Peruvian seco is a meat-based stew cooked down over medium-low heat in a cilantro based sauce, rendering lovely layers of flavor and tender meat. While there are many versions of seco, the basic recipe includes a meat, most often chicken or lamb, cilantro, a bit of ají paste (ají is an orange-yellow fruity and slightly spicy pepper), carrots, peas and potato.
Northern-style secos are often made with goat or lamb marinated in chicha de jora, a liquor made from fermented corn, and served alongside a helping of white beans and rice. On the coast and in home kitchens in Lima, it is more common to find chicken or beef based secos.
In the Café we make a chicken-based seco, served with rice to soak up the extra helping of sauce we add to each plate. One of the things we love about the recipe is its adaptability. Almost any meat or tofu can be used in place of the chicken. The potatoes can be swapped out for boiled yuca (cassava root), or for a side of beans - if you're in Perú try frijol blanco or frijol canario, outside Perú try cannellini or northern beans. If you're cutting back on carbs - and Peruvian meals can be carb-bombs, we know - ditch the potato and sub in a half portion of nutty brown rice for the white. It's always delicious!
- 1 - 1 1/3 cups cilantro-spinach paste
- 1 Tbsp yellow aji paste
- 3 tsp garlic, chopped fine
- 1 cup red onion, diced small
- 3-5 tbsp vegetable oil
- salt and ground pepper
- ½ tsp cumin (optional)
- 6 cleaned chicken thighs bone in, skin on, patted dry
- 4-5 cups hot water (or warm chicken broth)
- ½ cup carrot diced roughly the same size as the peas
- ½ cup fresh green peas (can substitute canned, drained green peas)
- 6 medium sized white potatoes, cut in quarters
- 4-5 cups cooked rice
- To make the cilantro-spinach paste add 3 Tbsp water to the botom of a blender, along with a large bunch of spinach and half a bunch of cilantro. Blend thoroughly. You want to end up with a cup to a cup and a half of paste, roughly 2/3 spinach and 1/3 cilantro.
- Season chicken with mixture of 2 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper and ½ tsp cumin.
- Heat oil in a large sauté pan (easiest to use one with a lid, which you will use in a later step) over medium-high heat and cook the chicken on both sides until golden. Reserve.
- Without cleaning the pan, add the chopped onion and cook approximately until soft, without browining, approximately 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add yellow aji paste and cook, stirring constantly, 4 minutes more.
- Add cilantro-spinach paste to the pan, a teaspoon of salt and stir to combine. Lower heat to medium and simmer uncovered 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add chicken and stir to coat. Once coated, add hot water (or warm chicken broth) to cover the chicken.
- Add the fresh peas, carrots and potatos.
- If using canned peas, add when there is about 4 minutes of cook time left.
- Bring to a medium simmer, cover the pan, lower the heat to low-medium and cook for approximately 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. For the last 5 or so minutes of cooking time, remove the lid to let a bit of the water evaporate from the sauce.
- Taste and adjust seasoning.
- To plate: using a ½ measuring cup as a mold, measure out a portion of rice on each plate. Place a chicken thigh and 3-4 potato wedges on plate. Cover with the sauce.
- Replace the white potato with a side of creamy white beans or boiled yuca, quartered and cut in 3 inch pieces.
- Use a cup or two of beer to replace a cup or two of water prior to simmering the chicken.
- Use extra firm tofu drained, sliced and fried until very lightly golden in place of chicken. Reduce cooking time to 12-15 minutes, just enough to cook the vegetables. Uncover the pan for the last 5-8 minutes of cooking time to evapotate some of the water and develop more flavor. Add tofu during the last 4-5 minutes of cooking time.
- If using an animal protein other than chicken adjust the cooking time accordingly. Firm fish cut into large cubes takes less time, lamb stew needs a bit of a longer simmer.