Welcome to a tutorial I like to call “From life to lunch” how to cook cuy. Or perhaps better known in North America as the guinea pig.
Step one: Make friends with local family
I always wanted my first edible guinea pig experience to be memorable & while traveling through Peru on my motorcycle I ran across a number of road-side stalls selling them right off the spit. I don’t know, the mini-pig on a spit just didn’t appeal to me. However, as fate would have it, I ended up in a small village called Villa Rica with an extremely nice family for a month. On a tour of the families properties one day I was offered cuy for lunch, so I countered and ask if they could show me the whole process and how to prepare it. The Grandma of the family seemed to think this might be an interesting experience for the both of us and with that, I would find myself in her kitchen at 10am the next morning.
Now, I grew up in Canada, so the whole idea of this was a huge mental challenge. I found myself, constantly reminding myself, that this was not really much different to them than a chicken was to me. It grows quickly, there is not much fat, it eats a clean diet & well it’s meant to be delicious. Yet the internal mental battle of the hamsters I had as pets as a kid VS what was now about to be a larger version for lunch, was almost unbearable. I was fidgety and reluctant to help with the selection process from the wooden pen they called home. I could feel her eyes roll as I stood back four feet while she explained how to pick a good one. Finally, Grandma made the decision and a boy was chosen whom was about three months old, I’m told that is a good age to eat. It was placed in a big sack, and we headed to the kitchen in order to “prepare the lunch”.
Step two: Turn off mental controversies
From here it was an hour of rapid non-stop hand movements from a spirited lady who clearly does not spend much time sitting still. She was crafty, talented and swift. With a quick swipe of the neck from her sharp knife, the blood would quickly rush from the cuys’ body and right out of my face as well, this was the turning point.
I recall when I went sky-diving at sixteen, it was solo, not tandem, and I was so hungover I could hardly see. Yet jumping out of a perfectly good plane while my Mother sat crying at home seemed a good idea. The whole lead up to the actual jump was quite relaxed, until the moment the plane door opened, it was that moment I was utterly scared. This was the exact feeling in reverse. I had so much angst, and as soon is it was over for the cuy, I suddenly felt calm as though we were prepping up roast chicken for Sunday brunch.
Step three: Get your hands dirty
The blood was saved for the dogs, then the cuy was dipped in a pot of recently boiled water to loosen the hair. The knife was then used to scrape off the remaining hairs and a final roll of the corpse was made across open flames to singe off any microfibers. Then another pot of boiling water was set rolling with some added herbs while she cleaned and quartered the meat, all the while explaining to me the health benefits and the cuys’ lack of cholesterol. From here the cuy was boiled for roughly 8-10 minutes in the herb water. The cuy was then removed from the water and laid to rest while a separate pot of oil was heated. Like all great South American meals, this one too would be finished in hot boiling broth of healthy oil. Once brought up to about 375oF, each little micro limb was placed into the oil bath while the water from the previous bath would snap and pop against the oil. I think all the non-cholesterol benefits were now gone.
From here Grandma, side-stepped over to another pot where some yucca was boiling then slipped to a separate kitchen to whip up a fast salad, that was run through a quick Clorox cleanse to kill any bacteria. This was clearly not her first day in the kitchen. In what seemed like one swift motion, the cuy was lifted out from the pot while into that same oil slide some sliced plantain. Like an elegantly choreographed move, she sashayed over to retrieve the yucca and quickly disappeared to shake off the greens and have our salad readied. Out with the plantain, off with the gas burner and we headed to the main house with lunch for me and the rest of my new Peruvian family. It all seemed so smooth and effortlessly brought together, I was feeling more like a dance than a culinary class.
Step four: Insert Guinea pig in mouth without awkwardly giggling
I could hardly keep from smirking as Grandma, Grandpa, son, grandson and a niece all sat down with me for lunch in their house. They asked what was the grin about & in my mid-grade Spanish I explained that I had never in my life eaten this dish that they had been eating weekly since they had teeth. I said that if someone in Canada had walked in on our family eating cuy, they would call the police and I would be in prison. They looked at me as though I’d just used their Bible to prop up the kickstand on my motorbike, I could feel the inquisitiveness though no words were exchanged.
With a six-year-old gnawing on a little leg and Grandpa going for the micro-rib, they tried to explain to me the benefits of each piece to help aid my decision-making process. It all just looked like a kids' meal from KFC to me, I went for the leg.
Aside from the mental aspect, it was tasty, light and just as enjoyable as any Sunday family chicken I’d had in my own country. Maybe don’t try this at home people, however, if you find yourself in Peru, I’d say try it there.