Brined then baked spicy BBQ chicken legs and wings. Baked sweet potatoes with an orange and chilli glaze. Peruvian chifa-style Lomo Saltado with marinated rib eye steak, chilli, and sichuan flower pepper.
When it comes to BBQ wings - or more accurately here: limbs - brining is a game changer. This was the first time I’d ever tried it, and the moisture it offers the meat is incredible. But also because of a nifty bit of science that might have something to do with osmosis, the brine also helps to carry flavours into the meat. My dinner guest was one of those rare people who shares my mad love for heat in food. So we took this chance to make some really hot wings. The brine contained three habaneros and a four chamber roulette of miscellaneous homegrown chillies, alongside thyme, white pepper, and malt vinegar to tenderise and mellow the other flavours.
As for the sauce, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what went into it beyond care, attention, and half the pantry. What I can tell you is that it gave the wings a sweet sticky spicy flavour with fruity and liquorice notes of cinnamon and star anise. And that the finished product was beautiful.
With their caramelised glaze of blood orange zest and juice and spices, and the touch of berry-like fruity-smoky flavour imparted by the aji panca chilli we crumbled into it, the sweet potatoes were nonetheless quite mellow in flavour. Delicious and with a gorgeous tender velveteen texture, they pretty much acted as a palate cleanser after the chicken.
Then came the Lomo Saltado. A mainstay of Chinese-Peruvian chifa cuisine, this version of Lomo Saltado was marinated for eight hours in soy sauce, vinegar, and spices such as cumin, coriander, and sichuan flower pepper for the characteristic cool numbing heat it offers. While the marinating should be a lengthy process, the cooking takes only a matter of minutes: stir fried in a smoking hot wok, the steak was seared on the outside and rare on the inside, joined by hunks of tomato, pepper, red onion and amarillo chilli, and finally the rest of its marinade. Suffused with flavour and with enough chew left in it to really keep you pondering that flavour a while, I served the beef with only half its traditional accompaniment of rice and fried potato — rice to soak up the juices.
This is the legacy of Chinese immigrants to Peru, recreating the taste of home with this new country’s local ingredients. While the history of Chinese immigration to Peru has not always been a happy one, it has produced some beautiful combinations of savours and textures like this, and helped to make Peruvian cooking techniques as diverse and fascinating as they are today.