All potatoes originated in the Andes, and Colombia has quite a selection of them, the best being the small, yellow, creamy, buttery papas Criollas. They're eaten deep fried, salt roasted, boiled, or—my wife's favorite method—cooked into ajiaco, a classic chicken and potato soup from the mountains around Bogotá.
Extraordinarily simple in execution (dump and boil), its appeal comes from the use of three different types of potatoes, ranging from starchy to waxy. As the soup simmers away, the starchy potatoes break down completely, thickening the soup to a luxuriously creamy consistency, while the papas criollas provide an earthy, buttery flavor. Waxy potatoes remain more intact, adding textural contrast. Guascas, a native mountain herb with an aroma somewhere in between bay leaf, catnip, and parlsey, adds a distinct flavor (you can just use bay leaves and parsley).
The soup is served along with a generous fixin's bar: shredded chicken breast, tangy sour cream for richness, capers that add a tang to cut through the rib-sticking broth, and an onion and cilantro-base aji (which is, by the way, good on everything). Large-kerneled, starchy South American corn (sometimes called Cuzco corn) is boiled along with the potatoes and eaten during the meal, as are slices of Avocado. Not the creamy Hass variety, but the more watery, refreshing Fuerte cultivar.
This is about as simple, delicious, and comforting as food gets.
Note: Papas Criollas are small, creamy yellow Colombian potatoes with a unique buttery flavor and texture. They can occasionally be found frozen in Latin markets. If unavailable, substitute small Yukon Golds or yellow fingerling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks. Guascas is a Colombian herb. It can be found in some Latin markets, or ordered online from amigofoods. If unavailable, replace with an extra 2 bay leaves (remove along with other bay leaves in step 2), plus 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley leaves.
- 2 quarts homemade chicken stock (or low-sodium canned stock)
- 1 whole bone-in, skin-on chicken breast, split (12 to 16 ounces total)
- 1 large onion, split in half
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 pounds russet potatoes (about 2 medium) peeled and cut into rough 1-inch chunks
- 2 pounds papas Criollas (about 20 potatoes), peeled
- 1 pound Red Bliss potatoes (about 2 small), peeled, split into quarters lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1/4 cup dried guascas (see note)
- 2 ears corn, shucked and broken into 3 pieces each
- 1 small onion, finely diced (about 3/4 cup)
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 1 serrano or 1/2 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely minced
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 cup sour cream, thinned with 1 tablespoon milk
- 1/2 cup capers, rinsed, drained, and roughly chopped
- 1 ripe avocado, preferably smooth, light-green fuerte variety, sliced into wedges
Combine chicken stock, chicken breast, onion, bay leaves, potatoes, and guascas in a large saucepot or Dutch oven. Add more water if necessary to cover solids by 1-inch. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until chicken breast is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken breast to plate and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
Continue to simmer potatoes until russets and papas Criollas are completely tender and falling apart, about 45 minutes longer, adding more water as necessary. Discard onion and bay leaves. Using whisk, mash potato pieces against side of pot and stir vigorously to thicken soup. The soup should be thick, with large chunks of potatoes still remaining.
Add corn cobs and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is cooked and soup is thickened to the consistency of thick heavy cream, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from heat.
While soup is cooking, make the aji: Combine onion, cilantro, and chile pepper in small serving bowl and add water until just covered. Season generously with salt and stir to combine. Set aside. Discard chicken skin and bones. Shred meat into bite-size pieces and set aside in serving bowl.
Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, passing picked chicken, chopped capers, sour cream, and aji table-side for diners to add to their bowl. Serve avocado slices on the side.