This crispy-skinned rotisserie chicken is astoundingly tender and usually served with fried potatoes and a creamy aji verde pepper sauce. It’s all about the marinade. This dish it can also be grilled or roasted. I first experienced this amazing dish at an authentic Peruvian restaurant in Cambridge, MA called Machu Picchu. What I discovered at this small eatery wasn’t one of the 7 wonder of the world, but maybe the 8th wonder of the world; pollo a la brasa. This is the story of how a simple chicken dish ended-up with a day named in its honor.
It all started in 1950 at the hacienda of Roger Schuler of Swiss Origin, whose original business was a chicken farm near Lima, the capital of Peru. He had expected to support his family with the earnings from the farm but eventually realized the farm was not going to make it. Understanding that if he couldn’t sell the chickens fast enough they would die. Desperate to save the farm, he had one wild idea to try. Sell the young chickens already cooked. To set this idea in motion, he and his family cook created a recipe of marinating the chickens in a saltwater marinade (salmuera) and then cooking them over a slow fire over hot coals. An hour of cooking would give them the famous result of pollo a la brasa, or “chicken over coals”.
The concept of eating out inexpensively and using one’s hands took off like wildfire and hundreds of small storefront eateries began to pop-up all over Lima. If not for the grill on which the chicken cooks, this dish might not have ever come to be. Initially, the grill was a rustic concoction of carbonized wood at its base with the chicken manually turned on a metal spit over the heat. This was a demanding manual job for the cook and as more-and-more restaurants starting serving massive amounts of the chicken, the need for something more efficient became more pressing.
Leave it to the industrious Mr. Shuler’s to solve this problem too. He called on a friend from Switzerland who had plans for a grill that would simulate the rotation of the solar system. The chickens would rotate around the coals, like planets around the sun. It had, as a result, the capacity to cook far more chickens at the same time and gave rise to the industry of hornos braseros, or rotisserie grills, to make this chicken. Thanks to its creation, an industry was formed that has sold thousands and thousands of grills to new entrepreneurs.
This chicken became such an obsession throughout Peru that the government declared July 21st the official Day of pollo a la brasa. On this day a week before Peruvian Independence Day, hungry dinners all over the country throng to rotisserie chicken shops to pay homage to pollo a la brasa and to celebrate this marvelous dish with their loved ones.
Pollo a la Brasas – Peruvian Grilled Chicken with Aji Verde Sauce
- Grill or casserole dish
- Instant read thermometer
- 4 lb Chicken, preferably Kosher. whole or cut parts
- ¼ cup Lime juice (2 limes)
- 4 cloves Garlic, chopped
- 4 tsp Kosher salt
- 2 tbsp Paprika
- 2 tsp Black pepper
- 2 tbsp Ground cumin
- 1 tbsp White vinegar
- 1 tsp Sugar
- 1 RECIPE Aji verde sauce
- Marinate Chicken – If roasting, toss cut-up chicken parts and massage them in a plastic freezer bag with the rest of the ingredients. If grilling, "splatchcock" (butterfly) a whole chicken by cutting down both sides of the backbone with kitchen shears or a heavy chef's knife and removing it. Turn chicken over and lay it flat, skin-side up. Press down hard with your palms to flatten the chicken as much as possible to ensure even cooking. Rub all remaining ingredients over both sides and place in a a sealed plastic freezer bag. Marinate in the refrigerator at least 6 hours or overnight.
- Grill Chicken– Preheat 1 side of covered grill over high. Remove chicken parts or splatchcocked chicken and place on grate over cool side of grill with breasts further away from hot side. Cover and cook until breast meat registers 110°F (43°C) on an instant read thermometer. Move everything to hot side of the grill, skin-side down and close the lid right away. When breast reaches 145°F (63°C), remove chicken to a cutting board and allow to rest 10 minutes covered loosely with foil. Carve and serve with aji verde sauce on the side and french fries.
- Oven Roast – Preheat oven to 425°F (220°). Remove chicken from bag and place in a casserole dish skin-side up. Roast for 20 minutes at 425°F (220°C), then turn heat down to 375°F (190°C) and roast another 50-60 minutes until the breast meat measures 145°-150°F (63°-66°C). Remove from heat and let it rest for 10 minutes loosely covered in foil. Plate and serve with a green salad, French fries, and aji verde sauce on the side.
- If chicken is roasting too dark, put tin foil loosely over dish until temperate is reached.
- If grilled chicken skin is beginning to burn while not yet cooked through, move it back to the cool side skin side up until it reaches temp.
- Keep chicken thigh closer the heat side of the grill.
- Splatchcocking (butterflying) is a wonderful technique for creating an extra crispy skin while cooking the meat evenly and tender. It is a great way to not only cook chicken, but duck and turkey as well. It also reduces cooking times by half.