My mother in law was visiting from Bolivia few weeks ago. My kids loved having their grandma play with them and spend quality time in person instead of over Facetime. I did ask my mother in law to teach me another Bolivian recipe but there were so many recipes and so little time!! She looked over my recipe book and said let’s cook Picante de Pollo, because I do that slightly differently than most. That was the perfect choice, I can cook new dishes with my husband’s help or with the help of a cookbook but this one was a special family recipe that is not written down anywhere.Jump to Recipe
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What is Picante de Pollo?
Bolivian Picante de Pollo or Chicken in Spicy Sauce is a traditional Bolivian dish that has so many versions. This is one of them used in my husband’s family. Picante means spicy and Pollo means Chicken in Spanish. However, when I asked my husband if I could translate this recipe as Bolivian Spicy Chicken, my husband said that that wouldn’t be the correct translation. The chicken is cooked non-spicy and then put into a spicy sauce so really this should be Chicken in Spicy Sauce.
Ingredients in USA for Picante de Pollo
The biggest challenge when cooking traditional recipes is finding the right replacements when you can’t find the same exact ingredients. Sometimes ingredients here in US even vary by state and by market. See below in recipe the full ingredients list. When my mother in law was sharing with me her list, I noticed few items that are not common here:
- Chuño – this is a special variety of potato from the Andean region in Bolivia. Chuño is obtained by freezing potatoes and then exposing them to sunlight the next day in order for them to dry. This product is rarely available in US markets. We have found it very few times in some small Latin American stores.
- Aji Colorado – Spicy chili, aji pepper. I always have a hard time finding this aji and making it into a powder myself so I usually end up buying a paste from my local supermarket. The absence of having the exact same ingredients caused us to cook this meal twice. First we cooked it with aji amarillo (yellow chili paste) and the second time with aji panca (red chili paste). The above picture is Picante de Pollo made with Aji Panca while the below version was made with Aji Amarillo. I’ll explain in recipe notes the differences so you can choose which aji to use.
Let me show you below the paste I used for both versions and some other brands available online. You can look for these ones or similar versions in the Latin section of your local grocery store. I extensively have used aji amarillo in my Peruvian recipes: Lomo Saltado and Salsa Verde.
Chicken in Spicy Sauce Recipe Notes
As I told you earlier, we cooked this recipe twice, once with Aji Amarillo and once with Aji Panca. I loved the sauce with Aji Amarillo but it was extremely spicy. I mean I love spicy, but even for me it turned out to be a bit too much heat. The sauce with Aji Panca has a kick but it’s not too spicy. This sauce is red and gives the dish a beautiful look too.
Several versions of this recipe in Bolivia call for bread crumbs to be used to thicken the sauce. My mother in law thickens the sauce with potatoes. You have to boil potatoes anyway to serve as side dishes. Add an extra potato and use half of it, smash it to make the sauce thicker, creamier. Plus, it makes the taste delicious too!
This dish can be served with potatoes, chuño, pasta, rice or your side dish of choice. My husband last time we cooked this dish, had his over steamed veggies. That’s not a traditional Bolivian way of having this chicken but if you are going for a low-carb version, you can cut the pasta or potatoes and just have the chicken over your side of choice.
Bolivian Picante de Pollo or Chicken in Spicy Sauce
- 5 medium size chicken breasts if the chicken breasts are bigger than 1 portion, cut them in half
- 4 ozs aji amarillo paste or aji panca paste aji amarillo will be a lot spicier than aji panca so adjust accordingly
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 0.5 tsp salt
- 0.5 tsp black pepper
- 0.5 tsp cumin Cumin can be strong for a lot of people, so go slow on cumin. You can always add more later.
- 2 medium size potatoes
- 4 tbsps olive oil 2 tbsps of olive oil will be used for the sauce and 2 tbsps for the fresh salsa with tomatoes
- 2 roma tomatoes
- 0.5 medium size onion
- 0.5 cup green peas
- 2 tbsps freshly chopped parsley (optional for decoration and aroma)
- Start by boiling the chicken. Cover chicken breasts with water and boil for about 10 minutes.
- In a separate pot, boil the potatoes, skin on.
- Steam the green peas (i used frozen green peas) for 3-4 minutes, drain, set aside.
- Get a skillet, put it on the stovetop and turn heat to medium. Add half a cup of water and 4 oz of aji paste (prefer Aji Panca for mild spice and Aji Amarillo for spicy). If you're making aji from scratch, please adjust quantities accordingly.
- As sauce boils, lower heat a little bit so you don't burn the sauce. Add minced garlic and olive oil. Keep stirring slowly.
- Add cumin and black pepper. Stirr slowly and taste to see if sauce needs any adjusting.
- At this point the potatoes should be done. Turn heat off, rinse one potato until it's cool to the touch. Peel it carefully since it might still be hot, so rinse as needed. Use half the potato, smash it and add to the sauce. Keep stirring as you smash. This will thicken the spicy sauce.
- Taste the sauce. If you made it too spicy and would like to lower the heat a bit, add half a teaspoon of sugar to make it less spicy.
- If the sauce is too thick or you would like to have more sauce, add half a cup of chicken stock. Stir again. Another tip – if you want the sauce to be creamier, smoother you can blend it and return it to the skillet.
- Finally, you can add the chicken to the sauce. I usually leave a chicken breast on the side, roast it for the kids since they can't have spicy. If you want the chicken to absorb more of the sauce taste, add it after boiling it to the skillet and cover really well with the spicy sauce. If you like your chicken to have a bit of a crust, you can fry it for a minute in each side in a separate skillet before transferring it to the spicy sauce.
- Turn heat on low and let the chicken absorb the flavor of the sauce, leave simmering for at least 15 minutes.
- Chop tomatoes and onion in julienne strips and put them in a separate bowl. Sprinkle with salt and add 2 tbsps of olive oil, Mix well.
- Serve the chicken and spicy sauce over your favorite side dish. Cut the leftover boiled potatoes in circles and add to plate. Add green peas over chicken. Add a little bit of the tomato/onion fresh salsa over the dish. Sprinkle with parsley and dig in:). Enjoy!
- I didn’t include instructions on how to cook chuño, pasta or rice. You can add your favorite side dish to this meal. Enjoy / Buen Provecho!!
- Video was done about 18 months after initial recipe was posted. At the time I posted the recipe I couldn’t find chuño but by the time I filmed the video I found chuño online:)
If you would like to save this recipe for later, please save the below image in Pinterest. Let me know if you have any questions about the recipe or if you have a different version of it. I love hearing about different versions of same dish by region.
Other Bolivian Recipes from My Blog:
If you would like to check out some other Bolivian recipes from my blog, please see below: