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Cuy in the realm of cuisine is both its most obvious and common usage in the Andes. Foreign visitors to Ecuadorian and Peruvian cities are often struck by the sights, sounds, and smells of roast cuy being sold on the streets just as hot dogs are sold in the United States. Live cuys are sold at markets, and restaurants often feature an assortment of cuy dishes. Methods of preparation include but are certainly not limited to: broiling, usually with an oil or lard glaze; roasting; frying, known as chactado or frito which involves hammering the meat first; in soups or broths, called locro de cuy; boiled or chanka de conejo; and barbequed, prepared by and for the community and locally called pachamanca. Upper class dining establishments have begun to sophisticate traditional methods of preparation by incorporating the meat into foreign dishes such as cuy fricassee or cuy casseroles, but roasted cuy is almost universally accepted to be the best way to eat it. Supposedly roast cuy best showcases the best qualities of the cuy: sweet, smoky, aesthetically pleasing, a homogeneous temperature, and served whole. Roast cuy is also the most labor intensive means of preparation, limiting its consumption to special occasions and celebrations. To be served roasted cuy in an Andean household is to be honored with particular distinction, equivalent to killing the “fatted calf” in English idiom. [A lyric in a popular Quechuan folk song is “Hey old lady, if you want me to be your son-in-law, open your door and serve me a whole cuy.”]

Just as there are a variety of ways to cook cuy, the best method of slaughter is disagreed upon and varies by region. A quick neck breaking is considered by many to be the most humane and leave the best tasting meat. In Ecuador, the butcher presses the head forward, resulting in a quick death and conservation of most of the blood. Other methods include cutting the throat, used primarily in Bolivia and parts of Peru, and asphyxia, common in Colombia. However, cutting the throat is condemned for allowing too much blood to escape the meat leaving it dry and flavorless, and asphyxia supposedly pains the cuy an excessive amount. Regardless of the means of death, the cuy is then submerged in boiling water for a few seconds, skinned, and eviscerated.

No matter how the cuy is killed or prepared, it is always eaten with the hands and fingers – never a fork and knife. This practice leaves a tell-tale sweet smell on the fingers of the eater called tufo, making it difficult to explain a night of cuy eating and beer drinking with the boys to a waiting wife. Cuy is almost always accompanied by beer and potatoes, but of course each restaurant and region prides itself on its own special means of cooking the cuy itself: La Namorina in Peru is famous for fried cuy; Chola Flora in Bolivia serves boiled cuy; and in Ecuador many restaurants astound guests with broiled cuy turned on a spit. Ceremonially, cuy is treated as a food marking special occasions or transitions from one stage of life to the next. Examples of household or community cuy feasts include marriages, christenings, a boy’s first haircut, to request a favor, and to negotiate courtships and marriages between two families. Of late, gatherings centered around cuy have been extended to incorporation into street fairs or fundraising for non-profit organizations.

Recipe for Roasted Cuy
For 2-3 large animals; serves 4-6
2 red onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp white pepper
2 tsp of salt
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons oil
annatto [for coloring]

Mix ingredients well and spread over the inside and outside of the animal. Allow to marinate for up to one day to allow flavors to meld. Before roasting, remove excess marinade to avoid scalding. The spit should be inserted into the back part of the animal and exit from the jaw. Once on the stick, tie the front and back feet, stretching out the legs. Put on grill, turning manually. Continue to apply lard to the skin to avoid drying out the meat. The cuy is ready when the skin is close to bursting. Serve with boiled potatoes sprinkled with coriander, chilies, and the following peanut sauce. If your community is especially progressive, rice may be substituted for the potatoes.

Peanut Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons lard
annatto coloring
2 white onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic
pinch of cumin
1 large cup of roasted and ground coffee with peanuts
3 ½ cups milk

Fry onions until golden brown, then add other ingredients. Cook at low heat for at least half an hour.
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