On the current menu at Mo-Chica, along with risotto made with quinoa instead of the customary arborio, and the absolutely stunning ceviche, you'll find Aji de Gallina, a homey dish that Mo-Chica chef Ricardo Zarate says dates to when the Spanish brought African slaves to Peru. The slaves were installed as house servants, supplanting the Incas and pushing them even further down the local hierarchy. The dish originated, Zarate says, as a way to save the leftovers — bits of cooked chicken, bread, potatoes — and translate them into a hearty dish, flavored with chiles and spices and garlic and shot with fresh cilantro. It's comfort food, lit a bright yellow from tumeric and yellow chiles. Zarate says that the dish was traditionally made with hen rather than chicken, but can be made with turkey or even canned tuna.

Because we asked (begged, really), Zarate also gave us an ad hoc recipe for the fantastic cancha, or toasted Peruvian dried corn, that is served with many of his dishes. All you do, says Zarate, is put a handful, say 1/3 of a cup, into a hot skillet with a little bit of olive oil. Then toast the corn over high heat, with a lid over the skillet, until the corn begins to pop like popcorn. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt over the hot corn and serve. Zarate says that you can toast it without oil too, which is what his Incan great-grandfather used to do when he toasted corn, which he apparently did a lot. The chef likes to use a bit of oil, if only because it makes the sea salt adhere to the corn kernels.

Add a bit of chile, as they do at Lazy Ox Canteen, where they also serve the corn–although Zarate says that he prefers the flavor of the corn minus that extra bite. The stuff is seriously addictive, a great thing to sneak into a movie theatre, which I guess we can do now.

maize chulpe and aji amarillo from El Camaguey; Credit: A. Scattergood

maize chulpe and aji amarillo from El Camaguey; Credit: A. Scattergood

Aji de Gallina

From: Chef-owner Ricardo Zarate of Mo-Chica

Note: Aji amarillo, or Peruvian yellow chile paste, can be found in well-stocked supermarkets with South American sections or in Latin markets, like El Camaguey Market on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista. Peruvian dried corn, maize chulpe, is available at El Camaguey too.

Serves: 8-10

13 ounces sourdough bread, crusts removed, torn into small pieces

1 liter whole milk

4-5 chicken breasts

chicken stock, as needed

6 ounces red onion, finely diced

4 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon tumeric

2 ounces aji amarillo, or Peruvian yellow chile paste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon walnuts, chopped or broken by hand

4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

1 large potato or the equivalent of smaller potatoes, boiled and cut into medium pieces

1 egg, boiled peeled and quartered

fresh cilantro

1. In a medium bowl, soak the bread in the milk.

2. In a medium pot, boil the chicken breasts in chicken stock. Allow the chicken to cool, then shred the meat with your hands and reserve. You should have about 4 cups.

3. In a skillet, saute or shallow fry the onion, garlic, tumeric and yellow chile paste in olive oil. Add the bread mixture, shredded chicken and walnuts and stir to combine and heat. Stir in the cheese at the very end.

4. Serve the Aji de Gallina over the potato and egg, and top with cilantro.

LA Weekly