As the sun sets on yet another busy day in the bustling city of Lima, the streets are flooded with employees are rushing out of their offices in an attempt to beat the long (and believe me it's LONG) rush hour traffic. While highways slowly fill up the street vendors of the city have already set up their stands in anticipation of their hungry patrons, from hamburger carts to mazamorra morada and arroz con leche (a popular Peruvian desert combination) stalls, on particular food cart stands alone among the rest and that is none other than the Anticuchero(a). There is nothing quite as appetizing and tantalizing as the thick smokey aroma of grilled meat, I am of course speaking of the popular and famous Peruvian Anticucho.
Since my first visit to Peru back in 1997, anticuchos have been a favorite food of mine, even before I learned what they were made from. The first time my tastebuds had the privilege of trying an anticucho was during a family party in Comas (a district located on the north corner of Lima). I was young and had never tried one before but the smell was almost intoxicating and their visual appeal had me curious. The moment I ate that anticucho I knew I was hooked and in fact I ate many more that night. At the time I thought the meat used in an anticucho was beef and to a certain extent I was correct, however I would soon come to find out the true identity of the mystery meat to be none other than beef HEART! I was shocked one because the meat was so tender that I had easily identified it as regular beef, but due to the anticucho's amazing flavor and texture the initial shock quickly wore off. It's hard to put an exact number on how many anticucho's I have eaten since that day but I would imagine the number to be quite high, which is what I would imagine to be the same for many Peruvians as well.
A dish of Peruvian origin similar in style and appearance to that of a kabob or brochette, consists of a marinaded beef (most commonly cow heart) skewered on sticks of sugar cane. They are cooked on grills and can be found on virtually every highly trafficked street corner in Peru. The marinade is made from a mixture of vegetable oil, red wine vinegar, cumin, lime juice, aji panca and garlic. The anticucho's are usually served with other popular Peruvian alimentary staples: the potato and white corn. It's also not uncommon to see the sweet Picarones and Chicha Morada being sold along side anticuchos in Peru.
The anticucho's origin dates back to Pre-Columbian times and the Incan Empire with scientific evidence and documentation from the Peruvian National Library Archive which shows that the Incas prepared the dish using llama meat as well as other local meats. The name Anticucho recieves it's name from the Quechua language and the word "Antikucho" (anti = Andes & kucho = mix &/or cut). When the Spanish Conquistadors arrive to Peru in the 16th century they were quite possibly the first outsiders to ever try the Peruvian anticucho, and like all cultures they took the dish and made it their own through adaptations to the original receipe by introducing beef in place of llama. With the gradual fall of the Great Incan Empire at the hands of a few hundred Conquistadors, Peru entered into a re-structing of the country or what has also been recognized as the colonization period. New cities were established and erected, new cultures were presented, foreign foods and animals were brought, religion was forced on the natives like current modern policy, and in the next hundred years Peru entered into a new era. One of the many changes that occurred as a result of the countries re-structing was the introduction of African slaves by the Spanish. It was at this time that the anticucho would see it's second iteration at the hands of the slaves. In their food preparations the Spanish would frequently throw out the internal animal organs by passing them off on their slaves as a form of ailment. The slaves would then take the organs (tripe, liver, and heart) and skewer them on sticks made from sugar cane followed by a heavy seasoning before marinading them. The anticuchos would then be cooked over fire. In the many years to follow this Afro-Peruvian adaptation would continue to proliferate poorer and middle-class parts of the city, where today it is favored by many Peruvians and is considered the official form.
For Peruvians anticuchos have become an iconic symbol of Peru's diverse culture and heritage that will no doubt continue to live on for many years to come. In Lima alone there are many places where a person on a hunger quest can find some of best anticuchos in the city...but that's for another article!
For those that are interest in preparing this wonderful dish I have included a receipe as well as some other websites which also have the receipe.
Here is also a very interesting video of Peru's very own famous chef Gastón Acurio as he hits the streets of Lima on his very own tv show. This video documents the cities best anticucho stands. Unfortunately it's in Spanish and there doesn't seem to be a translation. I would still recommend watching it though to get an idea of what anticucho stalls in Peru look like.
http://www.spiceworlds.com/anticucho.html - This website has the recipe but also sells the anticucho marinade already pre-packaged for those who would rather skip all the busy work.
Another website that sells the marinade already jarred called La Bodega Peruana.com has it for sell HERE
THE FOLLOWING RECIPE WAS TAKE FROM THE WEBSITE: RECIPE ZAAR - LINK HERE
SERVES 10 -12 , 30 -40 skewers
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- 2 1/2 lbs of fresh beef heart, thinly sliced and cut into squares of about 2 inches long
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 5 big fresh garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons of finely minced fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons of finely minced fresh cilantro
- 4 dried chilies
- 1 1/2 cups oil
- 10-12 ears corn on the cob, cooked (save some of the husk)
- 10-12 boiled potatoes, peeled
- Place the pieces of heart in a glass or ceramic tray.
- Previously, soak the chiles in hot water until they are soft, devein and take the seeds off. If you want you can keep some of the seeds to make it spicier. In Peru we use aji panca, but this works well too.
- Blend the vinegar, garlic, aji panca (or dried chile), and all other ingredients with 1/2 cup of the oil until you have a soft paste.
- Pour it on the pieces of heart and distribute evenly so all pieces are well covered and can absorb the marinade. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Do not let them marinade for too long or they will dry out because of the vinegar.
- In the meantime, place thick bamboo skewers to soak in water so they don't burn when they go on the grill.
- Use a charcoal grill and make sure the coals are very hot before you start.
- Stick three or four pieces of heart in each skewer, so that the meat lays flat.
- Save the rest of the marinade in a cup or small bowl and add the rest of the oil to it, mixing well. This will be used for basting the anticuchos on the grill.
- Tie some pieces of fresh corn husk with a string made out of some more husk and shred them half the way to make a kind of brush and use it for basting. (You can use dry husk too but you need to soak it for a while in warm water to make it flexible and then pat it dry before you use it).
- When the coals are ready and the grill is hot place the anticuchos flat on the grill and baste them generously with the leftover marinade and oil mix.
- This will drip and cause the coals to flame, make sure it flames over because this is what gives the anticuchos their distinctive flavor.
- Let anticuchos cook for about 1 minute and a half on each side. DO NOT OVERCOOK! They will dry out and become tough. Medium or medium well is fine. Turn them over continuously and keep basting and flaming until they are done.
- Hold two or three at a time to turn them over quickly.
- At the same time, place the pieces of corn and potatoes on a corner of the grill, baste them with the same marinade and allow them to be flamed too.
- Serve three skewers in each plate, accompanied by one piece of corn and one potato. You can also cut the potatoes in half (across not length wise) and stick a piece at the end of each skewer.
- Serve hot, right out of the grill, don't let it get cold! ENJOY! :P.
- What takes the longest time is to slice and cut the heart in squares and stick the pieces on the skewers; as you get practice doing this it will be faster, allow yourself some more time of preparation the first couple of times.
- You can also use regular beef, chicken, fish, prawns, or lamb to make anticuchos, but the original and traditional recipe calls for cow heart. Hope you like it! :).