Here’s a lavish but simple showstopper. A variety of seafood is lightly poached in a chili-fired consommé that’s spiced with cumin and cilantro. Yellow pepper, red onion, and garlic add depths of flavor to this Peruvian Parihuela that are spot lit by a vividly tangy citrus dressing known as tiger’s milk.
In Peru they call it parihuela. It’s the sort of deliciously simple, oceanic delight that you’d rightly expect from a country with about 1,500 miles of Pacific seaboard.
I’ve learnt that in Spanish the name means ‘stretcher’ — as in the thing people get carried on. More romantically, it seems the name of the dish might come from the wooden planks that fishermen used for carrying their catch to market. Later in the day, the fishermen then used pieces of their ‘stretchers’ to cook this gorgeous seafood medley for themselves.
There’s a similarity here with the origins of another absolutely classic seafood treat — bouillabaisse. Just like parihuela, long before that marvel from Marseille became globally famous, it was developed by fishermen so they could relish the less profitable fruits of their sea-going labours.
And there’s another culinary parallel here. Parihuela’s ingredients are definitely not writ in stone, and can certainly be varied according to the seafood’s seasonal availability. This isn’t a dish that benefits from using a host of top-dollar items from your fishmonger. So, rather look for a selection of seafood that’s plentiful at the time, and therefore comparatively inexpensive.
Positively Peruvian: leche de tigre (or tiger’s milk)
Around the world, Peru’s most famous dish is undoubtedly ceviche. That’s essentially made by marinating pieces of raw fish in plenty of fresh lime juice along with some thin slices of onion, garlic, and chili and a generous seasoning of salt.
That salty, high-tang marinading mix is often reserved and later quaffed as much-trusted antidote to a big night out. Its reputation for being an effective after-party cure is probably how it got its evocatively potent name — tiger’s milk.
But the mix is also used the way we feature it here — as the basis for as a seriously big-hitting, flavor-sharpening condiment to serve with our parihuela.
Bring the two together and you’ve got an amazing partnership. That’s because the tiger’s milk adds an arresting, vibrant immediacy that works so astonishingly well with the gentle, rich flavors of the mixed seafood and its wonderfully savory broth.
The chilies for parihuela
I used a combo of fresh red and green cayenne chilies. And that meant I had strayed a little from the path of pure Peruvian authenticity.
That’s because it can be hard (in my case, impossible) to find Peru’s primary hot pepper — aji amarillo. This yellow chili is so widely used in its homeland that it’s often tagged as Peruvian pepper. The sun-dried version is known as aji mirasol, and, in my part of the world is just as non-existent as the fresh variety.
The same can almost be said for one of the country’s other mainstay chilies, the much milder, smokier aji panca. Commonly made into a paste that features in lots – and I mean lots – of Peruvian recipes, this is another chili that’s not easy to find. However, aji panca paste is much more widely available than the fresh pepper itself, so you might want to keep an eagle eye out for it.
Having said all that, the fresh cayenne substitutes I brought on from the bench didn’t disappoint my table guests. The stand-in chilies have a similar heat profile to amarillo chilies, and the yellow bell pepper brings a fruitily sweetish balance to the broth in partnership with the red onions.
Also, in terms of chili-powered taste, perhaps bear in mind that your ocean treasures are all so delicately flavored that any sort of chili is here to play a savor-supporting role.
The fish stock at your broth’s heart
Making your own stock is easy and it’s definitely worth the very little effort it takes. Of course, you can use store-bought, but if you’re adventurous we give you the path.
I used about two pounds of fresh, white fish heads, bones, and skin that my trusted fishmonger provided – free of charge. All you need to do is cover the lot with salted water in a big pot and let it simmer away for about an hour. That’s it. Strain it through a sieve and you’ll have a really grand stock for your parihuela.
For parihuela, timing is everything
Although it’s exceptionally easy to make a parihuela that tastes divine and looks spectacular, you do need to watch the clock closely when poaching the seafood in its broth.
The firm-fleshed white fish and the sectioned crab need more heat than the mussels, shrimp and squid — a.k.a calamari. That’s why you’ll be aiming to handle the poaching in two, immediately consecutive parts — the white fish and crab go into the simmering broth first and are joined a couple of minutes later by the rest of the treasures.
And you definitely want to avoid any delay between finishing the poaching and serving. This really is one of those dishes that is at its very best when it goes straight from stove to table.
My advice on that timing? Get folks seated, ready, and waiting for the moment your parihuela comes off the heat. Once they taste it – and that sensational tiger’s milk — nobody will mind having been marshaled to their places. In fact, I’m betting they’ll gladly thank you for it.
Crusty bread? Yes, please.
I served a lovely, fresh, crusty loaf of olive ciabatta with our parihuela. Worked like a dream for capturing the very last drops of the broth.
Parihuela With Tiger’s Milk
For the fish stock (if making your own)
- 2 pounds heads bones, and skin from some non-oily white fish, and white fish only
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground sea salt
- 8 cups water
For the tiger’s milk
- 3 fresh green cayenne peppers very finely chopped, seeds and all
- 8 limes squeezed. That number of limes gave me just under a cup of juice.
