Sabores of Southern Chile

So, for this blog I thought I’d take a little departure from my usual situation and write about food that I didn’t cook, but that I enjoyed very much.  And I’ll probably talk a little bit about my trip to the unbelievably picturesque location where I ate said food.

As some of you might know, if you read my blog from time to time, I am currently living in Santiago, Chile.  But I’m leaving in 6 days!  Argh.  I haven’t seen that in writing before.  That hurts.  Fighting back tears…Okay I’m fine.  Between this year and last year, when I studied abroad in and first fell in love with Chile, I’ve been here about 16 months and one of my goals was to get to know the country.  Chile is known as the land of fire and ice because of its extreme terrain.  I had a Chilean culture professor who said that when God made the earth he had a bunch of stuff like mountains, lakes, deserts and frozen tundra left over and threw it all into Chile.  What I’m getting at is that the landscape is dynamic and spectacular.  I’ve been to the north, where I’ve spent time in the driest desert in the world (San Pedro de Atacama) and I’ve been to the deep south, to Torres del Paine and Tierra del Fuego, which is basically the end of the world.  When you look past the coast the next piece of land is Antarctica.  It’s like, pretty crazy.

So, ever since I arrived here people have been telling me: “You’ve got to get to the lake region!  You’ve got to go to Chiloe!”  Except they tell me in Spanish, but I don’t know how many people reading this are fluent in Spanish so I figured I’d go with English.  Well, I finally got myself to the lake region.  I got myself to Chiloe.  Well, first I got myself to Puerto Varas.  It didn’t take long to figure out why they wanted me to go.

oh. i get it.

Yeah, that’s a volcano there in the background.

ok, no, yeah. i get it.

We spent a day in this beautiful city, which looked more like the page from a German storybook than anything else.  There is a lot of German ancestry in the city and you can really see the influence in the architecture.  If you look closely you can also see a restaurant called “Restaurant.”

In this city I ate some of the richest smoked salmon I’ve ever had.  It’s hard to find good, fleshy, salty smoked salmon in Chile.  It was so tender and delicious, I could have eaten a pound of it.  I mean.  I guess I basically did.

From Puerto Varas we took a bus and then a ferry and then a bus to Ancud, Chiloe.  Chiloe is an island, and it shows.  What I mean by that is it is so totally untouched by the outside world.  Everyone has at least a couple cows and an acre of land.  The local fisherman still use antiquated methods and old wooden fishing boats.  This is a picture of the virtually untouched Chiloe countryside.

not pictured: corporate greed.

My first meal in Chiloe was ceviche.  Cevicheee.  I say it like that because I love it.  It is one of my all-time favorite dishes and I have never been disappointed by Chilean ceviche.  This batch was particularly fantastic because I could take the freshness of the fish.  You know it’s fresh when you can look out the window and see a fishing boat sitting in the water.  This ceviche was made from merluza, a yummy, white fish very popular in Chile.  The rest of the ingredients were simple: bell peppers, lemon juice, cilantro.  It was very similar to my recipe for Chilean CevicheIt was much better than my friend’s dinner, which was fried merluza that took 30 minutes to prepare and came with what were essentially boiled potatoes in butter.  Not impressive.

One of the cool things you can do in Chiloe is get on a boat and go visit some penguins.  You can’t actually pick the penguins up and hug them, which I found disappointing, but you can look at them and take pictures from afar.

my camera got zoom y'all!

We saw penguins, cormorants, otters and sea lions.  It was a pretty magical experience.  And even without the animals, the view was spectacular.It was an unbelievably beautiful day, even though the ozone layer over southern Chile is gone and my face almost melted off.  Also, there was a little wind.

not pictured: melty face

After a hard day of penguin watching and boat sitting we were ready for the traditional dish of Chiloe known as curanto.  Curanto is either made in a giant pot or made in a hole in the ground.  It is made in giant batches and if you want the hole-in-the-ground curanto you need at least 10 people to commit to it.  10!  We opted for the giant pot kind since we only had 8 people and even though we only ordered 5 “servings” it was more more more than enough.  Here is a “serving.”

So, you’re thinking…what the f%&$ is all that?  That’s what I was thinking too.  Some of it was recognizable.  Clams and mussels make up the bottom layer.  There is chicken in there and some really tender ribs.  We’ve got a longaniza (Chilean hot sausage) on top there with a boiled potato (the only vegetable in sight) and then there were some squishy grey and cream colored doughy disks that we had to actually look up in my friend’s Chiloe book of fairytales to identify.  They are called “chapaleles” and they are made of flour, potato, salt, lard and sausage.  Kind of like a giant, fat dumpling.  The grey one was unsurprisingly kind of weird-tasting but the cream colored one was alright.  We ordered the curanto with wine because that’s what our taxi driver recommended.  Actually what he said was “You have to drink it with wine, red or white, it doesn’t matter.  Coca-Cola is okay.  But never, NEVER with Fanta!”  Needless to say there was not one bottle of Fanta on our table.

The stuff was actually pretty good.  My vegan friend did her best to be adventurous in her desire to sample the traditional fare and ate a head-sized portion of mussels and some potatoes.  The rest of us tackled the meat and while I appreciated it for the tradition and everything, I don’t know that I’d order it again.  It was a little too much.  Delicious, but too much.

way too much.

On the whole: Puerto Varas and Chiloe, highly recommended!

