The first time I ever ate causa, I was a newlywed, just beginning to learn about Peruvian cuisine. My husband’s brother Ricardo came to visit; I knew that in addition to being a professor, author and journalist, he is also an expert gourmet cook in his own right, and has contributed to the Spanish-language Gourmet magazine. So I was very excited that he had offered to cook for us.

But once I heard that he was making causa – and found out what it was – I was disappointed… and slightly horrified. As an American who never cared for hot mashed potatoes, I wondered how, for the sake of politeness, I was going to choke down a plate of cold lumpy mush. And even with my minimal familiarity with marital politics, I knew this would be required.

I was more a little surprised after my first bite. Causa was absolutely delicious! It was nothing like I’d imagined. It’s a perfect metaphor for Peruvian cuisine itself: it takes humble ingredients, marries them uniquely, and presents them in an entirely new light.  Muchas gracias, Tio Richard!

This is a beloved and ubiquitous Peruvian dish. There are conflicting tales of its origin. One story states that it originated in pre-Colombian times: kausay in Quechua means “what nurtures you” or “what gives you life,” which many believe was the name of an Inca meal of papa amarilla and ají amarillo.  Another story asserts that causa originated from the time of the War of the Pacific. When food for the troops ran short, Peruvian women ran from door to door, seeking supplies. Most people offered the abundant potato, along with whatever they could spare; so the women prepared the hodgepodge ingredients in a kind of sandwich, for convenience and portability. As the women fed the troops, they are said to have declared: “Por la causa!” (“For the Cause!”) Thus, according to legend, causa was born.

Whatever its origins, causa can now be found in all facets of Peruvian life – at home, in restaurants, at parties and events – with unlimited variations. I would be hard-pressed to find a more perfect summer meal than causa. Cool and refreshing, yet loaded with flavor and just a touch of spice, it matches wonderfully with a slightly sweet Riesling. Just in time for the hot weather!

This is my own version of causa limeña. It combines two of my favorite things: seafood and pisco. I urge you to give it a chance!

 

Seafood Causa
Servings Prep Time
8servings 1hour
Cook Time
55minutes
Servings Prep Time
8servings 1hour
Cook Time
55minutes
Ingredients
Potato Filling
  • 1pound yellow potatoes
  • 2Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/4cup ají amarillo paste
  • 1/4tsp. salt (to taste)
  • 1/4tsp. white pepper (to taste)
Yucca Filling
  • 1pound yucca, frozen
  • 1/2each fresh lemon juice
  • 2Tbsp. butter
  • 3Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/4tsp. salt (to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper (to taste)
Seafood Filling
  • 1large red onion, minced
  • 1Tbsp. rice wine or apple cider vinegar
  • 8oz. shrimp, deveined, 31-35 count
  • 3Tbsp. butter, unsalted
  • 1/4cup (1) Pisco
  • 4fillets white fish (cod, sole, flounder)
  • 1cup crab meat, lump
  • 1/2each lemon juice, fresh
  • 1each lemon zest
  • 1cup mayonnaise, fresh
  • 1/4cup (1) rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4tsp. salt (to taste)
  • 1/4tsp. white pepper
Poaching LIquid
  • 1cup fish or vegetable stock
  • 1tsp. (2) rice wine or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4cup (2) Pisco
  • 1each baking soda
  • 1/2tsp. Kosher salt
Garnish
  • 1recipe mayonesa de palta
  • 1whole avocado
  • 4oz. shrimp, 31-35 count, cooked
Instructions
Potato Filling:
  1. Place potatoes, skins on, in a pot; fill with enough cold salted water to cover.
  2. Bring to a boil; simmer until fork tender (about 15-20 minutes). Cool slightly, then peel.
  3. While still warm, run through a food mill or sieve, or mash with a ricer, until smooth and without lumps. You can also work by hand. (Do not process in a food processor; you will wind up with glue!)
  4. Add salt, oil, butter and ají amarillo; blend well. Set aside to cool.
Yucca Filling
  1. Place yucca in cold salted water in a pot; fill with enough cold salted water to cover. Squeeze half a lemon into the water; then add the lemon itself.
  2. Bring to a boil; simmer until fork tender (about 20-25 minutes). Cool slightly. Remove fibrous strings; discard.
  3. While still warm, run through a food mill or sieve (or mash with a ricer) until smooth and without lumps. You can also work by hand.
  4. Add salt, oil and butter; blend well. Set aside to cool.
Seafood Filling:
  1. Place minced onion in a bowl; add vinegar (1), then fill with water. Soak for 5-10 minutes; then drain.
  2. In a medium pot with a lid (or small rondeau), sauté shrimp in butter (including garnish shrimp) over medium-high heat until pink. Set aside to cool. When cool, reserve garnish shrimp; remove shells and dice the remaining shrimp.
  3. Sauté onion until soft and translucent. Deglaze with pisco (1). Taste; add salt and white pepper as desired. Prepare Mayonesa de Palta; set aside.
  4. When alcohol evaporates, add stock, vinegar (2), pisco (2), and bay leaf. Bring liquid to a simmer.
  5. Maintain heat at a very low simmer. Gently lay fish on top of onions, but make sure it is submerged in the liquid.
  6. Cover and poach fish for about 6-8 minutes / until fish is firm. Remove fish and onions from pan using a slotted spoon. (Don’t worry if it falls apart!) Drain well – squeeze out excess liquid if necessary – and allow to cool.
  7. Mix fish with diced shrimp, crab, mayonnaise, lemon juice and zest.
  8. Taste; add salt and white pepper as desired.
  9. Prepare Mayonesa de Palta; set aside.
To Assemble:
  1. Lightly grease a Pyrex dish with vegetable oil. Line it with plastic wrap, then lightly oil plastic wrap once again.
  2. Layer fillings into the dish. Start with yucca on the bottom; then seafood; then potato.
  3. Smooth each layer with an offset spatula.
  4. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  5. Remove top plastic wrap; spread avocado mayonnaise evenly over the top. Refrigerate ½ hour to 1 hour more.
  6. When chilled, cut 3 x 3, to make 9 squares. Clean your knife in between each cut.
  7. Garnish with avocado slices and whole shrimp.
Recipe Notes

Tips

Court bouillon is the traditional liquid for poaching fish. But there are enough steps with this recipe already! If you poach fish frequently, and want to have court bouillon on hand (it keeps for a long time), you can find an easy recipe here.

Variations

Causa variations are limited only by the imagination! Substitute your favorite chicken or tuna salad for the seafood. For a vegetarian option, replace the seafood with diced roasted vegetables (eggplant and roasted peppers are particularly good).

For a boost of flavor, reduce the poaching liquid until there is just a small residue in the bottom of the pot. Cool, then add ½ to 1 tsp. to the seafood filling (but make sure to omit any added salt).

For a pretty presentation, lightly oil a ring mold; layer as above; remove and garnish.