Pronounced "ah-hee pahn-ka", the Aji Panca chile is the second most popular chile in Peruvian cuisine behind the better known Aji Amarillo Chile. The Aji Panca is from the species Capsicum chinense while most other South American chiles, such as the Aji Amarillo, are from the species Capsicum baccatum. Many food historians believe that quinoa and the chiles native to Peru are the "lost crops" of the Incas.
Aji Panca has the same appearance and shape of the Aji Amarillo chile but with a fresher, lighter flavor. The Aji Panca goes from a yellowish green and ripens to a dark red burgundy color. They measure 3” to 5” inches in length and 1” to 1.5” across while the chile’s flesh is medium thick. The pods are typically left on the plants to partially dry before harvesting where they are then sun-dried. Even in its native Peru you are more likely to only find these as dried chiles and very rarely fresh.
With its roots in Peruvian cooking, Aji Panca’s are typically found slow cooked in stews, ground in sauces and rubbed into meat before grilling or roasting. You’ll also find them added to rice dishes, seafood and soups. The chile's lightness pairs nicely with something creamy and rich to balance it out. We’ve tried it with everything from avocados (amazing) to adding it as a secret ingredient to a chocolate dessert sauce. We actually first started searching for a supplier for these chiles when one of our gourmet bakery customers wanted to add them to some chocolate chip cookies that they were baking where they wanted to add a dash of fruity heat to.
Aji Panca chiles have a fruity, berry like flavor with aromatic, smoky taste and a mild lingering heat which is similar to chipotle chiles, but not near as overpowering. We found it really shinning with lower heat and slower cooking times as this really seems to bring out the chile’s subtle complexities. Aji Pancas can also be made into a delightful paste for a nice wet rub that is amazing on grilled chicken kabobs or pork chops.
To make a paste soak the Aji Panca chiles in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes (chiles should be completely submerged). Then drain the water, remove the stems and add to the blender with garlic, olive oil and salt. It you want an even milder chile, with even less heat, remove the chile veins and seeds.
The Aji Panca chile is used almost daily in Peru as a condiment due to its beautiful color and uncommon flavor. Aji Panca chiles come in at a fairly mild 500 – 1,500 SHU (Scoville Heat Units).
There are approximately 5 Aji Panca chiles per ounce.
When you transition from just being curious about chiles into a full fledged chilehead you start segmenting your chile preferences into groups. There are your base or everyday chiles (these you will use frequently), the intriguing chiles that you may have picked up for one particular recipe or maybe you saw some them on one of the cooking shows and of course the stupid hot chiles that are meant to bring tears to the eyes of your friends and family that love to brag about how well they handle crazy hot chiles.
Lately, as our resident chilehead, I have been hunting for the more unique, fascinating and surprisingly complex chiles. These are the ones that I quickly become almost obsessed with finding more ways to incorporate them into my everyday meal preparation. The Aji Panca chile fits this to a T.
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