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Adventures in Aji Sauce

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Adventures in Aji Sauce

When living in New York, we ate at a place called the Chicken Festival often. You can laugh at the name if you want, but until you’ve tasted their roasted chicken magic you really don’t know what you’re missing. We found this little Peruvian restaurant on accident during a rain storm and returned almost weekly after that.

I liked a lot of things about Chicken Festival, but the biggest contributer to my obsession was the green sauce–aji sauce. When I told the owner I might want to marry her sauce, she welcomed me to the club, promptly refilled my cup of sauce, and moved on before I could inquire about her recipe; not that she’d give it to me anyway.

Since recently purchasing my fantastic food processor, I decided to take a shot at making my own aji sauce. After a bit of research, I made three variations. None of them matched the awesomeness of the Chicken Festival, but each did have its own redeeming qualities. Here are my sources of research:

1 – Learned about aji amarillos and finding ground chiles at the Savory Spice Shop in Boulder.  The aji amarillo chile (a/k/a aji escabeche or yellow chiles) comes from Peru and has a lemony flavor. It’s used in sauces, salsas, and stews.

ground aji amarilo chiles

2 – Found inspiration over at Wandering Chopsticks for fulfilling an aji sauce craving.

3 – Searched high and low on the “big” recipe sites for a basic approach. I liked Serious Eats’ recipe, because it included Parmesan cheese. I NEED cheese.

4 – Then to Bon Appetit for another recipe (all very different), so that I could see another approach to making my own aji sauce.

I didn’t follow any of the recipes I found exactly, but I did get some great ideas. Below you’ll find the three different versions I tried.

Recipe for Aji Sauce (with yogurt and sour cream)

*5 sprigs cilantro

*3 green onions

*1 clove garlic

*1 tbsp. olive oil

*1 tbsp. lemon juice

*4 tbsp. ground aji chiles

*3 tbsp. plain yogurt

*3 tbsp. sour cream

Directions: Throw the cilantro, onions, and garlic in food processor. Add olive oil, lemon juice, and aji ground chiles and continue to process.  Add yogurt and sour cream to mixture and process until you have a texture you like.

Recipe for Aji Sauce (with yogurt and iceberg lettuce)

*10 sprigs cilantro

*1 jalapeño, de-seeded

*1 clove garlic, minced

*3 large pieces of iceberg lettuce

* 2 tbsp. aji paste (combine equal parts olive oil and ground chiles)

*1/4 tsp. lemon juice

*1 tbsp. Parmesan cheese

*1/4 c. plain yogurt

*1/4 tsp. salt

Directions: Run cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, and iceberg lettuce through the food processor. Make aji paste by adding equal parts olive oil and ground aji amarillos. Add paste, remaining olive oil, and lemon juice to mixture and continue to process. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. If you want something less creamy, add a tablespoon of water (I did).

aji sauce with yogurt

Recipe for Aji Sauce (with mayonnaise)

*15 sprigs cilantro

*1 jalapeño, de-seeded

*3/4 bunch green onions

*2 tbsp. aji ground chiles

*2 tbsp. lemon juice

*3/4 tsp. salt

*3 tbsp. chipotle mayo

Directions: Process jalapeño, cilantro, and green onions. Add remaining ingredients and continue to process until smooth

aji sauce with mayo

Aji Sauce Afterthoughts

Maybe you can tell from the goofy amounts of my ingredients that I didn’t make full batches of aji sauce. I mean, how much aji sauce can two people eat on a regular weekend? So, each batch filled about one small ramekin, which would have been plenty for a meal of roasted chicken with beans and rice. As I mentioned, none of the three batches were quite what I was looking for. However, I do think that the second version was the closest. I think a few more fresh, hot peppers and less cilantro might do the trick.

It should be noted that the iceberg lettuce in version #2 gave the sauce an interesting color and a nice consistency, but I was surprised that I could taste the flavor as much as I could. Last, I recommend using lime instead of lemon — I’m not crazy about over-lemony sauces or other foods.

As mentioned, you can eat aji sauce atop chicken, rice, and beans. You could also use it to dip your bread or your French fries. I used some of the leftover aji sauce for that very purpose.

amarillo sauce for french fries

My quest for a Chicken Festival caliber aji sauce remains. Tell what you think about aji amarillo sauce and any recipes that have worked for you, too.

13 Responses to “Adventures in Aji Sauce”

  1. Eliana says:

    I have never tried aji amarillo but it sounds super delish. I think I may try it to spice up some rice soon.

  2. Victoria says:

    We have a Peruvian place that we love here in NoVA and it might be fun to have our OWN sauce.

  3. Chung says:

    I’m sorry I don’t have anything to contribute to your quest for the perfect aji sauce :( But you know what’s missing is usually some totally off the wall ingredient that NO ONE would ever think of putting in aji sauce, like crushed Frosted Flakes. OR half of an eyelash from Snow White.

    But I admire your dedication!! Also, nice photos!!

  4. Sara says:

    Eliana – I hope you do spice up some rice. Let me know how it goes.

    Victoria – Thanks for visiting! I need to find a Peruvian restaurant in Denver stat.

    Chung – That is definitely the first compliment I’ve gotten on photos. I am slowly learning how to use that camera. Next time I make Aji Sauce I’m adding cornflakes just to see!

    • Tinyee says:

      I’ve seen a recipe that uses saltine crackers. I’ve tried my own version with the lettuce, and I found it a bit runny. Thanks.

  5. Monet says:

    Can I please have that plate of fries?!?! What a wonderful collection of unique and flavorful sauces. You made me wish I could visit my favorite spice store in CO. Thank you for sharing…and I must say that your photographs are looking beautiful!

  6. Jen says:

    I love the photo of the aji sauce on French fries. Wow, I wish I had a plate of those. Are aji chilies very spicy, like a habanero? I hadn’t heard of them before, but now I want to try some!

  7. Fantastic sauces…The one with yogurt and sour cream, I could have this all day :)

  8. Nathalie says:

    The “magic green sauce” (aka aji) is nothing more than iceberg lettuce, mayo, cilantro, serrano chiles, garlic and oil blended together. It’s very easy to make!

  9. amber says:

    Peruvian aji

    1 bunch cilantro leaves(though normally made with haucaty)
    4 to 7 serranos (depending on heat you want)
    1tbsp peanut butter cream
    1 tomato ( roma or small) cut into 4ths
    1 small red onion diced
    2 cloves garlic.

    saute everything with a little oil except cilantro and peanut butter. Once softened and fragrant add cilantro and sautee till wilted. Put in a blender and slowly add oil till it becomes a sauce consistency add peanut butter and salt to your taste. If you want you can also add 1/4 cup mayo.

  10. amber says:

    Oh and cut stems off chili’s and cut into 3rds leaving seeds in.. and that is creamy peanut butter not chunky. My husband is Peruvian !

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