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What is Huancaina Sauce and How to Make It

Huancaina Sauce (spicy cheese sauce) in bowl

If you tend to enjoy spicier food, recreating the famous Peruvian Huancaina Sauce is bound to be a piece of cake yet it will add some punch and novelty to your usual dishes. You can use the sauce itself for a variety of different meals; it’s great as a dip for some crispy yuca fries or fried foods, or you can serve it with potatoes, which they traditionally do in Peru, and get yourself the so-called Papa a la Huancaina (papa meaning potato). In general, no matter how you decide to serve this sauce, you can be 100% positive that it will complement other dishes perfectly. What’s more, your tingling palate will want more of it, so make sure to prepare a large batch in advance!

The Origins of Papa a la Huancaina

As mentioned, papa in Latin American Spanish translates to potato while Huancaina actually means a woman from the city of Huancayo. In that sense, this sauce dish is literally called “potatoes in the Huancayo woman style.” The dish originated at the time of building the trans-Andrean railway when the people of Huancayo tried to sell their food to the workers. In an effort to create something unique and distinguishable, yet easy enough to make, a woman from Huancayo came up with this potato and sauce combo.

As the dish gained popularity, the workers would often ask when are the potatoes from the Huancayo lady coming i.e., a que hora llega la papa a la Huancaina? The dish is still a nationwide favorite, thanks to its simplicity and rich flavor.

Even though potatoes are widely used in European cooking, they actually originated in Latin America around the Andes mountains, which is the area we today know as Peru and Bolivia. After Columbus’ discovery of the Americas, the potato was brought to Europe as well. That said, Peru has more than 3000 different potato varieties to offer. Not only are potatoes used as a culinary staple here but there’s even a whole potato institute in Peru.

These days, the biggest part of the Papa a la Huancaina recipe remains the same, with a switch from rocoto chili peppers to aji amarillo as the latter is more popular and readily available. However, the taste is still the same.

How Can You Use Huancaina Sauce?

As it’s rather flavorful yet easy to make, you can always make big batches of Huancaina sauce and keep it in the fridge. Remember though – Huancaina sauce won’t do well if left to sit at room temperature; it has to be refrigerated in order to last you longer. You can then use it to up the taste of a variety of different dishes. For instance, Huancaina sauce is great with pasta, rice, and/or noodles. It’s also an amazing dip for fries and veggies. What’s more, Papa a la Huancaina makes for one of the best sides for chicken, as well as other grilled meats. The spicy creaminess matches all sorts of food perfectly.

Plate of noodles with prawns in huancaina sauce in a restaurant

How to Make Papa a la Huancaina Sauce?

To prepare this simple and flavorful sauce with potatoes, you won’t need to spend more than 20 minutes in your kitchen. As mentioned, the sauce is extremely simple, quick, and easy to make; most of the cooking/prep time refers to cooking the potatoes.

Ingredients:

  • 4 yellow potatoes (about 1 lb)
  • Half a cup of evaporated milk
  • 4 oz of queso fresco cheese
  • 2 saltine crackers
  • 1 tbsp of aji amarillo chili paste
  • 1 tbsp of vegetable oil you prefer

To start off your recipe, place the potatoes in a pot and cover them with water. Put the lid on the pot and cook until the water starts boiling. Then proceed to lower the heat and cook your potatoes for about 10 more minutes. They should be soft enough for a knife to go through them easily. Remove the pot from the heat and drain the water. Leave the potatoes to cool enough so that you can peel and slice them.

While you wait for the potatoes to cook, you can make the sauce. Essentially, all you have to do is place the rest of the ingredients together in a blender (milk, cheese, crackers, paste, and oil) and blend until the mixture is completely smooth.

Serve your Papa a la Huancaina Sauce by placing some lettuce on a plate, arranging slices of potato, and pouring the sauce over them. You can also add hard-boiled eggs and/or black olives to top off your dish.

If you follow this recipe, you should get approximately 4 servings, with each serving having about 340 calories.

In case you’re preparing ahead for some occasion, you can cook the potatoes and make the sauce in advance since both can be kept in the fridge. Even if the potatoes turn a bit watery in the fridge, you don’t have to worry as this will make the end result even tastier. Actually, if you have the time, you can even leave the potatoes to cool for one whole hour at room temperature so that they release their juice.

The above-listed ingredients make for about 1 cup of sauce so increase the amount if you want to prepare more of it.

Huancaina Sauce Recipe

Obviously, if you want to make just the Huancaina sauce without potatoes, you can still use the ingredients previously mentioned. However, if you’re in the mood for an updated Huancaina sauce that will serve amazingly as a salsa dip, you might want to try the following recipe as well:

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 cups of crumbled queso fresco cheese
  • 4 crumbled crackers of saltine crackers
  • 1 cup of evaporated milk
  • Half a cup of aji amarillo pepper paste
  • 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • Salt according to taste

In this case, make sure to saute the onion and garlic in a pan until they’re soft enough and then transfer them into a blender together with the rest of the ingredients. Again, blend until you get a smooth mixture. If you find the sauce to be too thick to your liking, you can always add more evaporated milk to adjust its consistency. And if you plan to use actual ají amarillos instead of the paste, make sure to remove the seeds thoroughly, chop them up, and saute together with garlic and onion before tossing them into the blender.

If you decide to go with this recipe, you should get approximately 8 servings of sauce (2 cups), with each serving having about 180 calories.

Papa a la Huancaina Sauce is a great choice for every weather, season, and occasion. If you’re looking forward to exploring the taste of this wonderful Peruvian dish yourself before committing to making it on your own, feel free to enjoy it wholeheartedly at our Glass and Vine restaurant situated in Coconut Grove by the sea. We’re confident that the charms of our secret garden and delectable menu won’t leave you indifferent. Not only are we at Glass and Vine happy to provide you with a dazzling and diverse array of flavors and textures, but also an ideal escape from the hubbub and stress of daily life. 

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