In honor of National Tater Day on March 31, we are sharing a delicious treat coming to us from our neighbors down south – all the way from South America: Peruvian fried stuffed potatoes.
You can find variations of this dish on dinner tables in South American and Caribbean countries -- each featuring their own unique flavors and flare. Its origins can be traced back to the country of Peru.
Papa rellena, as it’s known in Spanish, was adapted from the Moorish technique of filling potatoes with meat. This was a traditional dish of the North African slave women who were brought to Peru by the Spaniards during the conquest of South America in the 16th century. One of the earliest recorded recipes for papa rellena is found in the 1895 edition of Nuevo Manual de la Cocina Peruana or the New Manual of Peruvian Cuisine.
It was a staple of Peruvian soldiers who fought in the Pacific War, a conflict between Peru and Chile in 1879. In an effort to remain undetected, soldiers would constantly move and change locations, carrying different types of food, which included ground meat cooked in various spices and stored within a boiled potato paste, then fried and wrapped in fabric cloths for easy carrying. As a rest stop or lunch came, they would unwrap these and have a quick meal to then keep moving.
Peru, home to over 4,000 types of potatoes, and with a vast assortment of ingredients and techniques across its multiple diverse regions and climates, has various versions of the recipe. Nonetheless, we’ll do our best to provide a recipe for the most traditional, representative version of the Peruvian Papa Rellena.
For the potatoes:
3 pounds yellow potatoes (or other starchy potato)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ají amarillo (Peruvian yellow chili) paste
For the filling:
¾ pound ground or finely chopped beef
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup peeled, diced tomatoes and/or tomato paste
½ cup minced onions, finely minced
1 tablespoon ají panca (Peruvian red chili) paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/3 cup chopped green olives (optional)
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
¾ cup beef or chicken stock (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
For assembly and frying:
½ cup of flour (for dusting; or more as needed)
1 or two eggs, beaten in a bowl
Preparation (potato dough):
Boil potatoes in salted water until they are tender, about 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes and place them in a large bowl.
While hot, mash the potatoes thoroughly or put them through a potato ricer. The more finely mashed the better.
Season potatoes with salt, pepper and a teaspoon of ají amarillo paste.
At this point, you can put the potatoes in the refrigerator for a few hours, or overnight.
Once the potatoes are thoroughly cool, mix in the egg. You will have a thick potato dough.
Let the mixture rest for at least one hour in a cool place.
In a large pan, heat up oil over high heat, until it begins to smoke.
Place the ground beef, salt, pepper, cumin and the ají panca paste in the pan. Once the meat is browned, remove it from the pan.
In the same pan, add a bit more oil, let it heat up over medium heat. Put the garlic in the pan.
Once the garlic is fragrant, add the onions and cook for five minutes or until soft, stirring occasionally.
In the pan with the onions and garlic, add the tomatoes or tomato paste, the aji panca paste and the broth. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
Add the meat back into the pan and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove the meat mixture from the heat and add the parsley, raisins, pre-cut boiled eggs and olives; mix well.
Preparation (assembly and frying):
Place flour in a bowl and place nearby.
With floured hands, take about ¼ cup of the potato dough mixture and form it into a semi-flat, oval shape with a well in the center.
Put 1 to 2 tablespoons of the filling mixture into the potato dough; don’t overfill.
Mold the potato dough around the filling mixture and seal it by pressing in the sides, carefully so it retains an oblong shape. It will be about the size of a medium potato.
In a deep frying pan, add enough oil so that it covers at least half of the potato when it’s on its side. Heat the oil to about 350 degrees F.
Lightly coat the potato with flour.
Set the potatoes aside in a dish as you repeat the process for all the rellenas.
Coat the potatoes in the beaten egg by dipping them or brushing them.
Using a slotted spoon, carefully place each potato into the hot oil.
Cook the potatoes until they are golden brown.
Carefully remove each and drain on paper towels.
Serve with a salsa criolla or salsa ranchera or other fresh salad.
We hope you’ll give this recipe a try, and happy National Tater Day!