Aji Amarillo: A Hottie with Body

by Joe Sevier
September 2014

Recipes

Restaurant

The stirring color of a tequila sunrise, ají amarillo is arguably the single most important ingredient in the Peruvian pantry. This chile pepper—which registers between 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units, or about as hot as your average cayenne chile—is embarking on a North American migration.

Identified by an elongated pod and bright orange flesh that gives way to a vibrant, saffron yellow when cooked, the ají amarillo is so revered for more than just its lush color or fiery bite. With a pronounced, almost berry-like quality, this special pepper has a full, round flavor. Chef Anthony Lamas of Seviche in Louisville, blends it with four types of citrus and a splash of vinegar to create a duo of sauces, along with a garlic-squid ink mojo, to serve alongside lemony grilled squid. He also hails it as one of his favorite ingredients: “The sweet, spicy, fruitiness pairs perfectly with citrus and melon,” and that incandescent yellow, “holds extremely well,” in a number of applications.

Calamares a la Parrilla: Squid, Aji Amarillo, Black Mojo de Ajo, Parsley, and Aleppo Pepper

Calamares a la Parrilla:
Squid, Aji Amarillo, Black Mojo de Ajo, Parsley, and Aleppo Pepper

Tiradito: Fluke, Aji Amarillo, Fennel, and Black Garlic Mustard

Tiradito: Fluke, Aji Amarillo, Fennel, and Black Garlic Mustard

Poquito Picante

Indulge in a Poquito Picante straight from a Spanish Porron

Lobster Ceviche Tostada

Lobster Ceviche Tostada

Sangrita Flight: Blanco Tequila and La Verde Sangrita; Reposado Tequila and La Roja Sangrita; Añejo Tequila and La Amarilla Sangrita

Sangrita Flight: Blanco Tequila and La Verde Sangrita;
Reposado Tequila and La Roja Sangrita; Añejo Tequila and La Amarilla Sangrita

If you can’t source it fresh, this sun-hued bearer of sweet heat sports an active life as a jarred paste. Dried pods—the color deepened into a rusty amber—are referred to as cusqueño, and their inherent berri-ness concentrates into an earthiness akin to sun-dried tomatoes.

The use of ají amarillo outside of Peru is proliferating, from traditional to modern contexts, casual to fine dining. Chile cocktail anyone?  Mixologist Clinton Terry of The Nautilus in Nantucket is blending it with yuzu, mezcal, lager and agave bitters for an invigorating experience, imbibed straight from a Spanish porron. Chefs Daniel Bojorquez of La Brasa in Boston, Seth Reynor and Ivan Cecena of Corazon del Mar on Nantucket, and Matthew Campbell of Comal in Berkeley are also all using the Peruvian pepper in compelling ways.

We can’t wait to see how chefs will use aji amarillo at next month’s 9th Annual StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress. Until then, here are some of our favorite preparations to get you inspired to seek the heat in your own kitchen.