Wancaina Sauce (Huancaina)

Wancaina

Chilied Feta Sauce

Wancaina Sauce (Salsa Huancaina in Spanish) is probably one of those foods found every week in a Peruvian household table. It is a basic sauce made with feta-like cheese, farmer’s cheese or any other unripened cheese, olive oil, chillies, garlic and milk.

It is easy, it is delicious, it is very versatile and it is a favourite to bring to picnics too. You can serve it over boiled potatoes as a starter, pour it over pasta as a fantastic side or even use it a dipping sauce for savoury biscuits, crisps or cheese sticks.

The name tell us that the sauce comes from the city of Huancayo (hence the Spanish Huancaina). I am calling it Wancaina in English, so we get the pronunciation right. There are disputes about its origins but everybody seems to agree that there is a strong link with the building of the spectacular Lima-Huancayo railway, built in 1870.

When I first moved to London, I would only do this sauce with Peruvian yellow chillies, which is what we normally do this sauce with. But after some years of experimenting, I have found a really great alternative which tastes as good as the original formula.

I use any orange chilli peppers available. You can use bell peppers like the ones found in most supermarkets or smaller orange sweet peppers, like the ones I found in markets around London, apparently they come from Thailand. In any case, this sauce needs to have a hint of heath, so I always add red hot chilli peppers to make it hotter. Remember to balance these two.

Ingredients

3 big orange or yellow bell peppers / or a similar amount of any smaller orange pepper

3 small hot red chilli peppers /2 if you are using red bird ones

6 cloves of garlic, peeled

200gr of feta cheese, add more or less, depending on how strong you want the flavour to be

2 slices of thick or medium slices of white loaf bread, with its crust removed *

*Slices should be about 1.5 cm, if you only have thin ones, then use three slices. You can also use water biscuits; I normally would add three to four water biscuits to the mix. You may make the wancaina sauce with bread or biscuits anyway. Just keep in mind the proportion of bread – milk – cheese – chilli paste

1 can of evaporated milk. Cans of evaporated milk are pretty standard around the world, so one big can would do

Salt and pepper

Preparation

Chilli Paste

Chop the peppers in chunks of 2-3 cm. I normally tend to leave the seeds in as I am too lazy to remove them, but I found out that they add a nice texture to the mix after they have been grinded

Chop the peeled garlic into big chunks. Normally I chop off the basal plate (the part of the bulb that would be joined with the root) and then I turn the knife flat and press the garlic against the chopping board. The skin will be easily removed. Then I will just chop them a couple of times

In a shallow frying pan, fry the chopped peppers and garlic with half a cup of olive oil. Stir constantly as we do not want the peppers or the garlic to overcook. We just want them to release their flavour into the oil and become a bit softer. Add the chopped red hot chilli peppers into the pan. When some peppers or the garlic start to become just a little bit golden/brown it is time to remove them

Put all the content of the pan, including the oil, in a food processor adding salt and pepper to taste and make a paste. This is called chilli paste and can be used as the base for many other dishes – reserve

Wancaina Sauce

Cut off the crust from the loaf bread and shred it into a bowl. Add three quarters of the evaporated milk and press with a knife until the bread have almost dissolved into the milk. Reserve for about 10 minutes

In a food processor, add the chilli paste, the bread and milk mix and the feta cheese. Crumb the feta cheese as you put it in

Mix well adding the remaining evaporated milk to loosen the sauce and get the required consistency

At this stage it is important that you add more cheese, salt or milk to achieve the perfect balance of flavours and salt content. Remember feta is already quite salty, so try the cheese you are using before adding extra salt as salt content will vary from cheese to cheese

Listo! The wancaina sauce is ready to be used. You can store it in the fridge for up to 4 days

Hope you enjoy it!

 Some Orange Thai Peppers

These peppers are roughly 8cm long. Use few accordingly

Roughly chop the peppers

Chop off basal plate of the garlic

Press it against the chopping board

Easily remove the skin

Roughly chop the peeled garlic

Fry the peppers and garlic in a pan, adding oil

Stir constantly so peppers or garlic do not burn

Add some chopped red hot chilies to add some heath

Fry it all together

Put all the mix, including the oil, in the food processor with salt and pepper to taste

Add extra olive oil to loosen the mix

A beautiful and tasty Chili Paste. This could be the base to many other dishes

Shred the bread into a bowl

Add evaporated milk, half of the can will do

Mash the bread and milk together

You will get a nice mix of bread and milk, still some lumps

I used a standard feta cheese pack

Feta cheese

Put the chilli sauce back into the food processor

Add the bread and milk mix

Crumb the feta cheese as you put into the food processor

All ingredients ready to be processed

While processing it, add the remaining evaporated milk to loosen the mix. You may add more milk, feta or even savoury biscuits to the mix to obtain the desired flavour and texture

Wancaina sauce is ready

From chillies, cheese and milk, this sauce goes well with boiled potatoes and topped with hard boiled eggs. Try it also with pasta, meat, or even as a dipping sauce!

