I was unfamiliar with Aji Amarillo chile peppers, but when I saw these beautiful specimens from Terra Dolce at our co-cop, I was entranced and knew immediately they would be coming home with me. Searching the web, I learned that they are one of the most important ingredients in Peruvian cuisine. The fresh pepper is used to make huancaina, a cheese sauce that is popular on many dishes including the classic papa a la huancaina with cold potatoes and eggs.
When I get a new type of dried pepper, I love to make a simple hot sauce with it. It is one of the best ways to appreciate the unique flavors and heat level found in each variety. These sauces come together with just a few minutes of active work, and make an intense condiment that you could use anywhere you would use a bottled hot sauce like Tabasco or Tapatio.
Aji Amarillo turns out to be perfect for this kind of sauce. Many peppers taste of caramelized fruit, often like raisins. The Aji Amarillo reminds me more of sundried tomato. The heat level is quite high. A dab of this stuff will greatlly enliven a taco or a plate of scrambled eggs.
The hot sauce technique is dead simple: you briefly toast the peppers on a dry, hot griddle. Then you remove the seeds, stems, and ribs, and soak the flesh in a bit of boiling water. I like to do that right in the jar of my mini food processor. After they have softened a bit, you add salt, and an acid (citrus juice or vinegar) and any garlic, herbs or spices that you want. I prefer to keep it pretty simple and add those elaborations fresh with my food.
When working with chile peppers, whether fresh or dried, I highly recommend using disposable gloves. They can be found inexpensively at any drugstore, and then you don’t have to worry about trying to get the spicy oils off of your hands. If you do accidentally get a hot spot on your hands, rubbing alcohol is pretty effective at removing it.
Aji Amarillo Hot Sauce (can be made with other dried chiles)
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free
Yields about 1/4 cup
- 4 dried Aji Amarillo or other peppers of your choice (use more if they are small, the Aji Amarillos were about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide)
- 1/4 cup boiling water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Heat a dry skillet over a medium-high flame. Place the peppers on the skillet and toast for about 20 seconds on each side. You want them to become fragrant but definitely not burn. If you burn them, they will become bitter.
- Remove from the skillet and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Working over the sink or garbage, and wearing disposable gloves if possible, remove and discard the stems, seeds, and ribs of the peppers. If you like you can retain some of the seeds, which will tend to be hotter. I kind of enjoy the texture of the seeds so I often leave some in.
- Tear the peppers into small pieces and put them in the jar of a mini food processor. Cover with the boiling water and stir. Allow to sit for 10 minutes or more.
- Add the remaining ingredients and puree thoroughly. If it won’t puree, add more hot water, a tablespoon or so at a time. You’ll have to stop frequently to scrape down the sides.
- Taste (carefully!) and adjust the seasonings to your preference.