Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ajiaco (Colombian Chicken and Potato Soup)

WANTED: an in-state little sister to peel all the ping-pong-sized red potatoes I bought for this dish.  What was I thinking?  I'll tell ya what I was thinking, I forgot I needed to peel the potatoes at the moment of picking out this grocery purchase.  It was like the scene in Pretty Woman..."slippery little suckers".  It was borderline miserable, but I got through it!

So, Ajiaco.  I have never been to Colombia, but my red headed, firecracker of a friend, Kim is there right now.  Several weeks ago, she told me all about how delicious this country's famous soup is.  It is often made at home, but lots of restaurants also make it, often as a special.  As soon as I started researching this recipe, I could not wait to make it.  

To summarize, this soup is a starchy, rich, thick potato soup with shredded chicken topped with Aji salsa, sour cream, capers, cilantro and avocado and chunks of corn of the cob floating around.  

Now, traditionally this recipe is not exactly how Ajiaco is made (but well adapted for the US dreamer).  First, the soup has three different kinds of potatoes in it.  One is a starchy Russet.  Another is a red potato.  The third is a waxy yellow potato, but a specific wild variety grown at the high altitude of Colombia called papsas criollas.  They are supposed to break down completely into the soup and help create the thick creamy texture.  The "best" substitution is a Yukon gold, which is what I used.  However, you may be able to find the papas criollas at a Latin market around you.  You can also buy online here or here.  

The second ingredient that is very traditional and very important is an herb called quascas.  It was also not available in Boulder (I checked everywhere).  I read the best substitute was a combination of bay leaves and parsley.  Quascas is often thought of as a weed in many parts of the world.  Someone suggested going to a park and looking for it (weird).  It is also a weed that spreads very quickly, so most people don't like to grow it.  In the US, it is known as "gallant soldier".  Apparently it adds a grassy or weedy taste to the soup, which, to me, seems like something parsley can do.  Kim said she isn't a huge fan when it tastes too weedy.  You can also buy online here or here.

Also, the corn used in Colombia is a little tougher with bigger kernels than the sweet corn we are used to.  Therefore, it is often cooked as long as the potatoes to tenderize the kernels.  US sweet corn is a perfectly fine substitution (maybe even better!) and only needs to be added at the end of the cooking time.  PS:  corn on the cob sucks bad right now.  

Lastly, the recipe I came up with first develops a nice homemade chicken broth with the addition of some tasty vegetables and then adds the potatoes later which simmer until they break down quite a bit.  Then, I whipped out the old immersion blender to give the soup a nice texture.  Traditionally, the soup is cooked forever and the potatoes are broken down by smashing them up against the side of the pot.  That would work just as well, but a little slower and takes more effort.  

The bottom line is that I really love this soup.  Even though it might not be exactly the same as the real Colombian version, having the Aji salsa (which, btw, is delicious...recipe included), capers and all the other toppings really make it delicious.  Plus, I have never had the real thing, so what do I know.  

Thank you to all the others who have already written about Ajiaco.


For soup:
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
6 quarts of water
1 small bunch of parsley
1 small bunch cilantro
3 bay leaves (traditionally quascas is used instead of the parsley, cilantro and bay leaves)
2 carrots, cut into thirds
2 stalks of celery, cut into thirds
1 large white onion, cut in half
1 leek, cut in half, cleaned well, whites only
6 chicken bouillon cubes
1 tbsp kosher salt
3 ears of corn
3 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
4 lbs red potatoes, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
4 lbs Yukon gold potatoes (traditionally papas criollas are used, if you can find
them), peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
kosher salt
black pepper

To serve:
Aji salsa (recipe follows)
Capers, drained
Avocado, diced + lemon/lime juice to avoid browning
Cilantro leaves
Sour cream

Place chicken pieces in large pot or Dutch oven, cover with 6 quarts of water. Bring pot to a boil.

In a cheesecloth tied shut with kitchen twine, put parsley,1 small bunch of cilantro, and bay leaves (or quascas). Once the pot has come to a boil, skim the fat that floats to the top off with a spoon and discard. Continue doing this for about 10 minutes, then add the herbs, carrots, celery, white onion, leek chicken bouillon cubes, and 1 tbsp kosher salt. Bring back to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and tender.

Remove chicken from the pot and set aside to let cool. Add corn and cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until kernels are tender. Remove from pot and set aside. Remove carrots, celery, onion and leek from the pot and discard.

Add all the potatoes to the pot. If you are prepping as you go (which you should) add them in this order: Russet, red and Yukon (or papas criollas). Bring the pot to a boil, partially covered, reduce to simmer and cook for an hour or longer, until Yukon potatoes are falling apart. Cut ears of corn into thirds and add to the pot after about 30 minutes (also take out the herb bouquet at this time).

While the potatoes are cooking and once the chicken is completely cooled, remove all the skin and bones from the chicken and shred the meat. Depending on the timing, you might want to throw the shredded chicken into the fridge while the rest of the meal is prepared. Re-warm the chicken carefully/slowly before serving.

Taste soup for seasonings. Add a generous amount of black pepper and adjust salt (you will probably need to add quite a bit more salt, ~1.5 tsp). While the potatoes are cooking, you can smash them against the side of the pot to break up the potatoes and thicken the soup. Alternatively, at the end, you can smooth it out a bit with an immersion blender. Make sure to leave plenty of big chunks of potato, but blend enough to give a nice thick texture to the soup.

To serve the soup, ladle into a big bowl and top with shredded chicken. At the table pass around Aji salsa, capers, avocado, cilantro and sour cream to top the soup.

(Servings: 8-10, Cook time: 3 hrs., Difficulty: Easy)

from Fine Cooking

4 scallions (white and light green parts only)
1 medium tomato, peeled and seeded
1 small white onion, peeled
2 fresh Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles or 2 fresh hot red chiles, stems and
seeds removed (wear gloves, and don’t touch your eyes)
3 Tbs. fresh cilantro leaves
3 Tbs. white vinegar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt

In a food processor, pulse all the aji ingredients until they’re finely minced.  Transfer to a serving bowl.

foodforscot Rating:

Shanon (taste):  8/10
Scot (taste):  8/10
Effort:  5/5
Dishwashing Effort:  4/5


  1. How interesting to read about all the differences in ingredients from a different part of the world. Nonetheless the soup sounds great! (And I'm with you on peeling potatoes, when it's latke time I always make my husband do it!)

  2. So far I have tried Various typical dishes of Colombia and I must say they are very filling. Before I showed the fruits and what is also typical is a dish called Tamal. Normally it is eaten for breakfast.
    It contains, Beef, Potatoes, chicken and is wrapped in Plantain leaves.
    When I first smelt it first thing in the morning, it did make my stomach churn as I am not a breakfast eater but once I had a bite I found it very tasty....
    J. - colombia travel

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