Rotisserie chicken + quinoa + a huancaína sauce spiced up with amarillo chile = pollo paradise. Here we offer our top 5 recommendations at Machu Picchu’s polleria.
As you may know, there’s not one, but two Machu Picchu Peruvian restaurants in Union Square. One is a fancier sit-down affair; the other one—called Machu Picchu Charcoal Chicken and Grill— is more casual and, as you might deduce, focuses on chicken. Lord knows why it took us so long to discover this place, but now that we’ve found it, we’re eating so much chicken there we’re starting to sprout feathers.
As Machu Picchu owner Rosy Cerna tells us, restaurants that just serve chicken, called pollerias, are common in Peru. Rosy purchased a large rotisserie in Peru for her family’s Union Sq. polleria. “The charcoal, which we get from Guatemala, makes a difference in the flavor,” Rosy explains. “One day our rotisserie was broken so we cooked chicken in the oven and it just didn’t taste as good.” Rosy continues, “it takes a while to learn how to work the rotisserie. You have to heat the charcoal to just the right temperature and then cook the chicken for one hour and ten minutes.”
Flavoring the chicken in a marinade that includes Peruvian beer and rosemary for 12-24 hours sure helps the flavor, too. The end result is meat that is succulent and muy rico (foodies concur; check out this discussion on chowhound).
The special sauce
Your server will bring you two sauces to accompany your chicken. One is yellow and one is green and they are both divine. The green one is made with jalapeños, among other things, and huacatay, an Andean herb sometimes called Peruvian black mint. The heat meter on this sauce varies a bit from day to day we’ve found, so you may want to start by sampling a modest amount.
The yellow number is a huancaína sauce that is flavored with Peru’s most famous chile: aji amarillo. It is a little less spicy than the green sauce and although rich and creamy, Rosy says it contains no cream, just olive oil and a little queso fresco. If you would like to try cooking with Peru’s famous yellow pepper, check out our Nibble Aji de Gallina recipe. We made this with our Peruvian friend Silvia de la Sota and it was scrumptious.
Coo coo for quinoa
Cultivated in South America for the past 7,000 years, quinoa originated in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia. The Incas referred to it as chisaya mama, or mother of all grains, and made a ceremony of planting the first quinoa of the season with a golden shovel.
Fast forward thousands of years and quinoa has become the “it” grain here in the States. It’s not only tasty, this gluten-free grain is loaded with protein and contains essential amino acids like lysine, calcium, phosphorus and iron. Now that gringos are catching onto quinoa, the price is escalating, yet our server at Machu Picchu reports that this has not yet affected their prices. Rosy adds that their restaurant only uses quinoa from Peru—apparently quinoa produced any where else is not up to snuff.
May we suggest…
Chicken Quinoa This is the restaurant’s best seller. You can chose white meat or dark meat, a quarter or half a bird. A quarter chicken, side of quinoa and a salad costs $8.99 (second photo). And as we’ve mentioned, be sure you try this with both types of sauces.
Andean Chicken Salad Our absolute favorite, this dish (first photo) features a mound of quinoa with small pieces of rotisserie chicken mixed in. Again, it’s all about the sauce: try it with huancaína and jalapeño sauces. It comes with a salad topped with avocados for $9.99.
Anticuchos Peruanos Beef hearts are especially popular among Peruvian customers, but Americanos (like gringa SAC office mgr. Heather Balchunas) also find them delicious. They come sliced and on skewers and taste similar to beef but the texture is a bit denser (photo above right). $7.99
Chicha morada The classic Peruvian beverage (photo at right), this sweet and refreshing drink is made from the water used to cook purple corn. Rosy tells us it’s very nutritious, too. If you’re not in the mood for something purple, get the homemade limonada; it’s amazing.
We’d love to hear what you think about various dishes at Machu Picchu Charcoal Chicken and Grill. Let us know. Until then, we’ll be eating Andean Salad doused in huancaína sauce. Oh yes, check out this post about Union Square’s other Peruvian eaterie: Machu Picchu Restaurant Turistico.