Carapulcra: Spicy Peruvian Stew with Freeze-dried Potatoes

Since we landed here in north metro D.C., we’ve been awed by the availability of dry and frozen goods from Latin America. It almost makes up for the dearth of the Japanese goods that we got so used to having around in Hawaii. Almost.

Anyway, as the pantry shelves have filled with wonderful herbs and spices, beans, and drinkables from south of our borders, I’ve been combing the library and Web for the best ways to use them. I’ve had one cookbook on my shelf for almost 10 years called “Bistro Latino” that has gotten little use, but that is already changing. There is a recipe there for Carapulcra, a spicy Peruvian stew made with pork, chicken and dried potatoes in a chipotle-peanut sauce. I’m not a huge fan of cooking with peanuts, so this recipe never really caught my imagination until I repeatedly found dried potatoes on grocery shelves everywhere around here.

In Peruvian cooking, Chuño are “potatoes naturally freeze-dried by the extremely cold, dry air of the Andean highlands.” (BL, p.10 ) I love potatoes so the idea of shelf-stable potatoes was particularly appealing. (That disaster-preparedness streak still runs deep, even decades after leaving earthquake-typhoon-power-outage-for-months-prone Guam!)

At the time I made this dish last December, we had dried **diced yellow potatoes (papa seca amarilla)** on hand, and that’s what I used in the carapulcra recipe. Since then, I’ve also seen whole dried yellow and purple potatoes, and I think I will try those in this dish next time.

Despite my doubts about peanuts, I did like this dish, especially the combination of savory nuts and spicy chipotle.

** The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled the Goya brand of these potatoes (which is what we used) in February of this year. The recall was for undeclared preservatives — i.e., sulfites — that can cause a severe allergic reaction in asthmatics and others with sulfite allergies. Neither of us is allergic, so thankfully we were not affected but please be aware of this issue if you have a sulfite allergy.

(adapted from Bistro Latino by Rafael Palomino)
For 4 persons

2 TBL olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 lb/455g pork shoulder, cut into 1” dice
1 lb/455g boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1” dice
2L chicken broth, preferably low-sodium
1 cup/225ml water
small bunch of cilantro stems (leaves picked and reserved), minced
8 oz. dried diced yellow potatoes (or whole dried potatoes), rinsed well
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
6 TBL peanut butter (we used smooth only because we don’t keep chunky peanut butter around)
reserved cilantro leaves, divided for cooking and garnish

Heat 2 TBL oil in large dutch oven over medium high heat, and cook half of garlic until it is fragrant. Add pork and brown well, about 6 minutes Remove to small dish to hold, and return pot to stove. Heat remaining 2 TBL oil and garlic, and brown chicken, about 4 minutes. Remove to dish with pork, and return pot to stove again.

Increase heat to high, and add small amount of broth to pot, scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan. Add full amount of broth, then water, cilantro pieces and dried potatoes. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until potatoes begin to re-hydrate — for the small diced potatoes, this took about 20 minutes, but for the whole potatoes it must take at least twice that amount of time (40 minutes).

Meanwhile, mix together minced chipotle and peanut butter.

Add browned meats and any accumulated juices in dish to pot, along with chile and peanut butter paste. Taste and season with sea salt and ground black pepper as needed. Cover and simmer another 40 minutes, or until stew starts to thicken. Stir in 3/4 of cilantro leaves in the last 10 minutes, and cover again to finish. Garnish serving bowls with more cilantro.

Chef Palomino did not make any serving suggestions, so we had these with thick corn tortillas called arepas(purchased). And although it is not traditional — and perhaps Verboten in Peru — we indulged in a practice we learned in an Oaxacan (Mexican) restaurant of adding fresh ingredients to stews. In this case we topped our bowls with radishes, green onion and avocado cubes — the juicy freshness of veggies is a great contrast to the deep layered flavors of this, and most, long-simmered dishes.