Making Peruvian Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry
February 2007, I was supposed to board a flight from Lima, Peru to Los Angeles. The nine-hour trip would have ended my months of guidebook writing in Peru. But during my travels, I’d been struck by an idea: I wanted to take Peruvian cooking classes. So in February, instead of heading to the airport, I settled into a little apartment in Lima’s Miraflores neighborhood and signed up to spend my evenings with Carla.
Carla was an executive chef for Gaston Acurio (Peru’s Jamie Oliver). She was a foot and a half shorter than my six feet and a year younger than my 24. She could tell you the best place to buy kitchen knives in Lima and how to cure a wok with a pig’s belly. But those topics rarely came up during our classes. Instead, she showed me how to make angled slices through red onion for ceviche, how to blend black olives and oil for an octopus sauce, and how to sear red peppers in a wok.
In May of 2007, I finally returned to the United States—with intentions of making Carla’s recipes regularly. But her dishes and tips went the way of my Machu Picchu photos: They only came out when company was over. With one exception: tallarines saltados, Peruvian chicken and vegetable stir-fry. This recipe is so darn easy, fresh, and fast that it’s hard not to make it part of weekly dinner line-up.
The night Carla taught me tallarines saltados, she explained its history along with the preparation. As my knife slid through red peppers and chicken, Carla spoke of the first Chinese immigrants, who came to Peru in the late nineteenth culinary. They arrived as laborers and stayed even when their initial work ran out. Over the years, the Chinese became fully integrated into Peruvian culture, and Peruvians adopted the Chinese’s love of salty foods and high heat stir-fries.
And that night when I tasted the tallarines saltados, I knew what Carla meant. This was a hybrid stir-fry, full of snow peas and soy sauce—and spaghetti noodles and spicy Peruvian chile aji amarrillo.
These days, when I make Peruvian chicken and vegetable stir-fry, I can’t help but think of Carla. I feel her at my elbow, as I sear the vegetables and chicken. And I always wonder, what Carla would say if she saw me. She’d certainly notice that I substitute jalapeño for the hard-to-find Peruvian chile aji amarillo. She’d probably also see that my measurements in tablespoons aren’t exactly what she taught me in grams. Carla might even ask, “What kind of Peruvian chicken and vegetable stir-fry is this?” And I’d tell her that I was just following the example of Peruvian chefs. After all, hadn’t we both relied on travels to teach us a Chinese recipe that we don’t truly follow?
Serves 4 to 6
This Peruvian stir-fry is about as straightforward as it gets. Which makes it a perfect, fresh, fast weeknight supper.
2 chicken breasts, cut into ¾-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 red peppers, trimmed and sliced thin
2 jalapeños, trimmed and sliced thin
1 red onion, sliced thin lengthwise
2 cups snow peas
½ pound cooked spaghetti
2 tablespoons ginger juice,* made from 10 inches fresh ginger
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Season chicken with salt and pepper.
Place a wok or large skillet over high heat, and add one tablespoon vegetable oil. Heat oil until just beginning to smoke. Add chicken, and sear until golden brown on all sides, about one minute per side. Remove chicken from wok, and reserve in a medium bowl.
Add an additional teaspoon of oil. When shimmering, mix in red pepper, jalapeño, red onion, and snow peas. Stir and spread vegetables throughout pan. Cook until just tender, about 5 minutes.
Return the chicken to the wok, and using tongs add the cooked spaghetti. Toss all ingredients together. Add ginger juice and soy sauce, and continue to toss until vegetables and pasta are well coated. Cook until sauce has reduced slightly and chicken, vegetables, and pasta are warmed through, about 3 minutes.
Remove wok from heat and stir in sesame oil. Garnish with scallions and serve.
* To make the ginger juice, trim and clean ginger. Then, finely grate ginger into bowl. Set a sieve over another bowl and pour the grated ginger, along with any juices, into the sieve. Press the ginger into the sieve to extract the liquid.
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