“Linking these extremes is food activist Isabel Alvarez, an anthropologist who has studied colonial cuisine and teaches the history of food at St Marcs University. She owns El Senorio de Sulco, a cliff-edge restaurant overlooking the sea in the elegant Lima suburb of Miraflores. Alvarez, of Andean (Quechuan) and Catalan descent, is evangelical about preserving authentic dishes, such as the pre-Hispanic huatia sulcana, beef braised in a clay pot and strewn with aromatic herbs, which is on the restaurant menu. She says there has been a revival of interest in Peru’s rich food history and attitudes to cooking as a profession have changed. Sons and daughters of well-to-do families are embracing the formerly lowly work, training in Lima’s 20 or so cooking schools.”
– Judith Elen, Eyes Peeled
Buenos Aires – It’s hard to believe, but there are days when I don’t feel like cooking. Really. Henry’s not very good about those days, and given that although he’ll pretty much eat anything put in front of him, he strongly prefers the flavors of Peruvian cuisine, those are usually the days that he’ll pick for a manipulative tantrum – something that is rarely effective at getting me to do anything more than stick an unopened can of tuna in front of him with the can-opener and a fork. On the other hand, I like to eat well too, and it happened, the other day, that I had picked up a nice piece from the end of a lomo, or loin of beef, that was sitting in the refrigerator looking forlorn and awaiting my attention.
Rather than head into butting heads territory, I flipped through Tony Custer’s The Art of Peruvian Cuisine (well, the Spanish edition), looking for something simple to make. Of course, my eyes lighted on a recipe that looked mouthwatering in his photo, and takes hours to make. Truthfully, a huátia sulcana probably takes all day to make – a huátia being a traditional, pre-hispanic cooking oven that’s created for a one-time use – you dig a firepit, build a fire, put lots of big stones in it to heat up really hot, put your food in, and then build a clay dome over it. The food is considered done when the dome more or less collapses in on itself. Our garden is kind of the reverse of what you need – lots of clay underneath a bit of topsoil, and besides, it was already noon, I wasn’t about to start digging.
Now, the sulcana part, apparently, was a near modernization – I assume it refers to a place or pre-hispanic culture in some way, though I didn’t find any references that fit (the only other sulcanas I came across were some New Zealand moths) – instead of a firepit covered by a clay dome, the food is cooked slowly in a sealed clay pot. Now, in his book, Custer takes it a step further into modern day and braises it all slowly in a “deep, thick sided pot”. I have no doubt that following these steps results in an amazingly rich, complex and satisfying dish. Did I mention it was already noon? I also didn’t have the half a dozen different aromatic herbs lying about, at least not in fresh form – though, strangely, I had a small handful of hierba buena and cilantro in the refrigerator that I’d picked up a couple of days earlier – and if you see photos of the real dish, you’ll note that mine is missing all the “strewn aromatic herbs” – they’re just in the sauce.
So here is the completely inauthentic, yet took under 30 minutes to make version of a huátia sulcana, lunch special. It was so good, we can’t wait to try making the real thing!
And let’s all meet up one day at El Senorio de Sulco for the real thing….