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Classic Peruvian Ceviche

Ceviche Recipe

This is probably the very basics of ceviche making. From here, you may experiment with fruits, fish and ingredients. Yet, this is the most classical version of a good Peruvian Ceviche.

Ceviche is the staple dish of Peruvian cuisine. As Tacos are from Mexico, spaghetti is from Italy or Sushi if from Japan. Yet this amazing dish does not represent the vast reach of Peruvian cuisine which includes meat, poultry, snakes and turtles, cheese, potatoes, chillies, fish and even bananas. Peru is an extremely bio diverse country, with a diverse cosmopolitan population and this is reflected in its food. Peru is a melting pot including Chinese, Japanese, Italian, African, Spanish, French, Middle Eastern and even British. Ceviche has Spanish, Arab, Japanese and Peruvian grandparents.

To cut it short, ceviche is raw fish marinated in lime juice with chillies and onions.

The key to ceviche is the fact that the fish needs to be “cooked” in lime juice. What cooks the fish is the citrus acid of the lime. Yet one very important thing to bear in mind is the fact that the fish HAS to be as fresh as possible. Fish bought in a supermarket won’t do the trick. This is because the delicate flesh of the fish will “close” as days goes by after being alive. The flesh of old fish won’t allow the acidity of the lime to penetrate the flesh and cook it. The acidity changes the composition and texture of the raw fish, but a fish fillet that has been sitting in a supermarket for 3 days won’t do it.

If you cannot get hold of really fresh fish, the best way around it, is to get good quality frozen fish. Frozen fish is caught and freeze within hours in big fishing boats and the flesh will keep the characteristics we need to make ceviche. The ice crystals of the freezing process will indeed affect the texture of the flesh but it will still be cooked by the acidity of the lime juice.

I like leaving my ceviche to marinate for about 30 minutes. Then, it needs to be eaten straight away. The longer you leave a ceviche, the more “overcooked” the fish will become, as weird as it sounds. You can tell a ceviche is old because the characteristic purple colour of red onions will start to fade away and onions will start becoming fluorescent red. This is a clear sign that the ceviche is not at its best.

Hope you enjoy this one!

Abrazos Cevicheros!

Ingredients

White Flesh Fish – about three fillets

4-6 Limes (they must be yellowish in colour and quite soft, means juicy)

2 medium Red Onions

1 big hot red chilli

A handful of coriander

1 large Sweet Potato

Salt & Pepper

Preparation

Chop the fish in thin chunks of about 2cm per side but less than 1cm thick. The thinner you cut the fish, the quicker for the lime to “cook” the fish

Put all the fish in a bowl and add the juice of 4-6 limes. After you squeeze each lime, stir the fish making sure the juice surrounds all fish pieces. Stop squeezing limes when the juice is covering all the fish. This could be somewhere between 3 to even 6 limes. Depending on how juicy they are. I like my ceviche very juicy, that way after finishing it I could drink all the juice on its own, this is so tasty! It captures the whole flavour of a ceviche

Cut the onions in very (very) thin julienne. Then put them in a sieve and wash them under running cold water for about a minute, rubbing them in table salt a couple of times – this is to get rid of the bitterness and strength of raw onions

Add the onions to the fish, together with finely chopped red chillies – chop the chillies until they are about 2mm each

Add finely chopped coriander. Once finely chopped the coriander should fit into a big spoonful

Add salt and pepper to taste

Let marinate for about 20/30 minutes. The time it need depends on the acidity of the lime. Brazilian limes are more acid than Mexican ones. Peruvian ones are the most acid, so this process would be very quick.  Just make sure the fish have turned from its characteristic pinkish colour to white and it should be ready

Serving:

Chop about one large sweet potato into 1.5 cm thick wedges and then into cubes of the same width. Boil them in plenty of water with 4 spoons of sugar. About 30 minutes.

In a soup bowl, put a spoonful of the sweet potato in the bottom and top it with the ceviche. Garnish with a spring of coriander and if you manage to get hold of: some roasted corn (available at Latin-American shops)

Make sure the onions, sweet potatoes and fish are very cold when served. Ceviche must have this extremely fresh taste to it. Throw some ice cubes into the fish and mix for 2 minutes before serving for a fresher taste (remember to remove the ice cubes before serving)

Best accompanied by a very cold larger beer (as we normally would do in Peru) or some wine. Definitely not red, that wouldn’t the citrus and white meat of the fish, so, left with whites. Oaky Chardonnays need not apply because we’re focusing on the acidity of the dish and the freshness. A lighter white with acidity to hold up to the acidity in the dish is what we’re looking for. Best choice: Sauvignon Blanc! The citrus components in the Sauvignon Blanc matches perfectly with this dish.

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Salchicha de Huacho

Salchicha de Huacho

I am originally from Huacho, a small bustling city two hours north of Peruvian’s capital: Lima. The city is rather famous for a bright orange sausage: Salchicha de Huacho.

The bright fluorescent colour of this sausage, which could look rather radioactive, is given by the seeds of the Bixa Orellana commonly known as achiote (or Annatto). Achiote is a natural pigment which is still used worldwide as a food colorant. It was used by pre-Columbian tribes in Latin America as a pigment to dye their bodies in red. I believe some still do as I have seen on the BBC some naked red people shooting arrows to a passing helicopter (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7426794.stm).

Moving away from naked red people, the Salchicha de Huacho is usually long and sold in a twirl by the kilo. In Huacho, we would normally eat it at breakfast, scrambled with eggs and tucked in between a bread roll (which we candidly call French bread).

As a child, I was always proud and excited that our own local sausage was popular in the entire country. Unfortunately, this sense of pride was terminated when my grandmother (AKA MamaMama) tried to buy some Sachicha de Huacho in a local Huacho market. To her surprise, she was told: “Sorry, La Salchicha de Huacho has not yet arrived from Lima”. About a year later my family migrated to Lima, according to dad we were looking for a better future.

A few weeks ago, I had a revelation while walking along the spice aisle of my local Supermarket: I found a pot of Achiote. All the sudden my Salchicha de Huacho excitement got back. I decided to make some of this old friend of mine at my little kitchen in Brixton, London.

Here is my photo recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 500gr of Pork Meat (1)
  • 3 tablespoons of Achiote Seeds (2)
  • 3 garlic gloves
  • 50ml red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Chilli Pepper (crushed) (3)
  • ½ teaspoon Grounded Cumin (4)
  • Salt & Pepper (5)

(1)   I used a mix of pork loins and pork belly, this way I can control how much fat I put on my sausages (2)   You might find achiote oil, achiote powder or even achiote paste. It will all work fine as long as you balance the colour to your like. (3)   I like a kick on my sausage (4)   & (5) Because when cooking, you might scramble the sausage with egg, you need them to be very well seasoned

Achiote Seeds

Roast the Achiote seeds in a thick pan on a very strong fire

Roasting Achiote Seeds

Constantly shake the pan, so the seeds roast evenly and be very careful not to burn them. When they will turn dark red, turn off the heat and keep moving the pan

Achiote Oil

Right after turning the heat off, add the oil and stir so the oil impregnates with the rich red colour of the seeds. You might turn the heat on again for a little bit if the oil is not getting that rich red colour. Leave the oil aside to cool down

Get your pork selection ready, for these sausage I use about 350gr of lean pork loins and 150gr of pork belly rashers. This way I keep them a bit less fatty than normal sausages. Just make sure that you have about half a kilo of meat

Dice the meat in pieces of about 2 cm

Put the chopped pork into a food processor

Add the cumin, crushed garlic cloves, vinegar, salt and pepper to the diced pork

Carefully pour the achiote oil over the meat. Use a sieve to stop any seed going into the mix. Seeds are not really edible and the will become like little stones after the cooking, so be careful to keep them away from the mix

Please note the really strong orange colour of the oil. This is the very characteristic colour of a Salchicha de Huacho. Remember I told you it was almost fluorescent?

Grind the mix until it has become chunky but not so much to become a paste. Put aside on a dish and cover with a cling film. Leave the mix in the fridge overnight for all the flavours to come together

After the mix is ready, it is time to put them in their casings. I managed to buy some collagen casing online and got them delivered on the post a couple of days later. You can also go to your local butcher and kindly ask them to sell you some. Remember if you get natural casings, they may need to be soaked in water before using them

As I am such an amateur, I do not have a sausage making kit at home (which you can buy from £10). So I made a home made funnel with some hard plastic from last year’s Christmas cards box lid

I used the back of a wooden spoon to push it down the casing through the funnel

Salchicha de Huacho. This is how it normally looks when you buy it in the supermarket

Because this sausage is normally scrambled with eggs, you will have to break their casings when cooking. So you might well avoid puting them into casings and just scramble them straight from the fridge. I always do a lot of sausages and keep them in the freezer until needed, they can keep well frozen for about a couple of months

Scrambling the sausage with egg before serving. The amount of eggs depends on how strong you want the flavours. Try frying it on its own and keep adding eggs until you reach your desire strength

Salchicha de Huacho ready to be enjoyed with bread on a Peruvian Brunch Table. The dish in the background is “Sangrecita” which is another Peruvian Brunch Hit of black pudding fried with potatoes and fresh coriander, I shall be posting that recipe soon. Keep an eye on this blog.

J

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