Cuy is actually delicious, and it doesn’t have to be staring back at you from the plate

Cuy is actually delicious, and it doesn’t have to be staring back at you from the plate

The Peruvian guinea pig dish is truly classic! Archaeological evidence shows guinea pigs were domesticated in Peru as far back as 2500 B.C.

Cuy chactado recipe - peruvian dishHere, in the land of the rodent’s birthplace, it remains a culinary delicacy, as well as a mainstay of Andean folk medicine and a common religious sacrifice to the gods.

A 17th century native chronicler, Guaman Poma de Ayala, wrote that the Incas sacrificed 1,000 white guinea pigs along with 100 llamas in Cuzco’s main plaza each July “so that neither the sun nor the waters would harm the food and the fields.”

Peruvian guinea pig recipeWhile the Catholic Church brutally suppressed and destroyed Indian religious icons as part of the Spanish extirpation campaigns of the 16th century, guinea pigs were conspicuously spared.

Geronimo de Loayza, the first bishop of Lima from 1545 to 1575, rejected pressure from Spanish priests to order the mass extermination of the rodents, for fear it would spark an indigenous rebellion. A main facet of original Peruvian food was spared.

The Spanish colonizers made Indian artists paint, weave and carve items with Catholic themes to decorate churches and evangelize the natives. The artists copied prints imported from Europe, but added Peruvian touches.  Today, churches in Lima and Cuzco still display depictions of  the Last Supper with Jesus and the 12 disciples eating roasted guinea pig.

Last Supper Painting with Guinea Pig in Cusco
Guinea pig is high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol and has a distinctive flavor, similar to rabbit.

The most common preparation for cuy is chactado, or simply, deep-fried, and served with the head staring up from the plate. It is served this way in places like Trujillo and Chiclayo on Peru’s northern Pacific coast, and in Cajamarca, Ayacucho, Huaraz, Arequipa and Cuzco, in the northern and southern Andes. But fried guinea pig is hardly the only way it is made. There is also “cuy al horno,” or roasted guinea pig.

In the central Andean Department of Huanuco, one homestyle recipe — with heavy Afro-Peruvian influence — stands out for its soft, succulent texture, and spicy flavor and aroma and no head to stare back at you, unless you specifically request it.

Here’s the recipe:

Cuy Picante Huanuqueño Style

Ingredients:

— 2 large guinea pigs

— 1 tablespoon crushed garlic

— 1½ teaspoon salt

— 1½ pepper

— 1½ teaspoon cumin powder

— 2 tablespoons aji panca (a Peruvian deep-clay red chile, liquefied in a blender)

— 2 tablespoons aji mirasol (a Peruvian dark yellow chile, liquefied in a blender)

— 1 cup cooking oil or margarine

— 10 scallions

— The guinea pigs hearts, livers (and in an authentic version, also the intestines, thoroughly cleaned)

— 1 tablespoon of crushed peanuts

— 8 yellow potatoes boiled and skinned

Preparation:

Cut and quarter the guinea pigs, salt and pepper, then fry until golden brown. Put aside in a warm dish. In a heavy skillet, lightly greased with a few splashes of oil, combine the garlic, aji panca and aji mirasol over high heat.
Mixing and scraping the ingredients from the bottom of the pan to keep it from sticking; continue until the mixture is thoroughly cooked to a golden brown. Chop the scallions, separating the white bulbs from the green stalks.
Add the finely chopped scallion bulbs to the pan with the cumin. In a separate pan, combine the hearts, livers and peanuts and cook until thoroughly done, then place in a food processor or blender to liquefy.
Add and mix with aji-garlic mixture in heavy skillet.
Add guinea pig pieces, cooking for 10 to 15 minutes. Let stand for at least 15 minutes. Serve over sliced boiled potatoes sliced.
Serves four.

Authored by: Rick Vecchio

Rick Vecchio, Fertur’s director of development and marketing, was educated at the New School for Social Research and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He worked for Pacifica Radio WBAI and as a daily reporter for newspapers in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. Then in 1996, he decided it was time to realize a life-long dream of traveling to Peru. He never went back. While serving as Peru country manager for the South American Explorers from 1997-1999, he fell in love with Fertur's founder, Siduith Ferrer, and they married. Over the next six years, he worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press. Meanwhile, Siduith built the business, which he joined in January 2007. Now he designs custom educational and adventure tour packages for corporate and institutional clients, oversees Fertur’s Internet platform and occasionally leads special trips, always with an eye open for a good story to write about.

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