Posted on | January 18, 2011 | 5 Comments
Well, chicha (CHEE-cha) itself is a word used in Latin America as a catch-all for a variety of fermented drinks, especially those made using corn – but there is also chicha made from yuca or fruits. Chicha de jora is made from a yellow type of maize called jora (HORE-ah), that’s germinated to release the starches, dried in the sun and then ground up. It’s then boiled in water sweetened with chancaca, and fermented in large vats. Chicha de jora is made in virtually all of the Andina territories, and is used all over Peru as a drink and as an ingredient in many dishes.
There are some cultures that make a type of chicha where instead of germinating the seed, they chew it up, mixing it with saliva which breaks down the starches. I think it’s pretty amazing that people who had no way of knowing what was going on chemically still understood that their saliva effected the corn in some way. How did they figure that out? Who was the first guy to say, “Hey, just mix some spit with it, dry it out and see what happens”?
It’s generally accepted that the original ceviche was made by marinating fish in chicha, and the drink has been in Peru (indeed all throughout the Andes) for thousands of years. It’s very popular in Peru, both as a drink and as an ingredient in foods. There are two types of chicha de jora – either young and barely fermented, slightly sweet, or mature and strong. It’s usually the strong chicha that’s used for cooking. It’s used as part of the liquid ingredient in foods like seco or arroz con pollo.
And that brings us to the question – what if you’re making one of these dishes, and don’t have chicha de jora available? It’s a good question, and there are a few options.
If you don’t want to add fermented liquids to your food, replace the chicha with chicken stock. If you’d like to be more faithful to your recipe, light beer or a white cooking wine can be used in the same amount as the chicha. Either of those will add a fairly similar ‘tang’ to the dish.
If you’re in Peru, you can find chicha for sale in many of the bodegas or at “chicherias”. It’s usually sold in 1 liter bottles – often “recycled” soda or water bottles. If you go to one of the many food fairs around the city, you can find chicha de jora for sale by the glass to drink with your meal.
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