Peruvian Cuisine: Aguadito


As it is the case of many other Peruvian dishes, this soup is the result of the combination of creativity and necessity. 851_1The word Aguadito translates literally as “little thin stew”, the diminutive form being common in Peru when talking about food. Economy has never been strong for long hauls in that part of the world and the custom of adding water to soups and stews was born spontaneously, as families grew larger and pockets shallower.

At the beginning of the Republic, around the 1830’s, the country’s political life was in complete turmoil and the Caudillos –warlords- fought one another for a chance to place their behinds on the Presidential Chair. On occasion, there were two –and even three- different presidents occupying the Palace of Government in a single year. Conspiracy and intrigue saturated the main cities, in which gun and sword battles full of sound and fury and galloping horses became the order of the day. Each Caudillo had his own personal army, as well as a wife and a number of mistresses, a fact that was not hidden but rather celebrated as an unequivocal sign of manliness, the full expression of the ancestral macho, condition considered indispensable for the exercise of power. More affluent Caudillos could meet their personal armies’ needs. Those less fortunate found hard to pay and feed their soldiery, and frequently they had to stretch their budgets to unimaginable limits.

It is said that one of such leaders, alien to the most basic military training, appointed himself as Mariscal –Marshall- and gathered a ragtag army to fight for a chance at becoming the President of Peru. To feed his ill-prepared troops, he hired a black cook known as the Negra Josefa. The woman was the owner of both extraordinary culinary talent and an indomitable nature. Her mouth was foul and her body, although shapely, was of planetary dimensions. Her hands concocted the most sublime flavors but rumor ran that the Mariscal was not only attracted to her culinary prowess.

From the very beginning, the woman had to find solutions to the scarcity of means that was the hallmark of the Mariscal’s operation. One good day, tired of having to do miracles to feed one hundred men with just a sack of rice and a few chickens, the Negra Josefa took the matters in her hands, and defying all advice given by friend and foe alike, crossed the military camp in a straight line toward the Mariscal’s tent. Full of resolve and anger, she pushed aside two guards who stood by the tent’s entrance. The camp fell silent and everyone listened intently for the oncoming shouting contest. The woman broke into a continuous rant that grew louder and louder, complaining of how she had to work wonders to feed the men and how the Mariscal never gave enough money to buy more groceries and that all she had for the day was two cauldrons full of Arroz con Pollo, and that would never suffice for the whole brigade.

The Mariscal listened to her in silence, and for the first time, overwhelmed as he was with his inability to get more funds to wage a losing war, he exploded in a tenor voice that until then had not been heard by anyone. “Carajo!” (the most sonorous Spanish expletive) he shouted. “Si no te alcanza echale agua!” (why don’t you add water to it!). He looked so menacing and the thunder of his voice was so unexpected that the proud cook cowered, and whispering “Yes, sir” she took off. The Mariscal did not mean what he said, as he knew nothing about cooking.

But the Negra Josefa, seeing the hungry faces of the soldiers took the idea into practice and eked out the Arroz con Pollo with plenty of water. She shredded the chicken and simmered the diluted dish, ending up with a thick soup, which she readily served to the troop, after squeezing a few limes on it and sprinkling it with chopped up aji peppers. When the starving soldiers asked what were they having for their meal the Negra Josefa answered dryly “watery (aguadito) Arroz con Pollo”. The soldiers loved the new preparation and the aguadito portion of the name stuck.

Curious like any good cook, Josefa tried different ingredients and perfected the recipe, which became a well known soup all on its own. The poor Mariscal eventually lost his war for power and was incarcerated for seven long years. During that period his loyal cook visited him every weekend with a pot full of the steaming dish, which he shared with other inmates and with the prison guards. After release, he married the Negra Josefa and helped her roll her cart on the streets, where they sold the best aguadito in town.

Today, the dish is very popular in Peru as a winter meal, but also among revelers who, after an exhausting night of drinking, search for good nourishment. The soup also gained a rather somber notoriety for being served at funerals, after long vigil nights. In its present form it is made with chicken, leftover Christmas roasted turkey or assorted seafood.

Click on link for Recipe

Wine for Aguadito

Pair with a copita (or more) of Peruvian Pisco. Red wine to match this dish: Pinot Noir or a lighter Southern Rhone. For white wine, Alsatian Pinot Gris or a rich Loire dry Chenin Blanc.

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