Adventures in Pollo a la Brasa

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About a year and a half ago, I was introduced to Peruvian-style pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken), and have been hooked ever since.  Even now, I crave it at least once a week.  It’s really not a taste that can be put into words if you are accustomed to store-bought or fast-food rotisserie chickens.  The skin is usually kind of wet and sticky, instead of dry and crispy.  You just have to try it for yourself.

So, when I finally decided that I wanted to try making it on my own, I tasked a Peruvian friend of mine with getting me a recipe.  She nabbed the recipe from The Daring Gourmet and told me that it sounded fairly close.  So, it was time to experiment!  I made a few modifications to her recipe.

Before we begin, I wanted to touch on some key components of this particular recipe.  These three pastes – aji amarillo paste, aji panca paste, and huacatay paste (an herb indigenous to Peru) – are part of what is going to give this chicken that distinct Peruvian flair.  I found the two chili pastes in my local Hispanic grocery store, but the huacatay paste took a trip to a Peruvian restaurant to find.

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My countertop toaster oven is equipped with rotisserie function, so I was all set.  However, if you do not have access to a rotisserie, roasting the chicken in an oven will do.

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Start with a fresh, clean chicken.  Remove any organs that were left in the chicken.  Save them if you have a use for them.  I didn’t, so they got tossed.

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I don’t know if Peruvians brine their chicken, but I think letting poultry brine for a day or two never hurts.  This step is completely optional.  If you want to brine your chicken, you can pick your favorite brine and go nuts!

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Once your bird is brined, you can make the marinade.  You want to marinate for at least a few hours, so make sure to give yourself enough time.  Toss all your marinade ingredients in a small food processor.

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Just let it blend until it’s nice and combined.  If you’ve got a few chunks left in there, no need to worry.

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Pour the marinade liberally all over the chicken.  Rub it all over.  Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  Rub some underneath the skin over the breast meat, and even inside the cavity.  Then, cover it up and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

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When you’re ready for the main event, I suggest you truss your chicken.  You don’t want your wings and drumsticks flailing around and getting burnt.

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There, you see how much neater that looks?  Make sure you push your rotisserie forks in as far as they will go.  As it cooks, the chicken will shrink, and the grip on the forks will loosen.  You don’t want them dropping your bird.  As an additional safety measure, I like to tie the bird to the forks.

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For the record, you do NOT want your chicken sitting on the rotisserie spit unevenly, as shown above.  Don’t be like me.  It will not cook evenly.  I learned that the hard way.  When you turn it on, you should be able to tell that you will need to adjust it.

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It takes about an hour or so for the chicken to start getting a little bit of color to it.

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As the chicken cooks, the rotisserie forks will start to loosen from the sides.  Hopefully, you pushed them in far enough to where they will still hold.  Again, a good reason to tie your chicken.

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With some careful planning and patience, you will be rewarded with delicious chicken.

As an alternative, you can try grilling or smoking your chicken.  Again, apartment living doesn’t afford me many opportunities for grilling or smoking, but I concocted a plan.

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I took my electric roaster and set a pan filled with beer at the bottom.  Then, I added two foil packets of pre-soaked hickory wood chips to either side.  This was done outside, of course.  I don’t need the fire department knocking on my door.

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Pre-heat until you start to see some smoke building, then plop your chicken, breast side down, on a rack over the pan of liquid.  Then, let it do its thing at 225-250 degrees until your bird reaches 165 degrees, flipping your chicken over breast side up about halfway through.

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If you want your skin crispy, you might want to finish it off on the grill or under a broiler.

There you have it.  Overall, I’d say we are on the right track.  I can’t say that this recipe is like the chicken at my favorite restaurant, but it’s darn good chicken.  “Peruvian-inspired,” I would say.  Definitely worth a shot, though.

Recipe for Pollo a la Brasa (Peruvian-style roast chicken)

Adapted from The Daring Gourmet’s recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 whole broiler/fryer chicken (3-5 pounds), or bone-in/skin-on chicken pieces of your choice

For the marinade:

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • ¼ cup dark beer
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoons huacatay paste
  • 1 tablespoon aji panca paste
  • 1 tablespoon aji amarillo paste
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt (use half if you brined your chicken)
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions

Combine all the marinade ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Loosen the skin on the chicken and rub some marinade under the skin. Place the chicken in a large ziplock bag or bowl and pour the marinade over. Swish around to even coat the pieces. Marinate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Remove from marinade, shaking off excess.  Prepare on rotisserie according to the directions provided by the manufacturer.  Alternately, bake in the oven at 350 degrees until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

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