Crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, Arepa Reina Pepiada is a corn cake stuffed to the brim with creamy and tangy chicken salad. This Venezuelan staple is a must try and super easy to prepare with just a few readily available ingredients. You can serve them as appetizers or enjoy them as a main course alongside a delicious salad or grilled vegetables.
The chicken salad filling is both Whole30 and Paleo compliant. The arepas, on the other hand, are not. However, they are gluten-free and an excellent option for anyone living their Food Freedom.
What Are Arepa Reina Pepiada?
The story goes that after Susana Duijm was crowned Miss World in 1955, the Álvarez brothers and their mother, María de los Santos Álvarez, owners of a famous arepera in Caracas, Venezuela, named an arepa in her honour. They called it the “reina pepiada”, which translates to “curvy queen.” They stuffed an arepa, a thick, cornmeal pancake, with a creamy chicken salad made with shredded chicken, mayonnaise, onion, avocado, and cilantro. Today, it’s one of the most common arepa fillings throughout Venezuela, and rightfully so. It’s extremely simple, yet remarkably delicious.
The first time I tried Reina Pepiada was at my friends José and Maria’s house and I’ve been hooked ever since. Their version includes a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a dash of Tajín, which takes things to the next level.
What You Need for Arepa Reina Pepiada
- Pre-Cooked Cornmeal: When making arepas, it’s very important to use the correct type of cornmeal. Look for one that says fine-ground and pre-cooked. Doñarepa and P. A. N. are probably the two most common brands you’ll find in North American markets. Sometimes the flour can be labeled masarepa, which is not to be confused with masa harina. Masarepa comes in both white and yellow cornflour varieties.
- Pre-Cooked Chicken: Leftover roasted, poached or rotisseried chicken can all be used to prepare the reina pepiada filling. It’s an excellent way to repurpose your leftovers and you can prepare the chicken salad in advance. Just don’t let it sit for too long because the avocado in the chicken salad will oxidize and brown over time.
- Onion: You can use yellow or white in this recipe. I personally like to use sweet, white onion because it is less bitter and also won’t discolour the chicken salad. If you use yellow onion, you can rinse it under some cold water after chopping to mellow out some of the harsh flavour. If you decide to substitute red onion, just keep in mind that it may discolour the chicken salad. It’s not a deal breaker but it will just have a slightly different appearance.
- Mayonnaise: You can use any store-bought mayonnaise you like or make a batch from scratch with the recipe in my cookbook. If buying store-bought, Chosen Foods makes an excellent avocado-oil mayonnaise with clean ingredients. The best price you’ll find is at Costco.
- Avocado: Not only does the avocado add a beautiful, light-green colour to the reina pepiada filling, it also gives it an extra creamy and silky texture.
- Fresh Cilantro: If you’re not a fan of cilantro, you can substitute fresh parsley.
- Lime Juice: To cut through the richness of the mayonnaise and brighten up the flavours in the chicken salad, try adding some freshly-squeezed lime juice.
- Tajín: The secret ingredient in José and Maria’s reina pepiada is a healthy dash of Tajín. It may not be “traditional” but it completely transforms the dish.
Other arepa fillings…
If you’re not in the mood for a reina pepiada, you can stuff the arepas with a wide variety of fillings. Everything from beans, grated cheese, eggs, cured meats, grilled vegetables, and stewed meats like the Venezuelan Carne Mechada, are all fantastic options. They’re also delicious when served hot and fresh with some butter.
Though it crosses some cultural and culinary borders, I personally love filling the arepas with some Cuban-style Picadillo.
Arepa Reina Pepiada
For the Reina Pepiada:
- 2 roasted or poached cold chicken breasts deboned and skin removed, substitute 4 chicken thighs
- 1/2 medium white onion finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves finely chopped
- 1/4 cup 30-Mississippi Mayonnaise page 230, or mayonnaise of choice
- 1 ripe medium avocado diced
- 3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lime juice
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon Tajín seasoning optional
For the Arepas:
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups masarepa fine-ground, pre-cooked cornmeal
- 1/4 cup avocado oil for frying
For the Reina Pepiada:
- Using your hands, shred the chicken into strands. Add the chicken to a large mixing bowl along with the onion, cilantro, mayonnaise, avocado, lime juice, salt, pepper, and Tajín, if using. Stir until combined. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and lime juice as desired. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Store for up to 5 days in the fridge.
For The Arepas:
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the water and salt and stir until dissolved. Slowly add the masarepa while stirring with a spoon. Continue stirring until no longer clumpy and a dough forms. It should be dry enough that it doesn’t stick to your hands, yet wet enough that it doesn’t crack when you flatten it. You can adjust with more masarepa and water as needed.
- Shape the dough into a ball, place it back in the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let the dough rest for 10 minutes to allow the dough to hydrate.
- Separate the dough into 4 equal-sized portions for large arepas and form into balls. Using the palms of your hands, gently flatten the balls into discs approximately ¾-inches thick.
- Line a plate with a paper towel and set aside. Add half of the avocado oil to a large cast-iron or non-stick skillet and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Working in batches, carefully add the arepas to the hot oil and fry until golden brown, around 4 minutes. Flip and cook the second side until golden brown for an additional 4 minutes. Add more oil if needed. Transfer the arepas to the prepared paper towel-lined plate and set it aside as you fry the remaining arepas.
- Using a sharp paring knife, make a horizontal incision along half of the arepa to create a pocket. Stuff the pocket with the prepared Reina Pepiada filling and serve. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. The arepas can be reheated in a 350F oven until warmed through, around 10 minutes.