If I had to narrow down my list of favourite Peruvian dishes, this simple salad would be right up there near the top. I first had this salad when I was in Peru a few years ago, staying with my friend Carolina. Just as soon as I finished my first bite I started asking about what this sauce was – how was it made? what was it called? what were the ingredients? and I knew I would have to learn how to make this myself. When Carolina listed off the ingredients for me I was surprised and a bit in disbelief when she mentioned crackers as one of them… but as I’ve learned, the soda crackers are an important component. The other two key parts of this recipe are the potato (Peru is famous for its hundreds of potato varieties and this recipe is typically made with the Peruvian yellow potato) and the yellow pepper (aji amarillo) a spicy pepper from the Andes and common in lots of Peruvian as well as Bolivian dishes.
The cheese that is normally used is called queso fresco, which is an unaged white cheese and is similar enough in taste to queso blanco which is a white cheese that you can easily make at home. We’ve had a hard time finding queso fresco and so we made the queso blanco ourselves and it worked really great. If you can not find queso fresco or blanco at your supermarket AND you don’t feel like making it yourself, you can just use a cheese like feta (but go easy on it as it is so salty) or ricotta.
This is a tremendously versatile sauce both in how it is served and how it is made. Many variations of this recipe are available online and, of course, in the memories and homes of Peruvians all over the world, and when this recipe is broken down it is basically a spicy cheese sauce, and while it is truly fantastic just like this over boiled potatoes, it also works well as a dip for veggies, and (as Fabio brilliantly discovered) for pizza! You can customize your huancaína sauce to be extra spicy, cheesy, or creamy as you like it. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
First – this is how to make the queso blanco used in in the huancaína sauce. The recipe is adapted from Karen Solomon’s book Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it
The Queso Blanco
- 8 cups homogenized milk (whole milk) / tazas de leche entera
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar / taza de vinagre de manzana
- 2 teaspoons salt / cucharillas de sal
- Clip a thermometer to the side of a saucepan, add milk and place over medium heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally until the temperature reads 185 degrees F / Poner la leche en una olla con una termómetro y poner sobre fuego medio y calentar por 25 minutos batiendo ocasionalmente hasta que la temperature alcanze los 185 degrados F
- Add the vinegar and stir just until incorporated throughout / Agregar el vinagre y batir hasta que este incorporado
- Turn off the heat and let the milk sit for about 10 minutes / Apagar el fuego y dejar por diez minutos
- At this point you will notice curds separating from the whey / a esta punto se puede notar la nat a la cual es el queso
- Using a slotted spoon, scoop the curds into a mesh sieve that is sitting over another bowl and let drain / Usando una cuchara con agujeros sacar el queso y ponerlos en un colador fino sobre un recipiente y colar
- Discard the whey that has drained into the bowl and then empty the drained curds into the empty bowl and toss together with the salt / Elimine el liquido que esta en la recipiente y poker el queso en el recipiente vacio y mezclar con la sal
- Move the curds onto a clean kitchen towel, a cheese cloth or into a milk bag (a mesh bag used for almond/rice milk etc). Tie curds up in material and squeeze gently then hang over a bowl or the sink for about 45 minutes / Poner el queso sobre un pañuelo para queso y atar y presionar escurriendo, colgar sobre el grifo por 45 minutos
- Transfer the drained cheese curds to a (makeshift) cheese press and weight it for 3-4 hours / Poner el queso en una lata vacia y presionar el queso por 3 o 4 horas
- The cheese is ready to be used and can be kept in the refrigerator wrapped in wax paper for up to one week / El queso esta listo, y se puede quedar en el refrigerador por una semana
The Papas a la Huancaína
- 3 potatoes (yukon gold preferable) / papas
- 4 eggs hard boiled / huevos duros
- 3/4 cup queso blanco or feta / tazas de queso
- 1 garlic clove crushed / ajo
- 1 cup of milk / taza de leche
- 2 to 3 tbsps of ají amarillo paste (depending how spicy to want it) / cucharadas de ají amarillo (si quiere más picante agrege más)
- 2 tbsps of olive oil / cucharadas de aceite de oliva
- 1-2 tbsps lime juice / cucharadas de jugo de limón
- 6 to 8 soda crackers (depending of the texture) / galletas de agua
- black olives / aceitunas negras
- lettuce / lechuga
- Peel and boil the potatoes and then cut into thick slices / Pelar las papas y hervirlas, luego cortarlas en rodajas.
- For the salsa Huancaína: In a blender or food processor add the cheese, garlic, ají amarillo paste and milk. Blend for 10-20 seconds then add a few crackers, the olive oil and lime juice / Para la salsa Huancaína: en una licuadora poner el queso, ajo, ají amarrillo y la leche y licuar. También agreagar las galletas de agua, aceite y jugo de limón.
- Check the consistency and taste – if the sauce needs more thickening add more crackers and blend a few more seconds / Pruebe y ponga sal y pimienta al gusto, si la salsa esta muy liquida ponga mas galletas ya que esto hará a espesar la salsa.
- To serve – place the lettuce on a plate and top with the sliced potatoes, the salsa a la huancaína should be poured over the potatoes covering them. To garnish add some black olives and wedges of the hard boiled eggs / Para servir ponga la lechuga en un plato y las papas encima, colocar la salsa sobre las papas cubiréndolas. Poner aceitunas negras y rebanadas de los huevos duros para la decoracion.