- 2 heaped tablespoons fresh ginger root very finely chopped, skin and all. I used a piece of fresh ginger about 3 inches long and ¾-inch thick.
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and very finely chopped
- 1/2 ounce fresh cilantro roughly chopped, stalks and all
- 1 ½ heaped teaspoons ground sea salt
For the parihuela (see note on frozen vs. fresh fish)
- 4 fresh cayenne peppers 2 green, and two red. Sliced into ¼-inch rounds, seeds and all. The cayennes I used were each about 3 inches long.
- ¾ pound white fish firm-fleshed. Cut into chunks about 1 ½ inches square. I used monkfish fillets. Alaskan pollack, hake, or cod will be fine, but monkfish is so firm-fleshed that it’s just ideal.
- ½ pound shrimp or prawn tails. Tail-shell on, and de-veined. The ones I used were each about 3 inches long.
- ½ pound mussels on the half shell
- ½ pound calamari heads That weight gave me about a dozen tentacled heads.
- ¾ pound crab pieces The ones I used were cleaned and quartered, small swimmer crabs — amounting to probably about 4 whole crabs.
- 2 yellow bell peppers medium-sized, de-seeded and cut lengthwise into ¼-inch slices
- 2 red onions medium-sized, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch dice
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 can peeled and chopped tomatoes 14-ounce can, use juice and all
- 1 ounce fresh parsley finely chopped, stalks and all
- ½ ounce fresh cilantro finely chopped, stalks and all
- 1 cup verjuice or one cup dry white wine. I used verjuice for its fuller, fruitier flavor, but a fairly good, dry, fruity-ish white wine will be fine.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground sea salt
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
- 8 cups fish stock from above (make your own) or store-bought
- Juice from one medium size fresh lemon
Making the fish stock (if making your own)
- Place the fish heads, bones and skin into a large saucepan with 8 cups water and 2 heaped teaspoons salt.
- Set the pan on a high heat and let it come to the boil. As soon as that happens, drop the heat to low and cover the pan. Now let the pan cook at a gently simmering bubble for 60 minutes – with a few good stirs during its simmer. Done.
- Drain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve and set it aside. Discard the bones and all.
Making the tiger’s milk
- It’s best to make this while the stock’s simmering. That’ll give the ingredients enough time to fuse their flavors together before you serve it with your parihuela.
- Just like the stock, this is also really easy. Add all the ingredients to a mixing bowl and give the mix a thorough stir. Now let it stand — with the occasional stir — until you’re almost ready to serve your parihuela. At that point, use a fine-meshed sieve to drain the mix into a small serving jug. That’s it! Your tiger’s milk is ready.
Cooking your parihuela
- For this, I used a large, cast-iron Dutch oven that was easily big enough to hold all the parihuela’s ingredients.
- Set your big pot onto a medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Let the oil heat for a minute or so then stir in the red onion and salt. Drop the heat to low-medium and let the onions cook gently with a few stirs for about 7 minutes. You’re looking to soften the onions — without letting them pick up any color. That’s important for keeping the onion’s sweetness — so, soften them, but don’t brown them.
- Now stir in the red and green cayennes, the ginger, garlic, and yellow bell pepper. Let the mix fry gently over that low-medium heat with a couple of stirs for another 4 minutes. You want to pull some aromatic flavor from the chilies, garlic, and ginger, and to just begin softening the slices of yellow pepper. Good. That’s the base of your broth done.
- Turn the big pot’s heat to high and stir in the fish stock, tomatoes, verjuice or white wine, parsley, cilantro and black pepper. Let the pot come up to the boil and then drop the heat to low. Check for saltiness right now and adjust to your taste. Once you’re happy with that, you’re ready for some carefully timed poaching of the seafood.
- On that low heat, you want the pot to be gently, evenly bubbling before you start adding the seafood.
- Add the chunks of white fish and the crab pieces. Give the pot a gentle stir, cover it, and let it simmer away for 2 ½ minutes.
- Now, gently stir in the calamari heads, mussels and shrimp. Take a little care with your stirring here, so as not to break the white fish apart.
- Cover the pot and let it simmer gently on that low heat for 3 minutes. Done! Remove the pot from the heat, gently stir in the lemon juice, and serve your parihuela — straight away.
- With large soup bowls already set on the table, I like folks to use a big ladle and help themselves straight from the big cooking pot.
- And I think the tiger’s milk is best added a few teaspoons at a time to the top of your parihuela – rather than being stirred right into your bowl. For me, that really highlights the contrasts between the tiger’s milk and the parihuela, and lets you add a little more as you go along. And then add a little more, a little more, a little more.
Now, if you go the frozen route, make sure you allow all the seafood to defrost fully. That matters because if it’s still icy cold it’ll take longer to cook, so about room temperature is the way to go in our recipe.