Papa a la huancaina is a much loved Peruvian dish that hasn’t seemed to gain popularity outside of it’s native Peru. And it’s amazing that it hasn’t gotten popular around the world because it is absolutely delicious. This simple Peruvian potatoes recipe makes a great starter or side dish and pairs very well with a nice roast chicken.
Peruvian food, in my opinion, is the best of all South America. On my travels in Peru I’ve eaten everything from a classic ceviche to grilled fish in sauce deep in the Amazon rainforest. However one of my favorite Peruvian recipes has to be papa a la huancaina, or simple cheese sauce potatoes.
The potatoes don’t need a recipe themselves as they are just peeled and boiled until soft. The real star of the show is a homemade traditional huancaina sauce. While ‘papas’ are the most famous pairing, shredded chicken or whole roast chicken are also commonly served with huancaina.
What Is Huancaina Sauce?
Huancaina sauce is the real star of the show. This simple cheese sauce is made in different ways, depending on where in Peru you happen to be. But it is basically an emulsion of fresh cheese, aji amarillo, and evaporated milk. There are a few other easy to find ingredients, but as the sauce is so homestyle you can get creative with it as well.
The origin of the sauce is disputed, but there are two main theories.
- The most common theory is that papa a la huancaina were served to workers on Peru’s central railway as they built the Lima to Huancayo portion.
- Another theory is that this dish was simply served on the Lima-Huancayo route to train passengers who loved it so much they started making it all over Peru.
Either way, while the origin can be disputed, the delicious taste cannot.
How To Make Papa a la Huancaina
This easy recipe is made up of two components. The first part are the simple boiled and sliced potatoes with various traditional garnishes. The second is the addictingly delicious huancaina sauce.
- 250 ml Evaporated Milk (1 cup) – You can substitute for heavy cream if you cannot find evaporated milk.
- 250 ml Queso Fresco – this fresh white cheese can be called different things in different countries. For example I used a Georgian cheese called adyghe which is basically the same as Mexican Oaxacan cheese. Funny how that works out sometimes. If you prefer to buy it online you can do so here.
- 150 grams Aji Amarillo Paste – This ingredient gives the signature color to huancaina sauce, as well as tons of flavor. However don’t think they final sauce will be TOO spicy. With all the dairy involved the fruitiness of the chili peppers really shines through. I recommend Inca’s Food Brand or Goya.
- 100 grams Stale White Bread – You can use fresh if you want, but stale is best. In Peru they often just throw in a few soda crackers instead of bread which you can also opt for.
- 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil – I used sunflower but any neutral oil will do.
- 1 tsp Salt – Or to taste
To start making huancaina sauce you’ll need to crumble your cheese. You have to get a crumbly cheese since if you get a melty or soft cheese it will make the sauce gummy.
Add the stale bread (in chunks) and the evaporated milk to a bowl and mix. You want the liquid to soak into the bread and soften it up. Then add the rest of the ingredients.
You can do this next step in a standing blender or food processor, but I find it super convenient to use my immersion blender since it’s less dishes to dirty. It’s literally one of my favorite kitchen tools. Just blitz everything together until you have a smooth, yet thick sauce. If your cheese is really dry and/or grainy you can add some milk a teaspoon at a time to help the sauce blend evenly.
Place your homemade huancaina sauce in a sealable container and put in the fridge. Since papa a la huancaina is a dish served cold, the sauce does not need to be heated before dolloping on the potatoes.
If you have lots of leftover sauce don’t worry. Huancaina sauce is also used in the delicious recipe aji de gallina!
Composing The Dish
Peel your potatoes and then boil them until soft. Slice them into about 1cm (1/3 inch) thick pieces. Papa a la huancaina is traditionally served on a bed of lettuce so lay down a few leaves of the lettuce of your choice right on your serving plate. Then place the slices of boiled potato and spoon over a generous portion of the homemade huancaina sauce.
This Peruvian potatoes recipe is usually garnished with black olives and halved or quartered boiled eggs. Optionally you can add corn kernels, sliced chili peppers, cracked black pepper, parsley or cilantro leaves, or a whole host of other ingredients. But if you were to order this dish in Peru you will always see black olives and boiled eggs.
How To Store Papa a la Huancaina
Believe it or not, this dish is a popular picnic snack in Peru so storing it is no problem. However it is best to store the potatoes and sauce separately, and then dress right before you are ready to eat. The sauce can be stored in sealable jars (I recommend Kilner jars but you can use whatever style or brand you have on hand).
More Sauce Recipes You Might Like
- Classic Cocktail Sauce
- Ssamjang (Korean BBQ Dipping Sauce)
- Japanese Mayonnaise (Homemade Kewpie Mayonnaise Recipe)
- Easy Caramel Sauce
- Blood Orange Crème Anglaise
- Blackcurrant Compote
- Carolina Reaper Hot Sauce
- Homemade Chili Crisp
Papa a la Huancaina (Peruvian Cheese Sauce Potatoes)
- 1 Bowl
- 1 (Immersion) Blender | regular blender will also work, but that's more dishes to dirty
- 1 Pot | for boiling the potatoes
- 1 kg Potatoes 2.2 pounds
- Black Olives to taste
- 3 Boiled Eggs halved or quartered
- Parsley or Cilantro optional
- 250 ml Evaporated Milk 1 cup – You can substitute for heavy cream if you cannot find evaporated milk.
- 250 ml Queso Fresco this fresh white cheese can be called different things in different countries. For example I used a Georgian cheese called adyghe which is basically the same as Mexican Oaxacan cheese.
- 150 grams Aji Amarillo Paste This ingredient gives the signature color to huancaina sauce as well as tons of flavor. However don't think they final sauce will be TOO spicy. With all the dairy involved the fruitiness of the chili peppers really shines through.
- 100 grams Stale White Bread You can use fresh if you want but stale is best. In Peru they often just throw in a few soda crackers instead of bread which you can also opt for.
- 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil I used sunflower but any neutral oil will do.
- 1 tsp Salt Or to taste
- Begin by boiling the potatoes until soft, about 20-25 minutes. When they are done boiling you can drain them and let them rest for an hour since this dish is traditionally served room temperature or cold.1 kg Potatoes
- You can prepare the sauce far beforehand, or while the potatoes are resting. Just add all the sauce ingredients to a bowl and blitz with a blender until smooth.250 ml Evaporated Milk, 250 ml Queso Fresco, 150 grams Aji Amarillo Paste, 100 grams Stale White Bread, 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil, 1 tsp Salt
- To make the dish lay down some lettuce leaves on a serving platter. Spread over sliced potato and spoon over a very generous amount of huancaina sauce. Garnish with boiled eggs, black olives, herbs, or whatever else you like!Black Olives, 3 Boiled Eggs, Parsley or Cilantro