Here at Maggio’s, we are passionate about bringing great new flavors to our customers and hopefully introducing them to new favorite foods! A great example of this is our pollo a la brasa, also known as blackened or rotisserie chicken. While rotisserie chicken has seen a growth in popularity in the United States, with grocery stores now selling them, what are the roots of rotisserie chicken? We will explore how rotisserie chicken has become popular, and how at Maggio’s we are bringing back some of the traditional elements of this delicious dish.
In Peru, the third Sunday in July is Dia del Pollo a la Brasa (Pollo a la Brasa Day). When you have an entire day dedicated to a dish you know it is a national favorite! Although pollo a la brasa has become synonymous with Peruvian culinary culture it is a relatively new dish. This dish was made famous by Roger Schuler, a Swiss expat living on a chicken farm near Lima. In 1950, Schuler was trying to make a living with his chicken business, but wasn’t finding much success. He realized that if he couldn’t sell his chickens fast enough they would die, and this led him to try and do something new with the young chickens. He had a cook create a recipe that marinated the chickens in a salt water marinade (salamuera) and then cooking them over hot coals. This slow cooking for about an hour resulted in tender meat and crispy skin, and created a flavor that was to become famous. To attract business, Schuler put a sign over his farm’s gate that said: “eat as much chicken over coals as you can for only five soles.” People flocked to the hacienda and loved the low cost and great flavor of this exciting new dish. Schuler sold out of all of his young chickens in just a few days!
Growth of Casual Eating
Up until this time, restaurant dining was a luxury experience, and the custom was to use manners, decorum, and all manner of utensils to have a fine dining experience. Pollo a la brasa went against all of this, as people were encouraged to come as they were and eat this humble meal with their hands. You could eat how you wanted, and as much as you wanted, and there was no judgement. This casual restaurant style was the downfall of many other, more stuffy, establishments in the city. Schuler called his new business the Granja Azul (Blue Farm), and people came from all over Lima to eat this new dish. At the same time, chicken shops popped up all over the city and provided a new kind of restaurant that catered to the working class, families, and gathering over food and friends. Granja Azul remained the standard, and none of the other shops could offer the same great deal. Granja Azul is still in operation, and while the price has increased (to fifty, instead of five soles), it is still a great bargain. The popularity of pollo a la brasa brought with it a new way that restaurants were viewed. Once reserved for only the wealthy, now the neighborhood chicken shop was seen as a place where you could get delicious food for reasonable prices.
The Rotisserie Grill
The early iterations of pollo a la brasa were cooked over carbonized wood, and the chef would turn the chicken on a metal spit. This was a hot, demanding job, and limited the number of chickens that could be cooked at a time. As Schuler’s chicken increased in popularity, the demand was exceeding what could be cooked. A friend of Schuler’s from Switzerland came to Peru with an idea for a revolutionary grill. It would mimic the solar system, and the chickens would rotate around the coals as the planets rotate around the sun. This allowed for many more chickens to be cooked at a time, and the industry of hornos braseros (rotisserie grill) was born. These new grills helped chicken entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and cook more chickens than before. The rotisserie helped fuel the mass love and consumption of this dish, and led to Dia del Pollo a la Brasa. Every year Peruvians flock to chicken shops to enjoy this dish.
Popularity of Pollo a la Brasa Spreads
While each polleria (chicken shop) has it’s own special seasonings, the key to making the dish great is in the cooking method. While Peruvian cuisine has been permeating the culinary scene in the United States since the 1960s, it was not until the 1980s that restaurants featuring the rotisserie-style of cooking chicken became popular, and “Peruvian chicken” became more familiar. The traditional way to serve the chicken is with thick cut french fries, fried yuca, corn on the cob, potatoes, plantains, and salad or onion relish. While pollo a la brasa was once hard to find, it is becoming increasingly popular as people discover the great, fresh flavor. In Peru, pollo a la brasa is considered the ultimate fast food, and everyone loves a good meal of this flavorful, crisp chicken. In 2013 Peruvian cuisine was listed as one of the United State’s top three hottest foods!
Try Pollo a la Brasa!
You might be thinking that this chicken sounds delicious, but you don’t know of any restaurants that can make Peruvian food. If so, you need to check out Maggio’s! While we have many Greek, Italian, and American favorites, we still find the time to make Peruvian style marinated chicken that you are sure to love! We serve it in quarters, halves, or whole chickens and the spices and cooking method leaves you with moist, tender meat. We pair our pollo a la brasa with traditional sides, including fried yuca, fried plantains, and french fries. We also include some more recent South American additions to the chicken—rice, beans, and tortillas. If you are someone who loves to try new things, or just someone who loves food, you need to head to Maggio’s to try our pollo a la brasa!
We can all be glad that Schuler needed to find a way to make some money off of his struggling chicken farm! As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention,” and the invention of the rotisserie grill and the delicious chicken it can make continue to draw people to try this Peruvian classic. If you are looking for a local restaurant in Alexandria where you can find pollo a la brasa, Maggio’s is where you need to eat your next meal!