"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chimu - April 9, 2011

Outside the realm of the ubiquitous pollo a la brasa, what is one distinctive ingredient of the Peruvian cuisine? For example, for Japanese, one can easily tip off wasabi and raw fish; and for Italian, garlic and tomatoes. Mr. Kanda, of the famed Kanda, Tokyo, had once said that he did not think it was possible to cook real Japanese food outside of Japan, owing to the Japanese food’s heavy reliance on the freshness and the particularity of ingredients. In essence, Mr. Kanda is correct; that is why Torrisi Italian Specialty calls itself Italian-American rather than Italian. How many ingredients can a cuisine miss before it loses its authenticity and identity and becomes something else, a fusion? Imagine, how French will a “French” cuisine be without butter? Not impossible per se, but not very French, either: imagine a Dover sole meunière without butter. For the Peruvian cuisine, the vital ingredient – the distinctive and unique flavor - is aji amarillo. Despite being brandished as “hot,” “fiery” and “spicy,” the actual flavor of this yellow pepper is surprisingly fruity and bright (don’t believe all that you hear). A truly Peruvian restaurant must have aji amarillo and, with which, be able to make the delicious creamy, yellow sauce.

Ceviche Mixto

The squid and the shrimps in the ceviche stole the show: They were seriously well-cooked and -uncooked. As my ex-hippy (or maybe she still was) chemistry teacher (I suppose knowledge of chemistry would have come in handy in mixing and smoking; or maybe it was the love for the former illegal activity that led her to the path of legality) liked to point out, ceviche are considered cooked, chemically speaking, since cooking – denaturation - is to change the properties of proteins by the application of heat, acid or salt; hence, the acid in the citrus used in ceviche will denature the seafood. In this regard, the seafood in Chimu’s ceviche was cooked beautifully with masterly push of the lime. On the other hand, gastronomically speaking, cooking is to process – most commonly by heat - raw ingredients, presumably into something more edible and palatable. In this regard, the simply marinated squid and shrimps were indeed well-uncooked and well left alone to retain the succulent, flesh bursting textures. By the way, I was not entirely sure what the crab was doing on my plate.

Chupe de Camarones - Creamy shrimp soup with spices, peas, corn, fried eggs and aji broth

There is something mysteriously intoxicating in the combination of aji amarillo and shrimps. A tax-evader* he might be, but Segundo Muelle can cook up a sinfully rich and deep chupe de camarones. But my favorite was at Chan Chan in Buenos Aires (Hipólito Yrigoyen 1390, Congreso), which had impossibly tender and succulent shrimps in silky aji amarillo sauce served as an entrée with rice. I had to have it for lunch and dinner to make sure that I did not dream up this transcendental dish (I would have gone the third time if time allowed).
The first dish containing this aji amarillo in question was a disappointment despite the precisely cooked shrimps. The mirepoix – at least, the peas were, and the rest, by association – committed the original sin of being frozen; there could have been salvation if their yellow baptismal bath had more substance, but the soup was thin in both texture and taste; anointed by the aji amarillo in color, but not in flavor.

*The restaurant in Lima was closed due to tax evasion, I was told by someone who found the posted notice on the door, at the beginning of 2009. The food at its Mexican branch was criminally bland; but mercifully, it seems to have been closed.

Anticucho & Huancaina - Grilled beef hearts and papa a la huancaina

The beef hearts were grilled to a chewy and crunchy perfection. However, here, the companion had thoroughly broken the bovine hearts. The chef buried the papas alive in an abhorrently unpleasant sauce that tasted so medicated that it would have probably required a prescription; its thickness confounded by the density of the potato – otherwise, a positive quality - made it an abomination to swallow. Unless one is heavily sedated to the point of half-wit serenity, there is not a chance that the cold and funereal papa a la huancaina could be eaten with a smile.

Aji de Gallina - Chicken breast in a creamy sauce with aji amarillo, peanuts, served over boiled potato with rice

The dish had the grace of an equilateral triangle: each the shredded chicken, aji amarillo sauce and peanuts contributed exactly one-third to the overall flavor. It was mildly but adequately seasoned, nearing on, but stopping several paces before, the point where subtlety becomes lackluster; hence, eaten with the barely salty rice, the flavor was full, however, with the platform potatoes, the flavor waned.

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  1. Very good writing. I learned that how not to cook is as important as how to cook.

  2. Some things should be left alone.