Get Cooking: Uncle sous chef, Carolina Zubiate, shares award-winning recipe for seco de carne

Many hundreds of years ago, the land we now call Peru (and, to some extent, Ecuador and Bolivia) gave to the world of cooking three foods: the capsicum pepper, the tomato and the potato, great culinary gifts all.

Not so long ago, 29 years now, Peru also gave us Carolina Zubiate, in her preferred and markedly humble way, yet a great gift to us. She is sous chef at Uncle, a well-trafficked ramen shop in Denver’s Highland neighborhood. She also kills it cooking the food of her native Peru.

On March 4 this year, she won first prize at a chefs’ competition held at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s School of Hospitality’s “Colorado Bean Summit” with a recipe gifted her by her grandfather, Victor Salmón. It is the well-known and much-beloved meat preparation of Peru, seco de carne.

“It isn’t really ‘seco’ at all,” says Zubiate, knowing that, in Spanish, the word “seco” means “dry” or “dried.” “But,” she adds, “Peruvians like to joke around. So, calling it ‘seco’ when it’s clearly not, you know, is a little joke.”

“My grandfather lived with my parents, my siblings and me,” she says,” and fed me daily until I was 16. He grew up eating a lot of chicken, but grew tired of it, so my diet was very seafood- and red meat-forward.

“When we moved here from Peru,” she says, “he and I shared bunk beds for a few years. They were some of my favorite years. But he only lived with us a few years before moving back to Peru. Once he returned, I really leaned into cooking, for comfort and a taste of home.”

Zubiate communicated with her grandfather about her cooking dozens of times over the years before he died in 2021. “It’s been very difficult since his passing,” says Zubiate, “but I only can be thankful for all the wonderful memories that we shared together.”

The recipes here, all from Zubiate, make up a complete plate, with the chalaquita, an onion relish, as a sort of palate refresher and the tacu-tacu, that famed native American combination of beans and grains. “Taku” means “mixed” in the language of the Quechua people, one of the indigenous populations of Peru.

Peru’s also equally famed yellow chile, the aji amarillo, makes its appearance here as well. It would be rare to find fresh chiles aji amarillo hereabouts, although you may find them canned or frozen (or the paste made from them) online or at some local Latinx markets.

For cooking, Zubiate advises, “if you use a whole aji amarillo from a can, rinse it and sear it in a skillet. If frozen, thaw it by boiling it.” The recipe here is a close approximation to the paste made of the chiles, constructed of ingredients more readily sourced.

Seco de Carne

From Chef Carolina Zubiate. Serves 4-6.


  • 1 bunch cilantro, well washed
  • 1/2 cup lager or IPA beer
  • 2 pounds beef chuck or lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • Canola or other neutral vegetable oil
  • 1 medium red onion peeled and sliced
  • 1 whole aji amarillo, rough chopped, or 2 tablespoons aji amarilllo paste, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock


Blanch the entire bunch of cilantro in boiling water for a few seconds, then shock in a bath of ice water. Spin dry or drain off excess water and, in a blender or food processor, blend into a slurry with the beer. Set aside.

Season the meat pieces with salt. Over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, sear the meat in 2-3 tablespoons of the oil until browned on all sides. (Do this in batches, if necessary, setting the meat aside after each batch, so the meat does not “steam.”) When finished browning, set the meat aside.

In the same pot, adding a bit more oil if necessary, cook the onions until they begin to lose their color, 6-7 minutes, then the aji amarillo, cumin and garlic, for 90 seconds more.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Add the “cilantro beer” to the cooking vegetables and reduce by 1/2. Add the chicken stock and mix well. In a blender, purée the contents of the pot (do in batches if very hot).

To the pot, add the seared meat pieces and lay them flat. Pour the blended mix over them, being sure that the liquid just covers the meat pieces. Cover the pot with a layer of plastic wrap, a tight-fitting layer of aluminum foil and the pot cover.

Cook in the oven for 3 hours or until the meat is very tender, rotating the tightly-covered pot in the oven once or twice during the cooking.

Aji Amarillo Paste

A close approximation of the paste made from aji amarillo chiles. Makes 1 cup; freezes well.


  • 1 medium red bell pepper
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper
  • 5 yellow or orange habanero or scotch bonnet peppers, or to taste
  • Canola or other neutral vegetable oil
  • Kosher or sea salt


Remove the seeds and veins from the bell peppers. Wearing protective gloves, do the same with the other peppers. Chop the peppers into small pieces.

In 2-3 tablespoons of the oil, over medium-low heat, cook the pepper pieces until they begin to break down and soften markedly. Do not brown them. Using a food processor, pulse the peppers a few times into a rough paste.

With the motor running, pour 1 cup of the oil through the feed to emulsify the peppers and oil into a smoother paste. (You may strain the paste if you wish it even smoother.) Store in a clean glass jar in the refrigerator or, for smaller portions, divide into an ice cube tray and freeze.

Chalaquita (Onion Relish)

Use this as you would any relish, pico de gallo, for example, or corn relish.


  • 1 small red onion, peeled and julienned
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, leaves and tender stems, chopped
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


In a large bowl, twice rinse the onions in cold water, squeezing them lightly after each rinse and then shaking them dry after the second rinse. Combine with the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Tacu-Tacu (Fried Rice and Bean Cakes)

Makes 8-10 cakes. It is easier to form the cakes so that they do not crumble while frying if the mix has been refrigerated overnight. Also, coating with a dusting of cornstarch may help in the same way.


  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • Canola or other neutral vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano, Mexican or Mediterranean
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups leftover cooked rice


Sweat down the onions in 2 tablespoons of the oil until they are softened and have lost their color, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and oregano and season with salt and pepper and cook 1 minute more. Add the stock and beans, bring to a healthy simmer and reduce by half.

With a potato masher or heavy whisk, smash about 1/2 of the whole beans in the pot, then fold in the rice and incorporate well. When cool enough to handle, form into cakes about 1-inch thick and 3-4 inches across, frying the cakes in more oil until they are crisp and golden brown.

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