Chupe de mariscos (Shellfish stew)

The other day it hit me:  I only have two months left in Chile!  Aah!  Now I have to go have a real life and do adult things!  Nooooo!  Just kidding, I’m going to grad school!  Take that, real life!

Then I was hit by something else:  A desire to get to know Chile as well as I can in my remaining weeks, starting with the food.  Well, starting with a little town called Pomaire.

I went to Pomaire last year as part of a field trip for a Chilean culture class I took and found it to be too charming for words.  The entire town is filled with artisan potters who used a special kind of clay called “greda.”  It’s a dark, rich, brown clay that makes beautiful, sturdy pottery.  And it is CHEAP.  I bought these bowls and spoons for about $5.  Total.

The beauty of these bowls is that they’re strong enough to be put in the oven so you can cook individual portions inside them.  Mostly they are used for something called “pastel de choclo” which is a baked sweet corny meaty dish (coming soon) and chupe de mariscos. Chupe de mariscos is a shellfish stew with the consistency of oatmeal.  I know that description made it sound disgusting but trust me, if you’re a seafood lover you’ll love this dish.  My Chilean host mother made it for me last year and I fell in love.

I had absolutely no idea how to make this dish so I had to consult a recipe, here it is: http://www.terra.cl/gournet/index.cfm?pagina=recetas&id_receta=95

For those of you who can’t read Spanish, here’s the recipe in English.

32 oz. mixed shellfish (without their shells.  You can use crab, clams, scallops or anything you like)

2 onions

2 cloves of garlic

1 1/2 cups of milk

2 cups of bread crumbs

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Vegetable oil

The onions need tending to first.  Chop them up very fine and fry them in a little oil until they’re transparent.  Once they’re transparent add a little bit of boiling water to the frying pan and let it boil for less than a minute, then rinse the onions with cold water directly after.  This is so the onions don’t “repeat on themselves.”  (That’s what it says in Spanish but if I’m being honest I have no idea what that means.)  Set the onions aside.

Add your mariscos (shellfish) to a large pot on low heat.  Next add the garlic cloves (I like to smash them with the side of a knife to release the flavor) and the onions to the pot.  Add the milk and stir.  Keep an eye on the concoction and stir frequently, because you don’t want it to burn.  Once the mixture is just starting to boil take the garlic cloves out (unless you don’t mind biting into a clove, which I personally don’t) and add the bread crumbs and cheese.  If the mixture is too thick (you want it to be about the texture of cream of wheat or creamy mashed potatoes) add some boiling water and continue stirring.  Once it’s the texture you want it to be, preheat your oven to about 400 degrees.  If you have a setting where the heat only comes from the top of the oven, turn that setting on.

This is where my super cool Pomaire bowls come in.  If you don’t have bowls from a tiny town in Chile, don’t worry, all you need is something that can withstand the heat of the oven.  Portion the mixture evenly into the bowls and top with a layer of parmesan cheese.  Put the bowls in the oven until the cheese has nice browned on the top, probably about ten minutes.  Take the bows out and you have four individual little meals!  How perfect is that?

Spinach fettucine with seafood cream sauce

So, some of you might know that I’m an English teacher in Santiago, Chile and today was just the longest day everrr.  I finished a class at 2:30 and sat around until 5:30 for another class for administrators and guess what…  No one showed up. COOL.  So not only did I waste three hours of my life playing bubble spinner and following people on Twitter, I had to get home right in the middle of rush hour.  Rush hour in Chile on the metro is not so fun.

So I decided to alleviate some of my pain by making a stop at the gay BFF’s pad and we were talking and then one of them says “I’m gonna make pasta!”  And I was like “Great, I love pasta!”  And I got totally stoked for pasta.  And then he didn’t make it.

Which brings me to now, after a quick trip to the local grocery store, making this delicious pasta dish here in my own home and not sharing with anyone.

What I bought at the grocery store:

1 package of spinach fettucine

16 oz of choritos (okay, after some Googling it appears that these mollusks mostly only live in South America so I suggest you replace them with clams, or shrimp or if you don’t like seafood you can even use chopped mushrooms and if you don’t like any of those things I suggest you stop reading this recipe and order a pizza or something)

3 cloves of garlic, minced (I’ve said before that I like garlic more than I like most people.  If you don’t feel the same feel free to use less.)

2 tbs EVOO

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 tsp powdered onion

Pinch of nutmeg

2 tbs flour

2 tbs chopped chives (in Spanish they’re called “cebollin”, which is a cool word)

Hokay.  Here we go.

That pink liquid is my strawberry juice

Add the garlic, oil and choritos (or shrimp, or clams, or what-have-you) to a heavy saucepan and turn the heat up to med-high.  Let it simmer a bit, maybe five minutes, stirring frequently.  Next, add the cream and allow it to heat up for about five more minutes, still stirring frequently.  Add the parmesan, powdered onion and nutmeg.  Next add flour and make sure you stir with vigor!  The flour will clump easily and it’s not a bad idea to sift the flour before.  The flour helps the sauce to thicken.  Now add the chives.  Turn the heat down low and cover the sauce, stirring every minute or so to keep it from burning.

Now boil a large pot of water and add just a dab of oil to the water.  Throw in the pasta and cook it.  If the water is boiling it should only need about seven minutes.  After seven minutes drain the pasta and run it once under cool water to keep it from sticking.  You may then mix in the sauce or serve the pasta individually and top it with the sauce.  This recipe easily feeds four.

Hey, you did it!  Good for you!  NOW EAT IT!