It’s All About the Spice: Peruvian Food

I spent three months this winter down in southwestern Florida and while I was there, I fell in love with Peruvian food. It’s becoming increasingly more popular and restaurants that specialize in South American cuisine were plentiful. When I got home, I spent about a month trying to duplicate some of the dishes I enjoyed. Peru is thought of as the place the potato came from, and while it’s prevalent in many recipes the real star seems to be a yellow pepper called aji amarillo. It packs a lot of heat and has a distinctive taste. I had to order it in paste form online since I’ve never seen it here up north. Another interesting thing about Peruvian cooking is the strong Asian influence from Chinese immigrants that is evident in many of the dishes. Lomo Saltado, show in the bottom left of the photo above, is essentially a stir fry – complete with soy sauce – served on top of French fries. It is super easy to make; check out my post on YatesYummies to get the recipe.  The two recipes in this post are a little more involved. For the hearty Chupe De Camarones, I offer some substitutions that can be used if you don’t want to try to track down hard to find ingredients. But in the so, so delicious huacatay salsa, only hucatay – black mint – can be used. I had a lot of fun investigating these recipes and I hope if you attempt them you’ll enjoy the process too! Let me know how it goes!


Chupe De Camarones – Peruvian Shrimp Chowder –  Serves Four


Some Lessons Learned:

  1.  To make traditional chupe de camarones, shrimp broth made from simmering the shells in water is needed. During the several times I made this recipe while trying to perfect it, I couldn’t always find fresh shrimp still in their shells. So, I tried using bottled clam juice, and I didn’t notice too much difference. It was also a time saver!
  2. To get the spicy authentic flavor I needed, I realized I had use the real deal. So I ordered aji panca chili, aji panca chili, and huacatay pastes from These seemed to be the “holy trinity” in so many Peruvian dishes.
  3. In search of flavor, I tried using annatto oil to saute the onion for the chupe de camarones. I really didn’t discern any large taste boost, but I did notice the rosy glow it gave the dish.
  4. In the soup, using frozen vegetables worked just as well as fresh.
  5. I learned that at high heat, milk curdles but heavy cream doesn’t. Plus, it gave me that silky mouth feel I was looking for.
  6. I wasn’t always successful at keeping the poached egg together. If it breaks apart, no worries! The soup still tastes great!



1 lb uncooked shrimp in shells (or use precooked frozen shrimp)

4 cups water (or 16 oz. clam broth and 2 cups water if shrimp shells are not available)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon annatto seeds (optional)

1/2 cup finely diced red onion

2 cloves garlic, put through a press

1 teaspoon ground zapote (or 1 teaspoon oregano)

1 teaspoon aji amarillo chili paste (or 1 tablespoon finely diced jalapeno)

1 tablespoon aji panca chili paste (or 1 tablespoon tomato paste)

pinch ancho chili powder (optional)

1/2 cup frozen corn

1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup frozen green beans

1/4 cup long-grain white rice

1 medium white potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup cubed queso fresco

4 eggs

4 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves for garnish


If you are lucky enough to have access to fresh, raw shrimp still in their shells – peel them. Set the uncooked shrimp aside in the refrigerator and rinse the skins. Place the skins in a pan with four cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and then turn down the heat and let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes. (Skip this step if shells are not available and you are using clam juice.)

While the shrimp shells are simmering, heat olive oil over medium heat in soup pot. When the oil shimmers, add the annatto seeds. Let them simmer for 5 minutes, then strain the oil to remove seeds and return it to the pan. Keeping the heat at medium, add the red onion and saute until soft – about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic, aji amarillo chili paste, aji panca chili paste, zapote, and ancho chili powder and saute an additional 30 seconds.

Strain the shrimp mixture and discard the shells. Add water to the broth so the entire amount is four cups. Pour into the soup pot (or clam broth and water if that is what you are using) and add the corn, peas, beans, and rice. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to medium and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the potatoes, bring the heat up to a boil again, then turn the heat down and simmer about 10 minutes more or until the potatoes and rice are tender.

Add shrimp and simmer about 5 minutes or until they are totally pink and cooked through.

Stir in the cream and queso fresco. If needed, turn up the heat so that the mixture is very hot. One at a time, crack the eggs in a small bowl and add them to the soup. Cook three more minutes.

Divide the soup between four large bowls, getting an egg in each one. Sprinkle each serving with one tablespoon of cilantro leaves to garnish.


Huacatay Salsa


2 tablespoons huacatay paste

2 tablespoons aji amarillo

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoon diced onion

2 cloves garlic, put through a press

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves



Put everything in a food processor and blend until well combined. This is great on vegetables and meats as well as served as a salsa with sliced bread or chips.