Spicy Cheese Sauce - Salsa Huancaína

Rice and chicken with Salsa a la Huancaína
Dtarazona/Wikimedia commons
  • 20 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins,
  • Cook: 5 mins
  • Yield: 1 1/2 cups (serves 12 - 16)
Ratings (44)

Huancaína (wan-kay-eena) sauce is typically served over cold sliced potatoes in the famous Peruvian dish ​Papa a la Huancaína.  The sauce (and the potato dish) originate from the Huancayo region of Peru. The story goes that a woman from Huancayo invented the dish, which she served to the railroad workers who were building the high altitude railroad (Ferrocarril Central Andino) from Lima to Huancayo in the Andes.  The dish became so popular that it was named after this woman, La Huancaína, whose real name seems to have been lost to history. 

The key ingredient for this sauce is the spicy aji amarillo chile pepper.  These so-called "yellow peppers" look orange or red when ripe, but they turn yellow as they cook, giving this sauce its bright yellow color. The other main ingredient is the queso fresco cheese, a firm but crumbly white cheese that is popular in this region of Peru. The sauce is traditionally thickened with saltine crackers, which add to the distinctive flavor and texture of this unique sauce.  The ingredients are processed in a blender until the sauce is very smooth and thick.

Salsa a la Huancaina is a versatile sauce that goes with many flavors. Serve it as a dipping sauce for bite-size boiled potatoes, or toss it with noodles. If you try this sauce in Peru, it's likely to be quite spicy - but you can adjust the heat to your liking by using fewer or more yellow chile peppers.

What You'll Need

  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup onion (chopped)
  • 3-4 yellow aji amarillo chile peppers (frozen is fine) or 1/2 cup jarred aji amarillo paste
  • 2 cloves garlic (mashed)
  • 2 cups white queso fresco cheese (or farmer's cheese, or a mixture of mozzarella and feta cheese)
  • 4 saltine crackers
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • Optional: salt and pepper (to taste)

How to Make It

  1. Remove seeds from yellow chile peppers and chop into 1-inch pieces.
  2. Sauté onion, garlic, and chile peppers (or paste) in the oil until onion is softened, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. Place onion/chile mixture in a food processor or blender. Add evaporated milk and blend.
  4. Add cheese and crackers and blend until smooth. The sauce should be fairly thick. Thicken sauce with more saltines or thin sauce with milk if necessary.
  1. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Serve at room temperature or chilled.