Like a lot of you, I consider myself an adventurous eater. When I visit a restaurant that serves the food of another culture, I’m not going to order a cheeseburger. Food provides a window into international cultures and an opportunity to learn about the people, places, and flavors of communities around the world. Why squander that opportunity?
When I visit El Mono, the outstanding Peruvian restaurant located at 2400 East 70th Street in Shreveport, I typically order ceviche (National Geographic says “If Peru had an official national dish, it would probably be this preparation of raw fish marinated in citrus juice.”) or a steak dish called lomo saltado. If you’d told me six months ago that I’d eventually wind up becoming a shout-it-from-the-rooftops fan of their roasted chicken, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are.
It turns out that rotisserie chicken is an extremely popular dish in Peru, where it’s known as pollo a la brasa. There’s even a Peruvian holiday (July 21) that is designated the Official Day of Pollo a la Brasa. There are special rotisserie ovens made in Peru just for preparing pollo a la brasa (El Mono has one of the ovens, which they went to a great deal of trouble and expense to have shipped to the U.S. and installed in their kitchen), but the real magic of pollo a la brasa is marinating and seasoning.
“The biggest thing is the spices, the herbs,” said Matt Khadivian, co-owner of El Mono. “We keep the chicken in the marinade for a minimum of 36 hours. That’s really the trick. Honestly, it’s a simple recipe, but it’s genius in its simplicity.”
Those herbs and spices include lots of achiote and rosemary – visible on the vibrant golden skin of the chicken when it’s served – as well as cumin and other spices. National Geographic says that the marinade traditionally includes soy sauce flavored with red peppers, garlic, and cumin. The chicken cooks relatively quickly – just 80 minutes – but remains incredibly juicy and tender. A half chicken sells for $14.99, a whole chicken for $20.99 (more details here), and it’s worth the price.
In addition to a fancy oven and a secret marinade, the chicken is improved by its freshness. In many restaurants and grocery stores, roasted chicken often loses its character as a result of being warmed under a heat lamp for hours and hours on end. El Mono prepares fresh birds twice each day: for the lunch crowd and for the dinner crowd. That commitment to freshness is evident with every incredibly flavorful bite.
Like El Mono on Facebook.
Read about the history of that Peruvian oven.
If you enjoy this kind of writing, download the third edition of Eat Here: A Food Lover’s Guide to Shreveport-Bossier.