My first experience with Peruvian aji (chili) sauce was surprisingly in a NYC Chinese comfort food restaurant, Mooncake Foods started by Chinese-American owner that grew up in a Spanish Brooklyn neighborhood. They had a fantastic jalepeno based aji sauce served with many of their rice and Asian inspired meat dishes. Since then I’ve made my own jalepeno aji sauce (jalepeno, garlic, cilantro–which still tastes great) but have also learned that it’s not the same as aji sauce in Peru. The aji sauces in South American countries such as Peru uses aji amarillo, an indigenous variety that is typically yellow–but can be orange or green and more fruity and sweet in taste. However, it’s still a moderately hot chile registering 40-50K on the skoville scale compared with 8K of jalepeno. Here in the US, jalepenos are more common and cheap so most Peruvian restaurants use that instead. But after experiencing Mo-Chica Peruvian restaurant’s aji amarillo sauce, we could tell there was a succinct difference compared with the jalepeno based aji: it’s more sweet and fruity initially, with the heat more subtle and kicking in at the end. I knew it was imperative for me to make my own. The mission was on.
I’ve never seen fresh aji amarillo in supermarkets but know it exists among specialty suppliers to restaurants and chefs, so instead, I searched for canned and jarred aji amarillo. Scouring internet message boards such as Chowhound yielded no luck. Multiple stops at several small Mexican markets were also fruitless. Almost giving up, I came to the last place on my list to check, Food 4 Less, a low end Kroger based chain of grocery markets and “ay carambe!” there it was, aji amarillo jarred and canned under the Amazonas brand. At about $3.50 for a 20 oz. can, it wasn’t cheap…but was the hunt worth it? You bet! You can also buy canned/jar chiles online here but if you don’t feel like making your own, they also have premade aji amarillo sauce.
- 20 oz. can or jar of aji amarillo (Amazonas brand found at Food 4 less and Jon’s in Los Angeles, or find it online.)
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1 tbs vinegar or juice from 1/2 lime
- Kosher salt
Wear some gloves for protection. First rinse and drain the aji. Split in half lengthwise and devein and remove seeds (you may keep some intact for more heat). Boil in small saucepan of water for about 10-15 minutes.
Drain and place peppers in food processor. Add the sugar and acid (I used lime) and pulse. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil as you puree it, emulsifying the mixture. Adjust seasoning, and make final adjustments with bit of kosher salt…it’s that simple. Does fresh aji amerillo sauce taste better…probably, but this was pretty darn good as well. Jalepeno based aji sauce includes cilantro and garlic. You can certainly add a clove of garlic as well to taste, but wanted to make pure aji amarillo.