Salsa Huancaína: Peruvian Spicy Cheese Sauce

Rice and chicken with Salsa a la Huancaína

Dtarazona / Wikimedia commons

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 5 mins
Total: 20 mins
Servings: 12 to 16 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
123 Calories
9g Fat
7g Carbs
4g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12 to 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 (pronounced wan-kay-eena) sauce originated from the Huancayo region of Peru and is typically served over cold sliced potatoes with hard-boiled eggs and black olives in the famous Peruvian dish ​papa a la Huancaína. 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 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 color. Queso fresco cheese is the other main ingredient, 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 recipe.

Ingredients

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

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

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

  3. Heat the oil in a skillet; add the onion, garlic, and chile peppers (or paste) and saute until the onion has softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

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

  5. Add the cheese and crackers and blend until smooth. The sauce should be fairly thick, but if not thick enough, add another saltine or two; if the sauce is too thick, thin with a little bit of milk.

  6. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

  7. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Tips

  • You can adjust the heat to your liking by using fewer or more yellow chile peppers.
  • When removing the seeds from the peppers it is best to wear gloves; the oils can remain on your skin and will burn if you touch your eyes or mouth.

How to Use

Salsa a la Huancaina is a versatile sauce that goes with many flavors. Serve it as a dipping sauce for bite-size boiled potatoes, raw vegetables, tortilla chips, or yuca fries. You can also toss it with noodles or pour over risotto or a platter of chicken with rice. It's even delicious with grilled steak or spooned on top of steamed or roasted vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli.