Pachamanca n. an ancient Inca dish from the Andes of Peru, where meat and potatoes are cooked with herbs in an underground earth oven, from the Quechua “pacha” for earth, and “manca” for oven
Of all the dishes from the Andes of Peru, the Pachamanca is perhaps the most important, as its preparation is an homage to the goddess Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Traditionally, stones are heated over a fire and then buried in the ground with layers of meat, potatoes, and herbs, which are covered with plantain leafs and dirt. Then, after several hours of slow cooking, a ritual offering is presented to Mother Earth before the food is unearthed and served.
There is something very primordial about cooking in the earth, and many cultures around the world use this earth oven technique — the Native American clambake and the New Zealand Maori hangi are two examples, but how can you cook a Pachamanca at home? The key is to source ingredients that will give the Pachamanca an earthen flavor, to layer the ingredients in a tall cooking pot, and to cook them over low heat — essentially creating your own small oven.
There are four main ingredients in a home cooked Pachamanca: the herbs, the meat, the vegetables, and the stock. In Peru, the main herb for a Pachamanca is huacatay, a type of wild mint; the meat is chicken, pork, or lamb; and the vegetables are potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn. In this recipe, mint, cilantro, and parsley replace the huacatay; chicken and pork are used for the meat; and yellow potatoes, sweet potatoes, and hominy are used for the vegetables.
The earthen flavor of the Pachamanca is achieved by preparing a marinade for the meat and vegetables, using herbs to make bouquets for each layer, separating each layer with corn husks, and sealing the pot with corn husks and parchment paper to trap the moisture. The chicken and pork are seared in a skillet before being placed in the pot, and vegetable stock is added to the bottom of the pot to create steam and moisture while the Pachamanca slow cooks over low heat.
INGREDIENTS FOR PACHAMANCA MARINADE
- 1/2 cup mint leafs
- 1/2 cup cilantro leafs
- 1/2 cup parsley leafs
- 1/2 cup cooking oil
- 3 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 2 teaspoons aji panca paste
- 4 teaspoons garlic paste
INGREDIENTS FOR MEAT
- 3 chicken thighs, skin and bone on
- 3/4 lb. pork shoulder, cut into 3 pieces
INGREDIENTS FOR VEGETABLES
- 3 potatoes, about 1 lb., cut in halves
- 2 sweet potatoes, about 1 lb., cut in thirds
- 1 ½ cups cooked hominy
INGREDIENTS FOR BOUQUETS
- 12 mint sprigs
- 12 cilantro sprigs
- 12 parsley sprigs
- 4-6 tablespoons cooking oil for searing meat
- 1 ½ cups vegetable stock
- 24 corn husks, or enough for 4 layers of corn husks
In addition to the ingredients above, you’ll need a tall pot with a lid, parchment paper to seal the top of the pot, and string to tie the bouquets.
- Purée all the marinade ingredients using an immersion blender, and divide into two equal parts
- Place all the meat in a container, cover the chicken and pork pieces with half the marinade, seal the container, and refrigerate for 2 hours
- Place the pot lid over a piece of parchment paper, and cut a circle of parchment paper with a radius that is 1″ larger than the radius of the lid
- Make 3 herb bouquets tied with strings, each bouquet has 4 mint sprigs, 4 cilantro sprigs, and 4 parsley sprigs
- Sear the chicken in a skillet with oil over medium to high heat
- Sear the pork in a skillet with oil over medium to high heat
- Cover the bottom of the pot with corn husks, arrange the pork in one layer, place one herb bouquet with the pork, and cover the pork with corn husks
- Arrange the chicken in a second layer, place one herb bouquet with the chicken, and cover the chicken with corn husks
- Arrange the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and hominy in a third layer, brush the remaining marinade over the vegetables, place one herb bouquet with the vegetables, and cover the vegetables with corn husks
- Pour the vegetable stock down the sides of the pot so that it collects in the bottom of the pot, cover the pot with the round piece of parchment paper, and place the lid on the pot
- Turn on heat to low, and cook for 1 hour, until meat is cooked through and vegetables are tender
- Give thanks to Pachamama before opening the pot and serving the Pachamanca
To make garlic paste, purée peeled garlic cloves with enough olive oil to create a smooth paste. Refrigerate the garlic paste in an airtight jar and use in a recipe as you would minced garlic.
Aji panca is a very traditional Peruvian hot pepper with an earthy color and smoky flavor that is very important in this dish. In San Francisco, you can pick up many Peruvian ingredients at Latino Markets such as Evergreen Market in The Mission District.
For the vegetable stock, I used Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base paste.
For each layer of corn husks, I used 6 pieces, 3 pieces arranged in parallel, and the other 3 pieces arranged transversely to the first 3 pieces, creating a uniform and tightly packed layer of corn husks. The first layer of corn husks is arranged on the bottom of the pot, the second layer over the pork, the third layer over the chicken, and the fourth layer over the vegetables.