This is another Peruvian dish that features offal, but unlike anticuchos I prefer to stay away from the traditional version and use an alternative protein. The dish is commonly cooked with mondongo (cow’s stomach), which for me and many people is not very fun to eat mainly because of its texture (feels like having a towel in your mouth and has the chewiness of silicone). Its smell and taste is also off-putting for some, you have to cook the thing for at least 3 hours with hierbabuena (a kind of mint) to lessen the offending aromas.
Thankfully most recipes are not carved in stone and allow for ingredient substitutions quite easily. While the obvious one in this case for most housewives is chicken, I think the taste of seafood works heaps better. I like my cau cau with choros (black mussels), but Alvaro doesn’t like them, so I prepared some with calamari, too. Both work well and I know of a few restaurants that offer the dish with mixed seafood; that’s a pretty good option, too.
Regarding the potatoes, choose a waxy or floury variety that will break down a bit when cooked. I used pink eyes and they were perfect, adding lots of texture and flavour to the dish.
I served it with white rice (cooked with garlic, Peruvian style), peas and steamed purple baby carrots.
Seafood cau cau
Yield: 6 servings
1 1/2 kg black mussels (in their shells) or 1 kg calamari
500 gr potatoes (pink eyes or similar)
2 tablespoons oil
1 Spanish onion
6 garlic cloves
2 big yellow chillies
1 teaspoon powdered ají amarillo or any chilli (powdered or fresh) to taste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper
3 cups fish/vegetable stock or water
4 tablespoons chopped mint
white rice to serve
If using mussels: wash them and place them in a large saucepan over medium to high heat with a splash of white wine or water (you may need to do this in batches)*. Cover the saucepan and wait 1 or 2 minutes, until most of them are opened. Discard the ones that aren’t, remove the meat from the shells and clean them, inspecting carefully inside each mussel.
If using calamari: clean it and chop it in 2 cm squares. Reserve in the fridge.
Peel and cut the potatoes in 1.5 cm dice. Place them in a bowl with cold water to prevent them from browning.
Chop the onion. Blend the garlic, chillies, turmeric and cumin with a bit of water to form a paste. Heat the oil in a pot or big saucepan and cook the onion and chilli paste for about 15 minutes over low heat.
Drain the potatoes and add them to the pot, along with the stock or water.
Cook for 10 – 15 minutes, until the potatoes are completely cooked through. Add the seafood and cook for one or two minutes, season with salt and pepper, turn off heat and add chopped mint. Serve with white rice and the veggies of your choice.
* If you’re a Buddhist like me, this is the right moment to say mantras and make good wishes for the mussels’ rebirth. Or, if you prefer, you can buy frozen mussels (just the meat).