Peruvian Chicken & Basil Pasta (Sopa Seca)

March 19, 2019
6 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

This one-pot pasta is the traditional accompaniment to a dish called carapulcra chincana, a specialty from the Sur Chico region of Peru. The combination of these two dishes is referred to as mancha pechos, or “chest-stainer.” However, it makes an excellent main dish on its own. You can omit the chicken in this recipe to make it vegetarian. You can also adjust the spice by increasing or decreasing the amount of ají panca paste. —Carlos C. Olaechea

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: A Comforting One-Pot Chicken Pasta, by Way of Peru. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 4 cups packed basil leaves
  • 32 ounces chicken stock (about 4 cups)
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons annatto seeds (see Note)
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons ají panca paste (optional, see Note)
  • 1 cup finely diced tomato (about 1 large tomato or 3 plum tomatoes)
  • 1 pound spaghetti, broken in half
  • 1 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • Cubed avocado, for garnish (optional)
  1. Add all of the basil leaves and 1 cup of chicken stock to a blender. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine chicken with ground cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  3. In a large pot, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Add annatto seeds and fry for about 6 minutes, stirring often. When the oil is dark orange and the seeds lose their red color, remove pot from the heat. Strain the oil to remove the seeds. Add the strained annatto oil back into the pot. Place the pot back on the burner over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the chicken, browning on all sides, then transfer to a clean bowl and set aside.
  5. Reduce heat to medium. Add onions and fry until softened. Make sure to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the onions have softened, add the garlic and fry for one minute, stirring constantly. Add ají panca paste (if using) and stir to combine with the garlic and onions. Fry for one minute, stirring often. Add carrots and fry for one minute.
  6. Add the tomatoes to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, or until the tomatoes cook down and the oil separates from the mixture.
  7. Add basil puree and stir to combine. Wait for the mixture to come to a simmer. Add salt to taste. (You'll want this a little on the saltier side since you'll be adding pasta to this.)
  8. Add the pasta to the pot so they're evenly spread out. Add the rest of the broth and raise the heat to high. Gently nudge the pasta with a wooden spoon around the edges of the pot. Be careful not to break the pasta. You just want to move the pasta around slightly in the sauce. Repeat this every 30 seconds or so until the pasta is pliable, which should take about 5 minutes. Gently stir to coat the pasta with the sauce. Add the chicken to the pot and stir to combine.
  9. If the pot has not come to a simmer yet, bring to a simmer. Make sure the pasta is mostly submerged in the liquid.
  10. After 5 minutes, uncover the pot and stir, making sure to scrape up any pasta that may have stuck to the bottom of the pot. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot again. After 5 minutes, uncover the pot and stir again.
  11. Continue to cook uncovered over medium-low heat until the pasta is cooked through and has soaked up the liquid, about 5 to 10 minutes. You can opt to have a wetter sopa seca or a dryer sopa seca. It’s a matter of personal preference, and one way is not considered more authentic than the other. When the sopa seca has reached the desired consistency, remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Garnish with the optional avocado cubes.
  12. Note: Annatto seeds (also known as achiote) are small seeds that are naturally covered in a red pigment. The seeds are fried in oil, which turns the oil a deep orange color. This oil is a necessary ingredient in many Latin American dishes, including sopa seca. If you cannot find annatto seeds, a teaspoon of ground annatto powder will suffice. Add it to the pot after you have added the ají panca paste. Ají panca paste is made from a dried red chili that has a mild, chocolatey sweetness and smoldering heat. It forms the backbone of many Peruvian dishes. You can find it at many Latino stores or online.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Liz D
    Liz D
  • Carlos C. Olaechea
    Carlos C. Olaechea
  • Natalie R.
    Natalie R.
  • Kate
I was born in Peru to a Limeño father and a Texan mother. We moved to Miami when I was five, and I grew up in the "Kendall-suyo" neighborhood—often called the 5th province of the Inca Empire because of its large Peruvian population. I've been writing about food since I was 11 years old, and in 2016 I received a master's degree in Gastronomy from Boston University. A travel columnist at Food52, I'm currently based in Hollywood, Florida—another vibrant Peruvian community—where I am a writer, culinary tour guide, and consultant.

8 Reviews

Natalie R. May 15, 2019
Made the recipe as written, and the final product was delicious. Lots of flavor here! I tried cooking the seeds in the oil for 6 minutes, but the oil lost all color and the seeds were black and smoking after just a minute and a half. I had the heat slightly lower than the recommended temperature since my stove top is usually just a bit hotter than recipes seem to expect. I ended up tossing it and restarting, cooking for more like ten seconds. The seeds didn't lose color, but perhaps vibrancy? The oil was colored as described, and it smelled great.

Thank you for posting this! I'm curious what went wrong with the annatto seeds.
Kate April 28, 2019
Didn't change a thing, using the pwd instead of the seeds. Excellent.
Liz D. March 26, 2019
Made this the other night. It was very good. Had a little trouble getting the pasta evenly cooked without breaking it, but the flavor is good. Met an older Peruvian man at the Latin market when I went to buy the Aji Panca. He seemed so excited that I was cooking his country's food! He helped me find the Aji Panca, and even showed me the bag of dried potatoes that go in the dish that usually accompanies this. So fun.
Carlos C. March 27, 2019
What a great experience. Now, the dried potato is for the Lima-style version of carapulcra that you eat with rice. The kind that goes with this pasta dish is made with fresh potatoes.

And no worries if you break the pasta. It's bound to happen. I'm so glad you liked it!
TB March 24, 2019
Carlos - Thanks for sharing this recipe, can’t wait to try it out. I remember having this in chincha as a kid during day trips with my uncle. Haven’t had this since.
Carlos C. March 25, 2019
I long to go to Chincha one day. I'm glad this recipe brought back pleasant memories.
Jc March 22, 2019
Could we get a recipe for Carapulcra too?
Carlos C. March 25, 2019
working on it, but you can reach out to me via email for a recipe