Ever since I saw this painting of the Last Supper that is on display in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in Cusco, Peru, I’ve been dying to taste cuy, Andean style guinea pig.
I considered just picking one up at PetSmart but I was worried about what they might have been injected with and I didn’t want to break any animal cruelty laws. A friend suggested substituting squirrel. The subsitution solution was a slippery slope though — sliding from guinea pig to squirrel to rabbit to chicken to those ersatz Chick’n Nuggets by VeggiePatch. I wanted the real thing.
A few weeks ago I posted this question on Yahoo! Answers and some guy replied that he had found some restaurants in Chicago that served guinea pig. I searched and found the same blog entry that he found, but my excitement was just a flash in the pan because the next blog I found said that there was a “city wide ban on serving exotic animals about a year ago [in Chicago].” The author went on to say, “Cuy fell into the banned category.” I was so upset. I called every single Ecuadorian and Peruvian restaurant in Chicago and they all made the same claim — no more cuy.
I was about to give up when I came upon this glimmer-of-hope blog comment: “[T]here is always an Ecuadorian (or Peruvian) waiting to take [a cuy] home on the orders of a jonesing granny.” I imagined all of the jonesing grannies in Chicago and hoped that they wouldn’t let the FDA come between them and their cuy. I realized I was going to have to take my search for caviidae underground — Chicago’s black market.
After two fruitless days of driving up and down the streets of Chicago looking for Ecuadorian and Peruvian groceries (Andrew scanned the right side of the street and I scanned the left side, since I was driving), I was ready to cry. I’d walk into a shop and shopkeepers’ smiles quickly turned into suspicious frowns as soon as I’d ask if they sold cuy. One man looked me up and down and I think he thought I was some kind of health inspector. On the morning of our third and last day in Chicago, we found a small Ecuadorian grocery that seemed to only sell phone cards. I asked the man working there if he knew where I could purchase cuy in Chicago. He gave me an inquisitive look at first but then revealed that he had a huge stash of them in the back room! I was such a doubting Thomas — I didn’t believe it until he popped open a huge freezer full of beautifully packaged, imported cuyes from Ecuador! They were 17 dollars each and the shopkeeper suggested I use a $3.99 achiote (annatto) oil to flavor the cuy while roasting it.
This is how the cuy was packaged.
Here is a photo of the prepared cuy. It is brightly colored because of the achiote oil. The other small pieces are crushed garlic. I baked it at 350 degrees F for 1 hour and broiled it for a few minutes at the end to make the skin extra crispy. I would describe the flavor as reminiscent of duck or fatty pork. I have read in other blogs that cuy tastes like frog, but mine certainly did not. I served the cuy with yams, prawn ceviche, potato bread and ají (the “official” sauce of Peru), rice and steamed huazontle
It looks a lot like the one in the painting.