, and going back to childhood, I just can't do it. I have used half n half, but my preference is a non-dairy creamer. Whole milk would probably be fine as well.
- cheese - I highly recommend good quality queso fresco. My first choice would be Peruvian queso fresco, but alas, that is not an option. On photo day, I used Mexican Requesón (ricotta), and it was amazing! I live in a Mexican border town, so I have lots of queso fresco options. Use your favorite. And if you're adventurous, try something different!
- red onion
- olive oil
- saltines - Saltines are the traditional thickener for huancaína sauce. If gluten is a problem, omit or substitute with gluten free saltines. It will still be plenty thick.
Peruvian Baked Fish
- fish - A firm, mild, flaky white fish like cod is my preference for this recipe. I try to stick with sustainable fish, and use the best quality available at the time. Red snapper, halibut, barramundi, tilapia, black drum, sheepshead, sea trout are all good choices.
- panko bread crumbs - I like the crunchy texture of panko, but you can use the bread crumbs, nut crumbs, gluten free bread crumbs, etc. to your preference.
- Spanish paprika - Sweet paprika is fine as well. You could add a teaspoon of ground cumin or substitute it for the paprika.
- garlic powder
- lime zest - Reserve the lime to serve alongside...
- olive oil
- huancaína sauce - This is a quick and easy sauce to make, and ingredients/instructions are included. It can be served at room temperature, warm, or even cold. I prefer it warmed or at room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 400°. NOTE: I have a convection oven which adjusts to 375°, and I reduce the cooking time by about 20%. Spray an ovenproof pan with non-stick cooking spray.
- Start the huancaína sauce - Add the drizzle of olive oil, minced garlic, and red onion to the sauté pan over medium-high heat. If using whole peppers, add them now as well. If using paste hold off for now.
- Cook the aromatics - Continue to cook the aromatics until the onions are soft and beginning to get some color. Do not burn the garlic! If using ají amarillo paste, add now, and cook an additional minute or two.
- Finish the sauce - Add the cooked aromatics to the bowl of a food processor. Then add the queso fresco, saltines, and whatever creamer/milk you've chosen. Purée until very smooth.
- Make the breading - Add the panko bread crumbs, smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt, and lime zest to a bowl. Stir (or use your hands!) to combine.
- Prep the breading - You should have a bowl of beaten egg and a bowl of seasoned panko bread crumbs. Dip the fish in the egg on both sides, then press firmly into the crumbs on each side. I sometimes pick up crumbs and press them into vacant spots to thoroughly cover. Set in the prepared pan.
- Bake the fish - Spray the prepared fish with cooking spray, then put it in the oven. Bake 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Fish should flake if you stick a fork in it!
- Finish - Plate the baked fish portions. Top with a generous amount of the huancaína sauce. Garnish with cilantro and lime wedges as desired. Enjoy!
- gluten free - Substitute gluten free crackers, or omit saltines entirely in the huancaína sauce. The sauce will be plenty thick without them. Substitute gluten free panko in the breading, or choose one of the methods below.
- grill, sear, or broil the fish - Skip the egg and panko. Combine the smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon of cumin, garlic powder, lime zest, and half the salt. Brush the fish with olive oil, rub with the spice blend, then grill, broil, or pan sear the fish. Top with the huancaína sauce.
Make a double batch to have for later with veggies. It will keep for several days in the refrigerator.
Always taste for seasoning! The queso and saltines can be salty. You may or may not need additional salt.
Ají amarillo chile peppers really vary in heat level. If you're not accustomed to using them, you may wish to sample before using them. The recipe can easily be adjusted if you're concerned it will be too spicy.
If you have frozen ají amarillo peppers, try making ají amarillo paste with them. The flavor is even better than store bought pastes.
What else can I serve the huancaína sauce with?
Anything you might serve cheese sauce with... with pasta, with yuca or papas fritas, with boiled potatoes and lettuce (traditional papa a la huancaína), as a dip for veggies, over grilled meats, etc.
Is the sauce good leftover?
Yes. It is good at warm, at room temperature, and cold. It should be refrigerated soon after making it if not using immediately.
🧂 Useful Stuff
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I would gladly eat fish 4 or 5 times a week. It's healthy. It cooks quickly. It's easy to thaw and prepare. It's versatile. How does fish fit into your meal planning? Inquiring minds would love to know!
Peruvian Baked Cod with Panko and Huancaína Sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ medium red onion - chopped
- 3 cloves garlic - rough chopped
- 3 whole ají amarillo chile peppers* - seeds and stem removed OR
- ⅓ cup ají amarillo paste* - either whole or paste!
- ½ cup evaporated milk, half n half, or non-dairy creamer - see Ingredients in post
- 4 ounces queso fresco - crumbled
- 2 saltines
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper - taste before seasoning!
Peruvian Baked Fish
- cooking spray
- 12 ounces fish - see Ingredients in post
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- zest of 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin - optional
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 large egg - well beaten
- Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray an ovenproof pan with non-stick cooking spray.
- Add the olive oil, minced garlic, and red onion to the sauté pan over medium-high heat. If using whole peppers, add them now as well. Cook the aromatics until the onions are soft and beginning to get some color. If using ají amarillo paste, add now, and cook an additional minute or two.
- Add the cooked aromatics to the bowl of a food processor and the remaining ingredients as well. Process until very smooth. Set aside.
- Combine the panko bread crumbs, smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt, and lime zest in a bowl.
- Dip the fish in the egg on both sides, then press firmly into the crumbs on each side. Place fish in pan, and pan into the oven. Bake until fish flakes with a fork. (See Tips in post).
- Spoon huancaína sauce over the top. 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.
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