Salsa Huancaína: Spicy Cheese Sauce

Rice and chicken with Salsa a la Huancaína

Dtarazona / Wikimedia commons

Ratings (68)
  • Total: 20 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins
  • Cook: 5 mins
  • Yield: 1 1/2 cups (serves 12 - 16)
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
123 Calories
9g Fat
7g Carbs
4g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1 1/2 cups (serves 12 - 16)
Amount per serving
Calories 123
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 9g 11%
Saturated Fat 4g 18%
Cholesterol 20mg 7%
Sodium 234mg 10%
Total Carbohydrate 7g 3%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Protein 4g
Calcium 141mg 11%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Huancaína (wan-kay-eena) sauce is typically served over cold sliced potatoes in the famous Peruvian dish ​Papa a la Huancaína. The sauce (and the potato dish) originate from the Huancayo region of Peru. The story goes that a woman from Huancayo invented the dish, which she served to the railroad workers who were building the high altitude railroad (Ferrocarril Central Andino) from Lima to Huancayo in the Andes. The dish became so popular that it was named after this woman, La Huancaína, whose real name seems to have been lost to history. 

The Key Ingredients

The key ingredient for this sauce is the spicy aji amarillo chile pepper. These so-called "yellow peppers" look orange or red when ripe, but they turn yellow as they cook, giving this sauce its bright yellow color. The other main ingredient is the queso fresco cheese, a firm but crumbly white cheese that is popular in this region of Peru. The sauce is traditionally thickened with saltine crackers, which add to the distinctive flavor and texture of this unique sauce. The ingredients are processed in a blender until the sauce is very smooth and thick.

A Salsa With Many Uses

Salsa a la Huancaina is a versatile sauce that goes with many flavors. Serve it as a dipping sauce for bite-size boiled potatoes, or toss it with noodles. If you try this sauce in Peru, it's likely to be quite spicy, but you can adjust the heat to your liking by using fewer or more yellow chile peppers.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup onion (chopped)
  • 3-4 yellow aji amarillo chile peppers (frozen is fine) or 1/2 cup jarred aji amarillo paste
  • 2 cloves garlic (mashed)
  • 2 cups white queso fresco cheese (or farmer's cheese, or a mixture of mozzarella and feta cheese)
  • 4 saltine crackers
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • Optional: salt and pepper (to taste)

Steps to Make It

  1. Remove seeds from yellow chile peppers and chop into 1-inch pieces.

  2. Sauté onion, garlic, and chile peppers (or paste) in the oil until onion is softened, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

  3. Place onion/chile mixture in a food processor or blender. Add evaporated milk and blend.

  4. Add cheese and crackers and blend until smooth. The sauce should be fairly thick. Thicken sauce with more saltines or thin sauce with milk if necessary.

  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Serve at room temperature or chilled.