Aji is the Spanish word for chile pepper, and the chile peppers that are omnipresent in South American cooking are Aji Panca and Aji Amarillo.
Aji Panca is a type of chile pepper that is commonly grown in Peru, and is one of the most common chile peppers grown along the coast there. With a dark red color, and a berry-like flavor and smoky overtones, Aji Panca imparts a mild, fruity taste that won’t overwhelm other flavors in a recipe.
Adding flavor without a lot of heat, Aji Panca chiles barely register on the Scoville “spicy” scale at 1,000 – 1500 Sc units. [By comparison, the Peruvian Aji Amarillo chile clocks in at 40,000 Sc!]
Aji Panca chile is a tasty addition to sauces [even chocolate ones!] and fish dishes. When you want a rich, smoky taste similar to, but less strong than, chipotle, use Aji Panca chile with chicken or pork. Use Aji Panca like you would citrus zest, adding to a dish just before serving, or whisk Aji Panca chile with lime juice to dress sliced avocado or fruit salad.
Aji panca is an essential seasoning for one of the most popular Peruvian specialties – anticuchos. A popular street food item made from beef heart (the idea of which made us feel a bit squicky), we adapted our Anticuchos Peruvian Kebab recipe with beef sirloin and an Aji Panca marinade.
Many Peruvian recipes call for aji panca paste. To make a paste from the powdered chile peppers you can buy at AllSpice, add a bit of near-boiling hot water and a splash of vinegar to the ground aji panca chiles. Stir mixture until the paste is smooth; add a little more hot water or vinegar to achieve your desired taste and thickness/consistency. You can store your homemade chile pepper paste in a closed glass jar, in the refrigerator, for up to 3 weeks.