Chile's Hearty Cuisine

Time for Comida Chilena's coming-out party.


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Who would raise an eyebrow at the concept of matching Italian food with Italian wine? Or French cuisine with a fine Burgundy? Or even nouvelle American cooking, for a flash in time called Cal-Cuisine, with a domestic Cabernet or Chardonnay? But authentic Chilean food paired with Chilean wines? Now that's a new one.

Not much has been made of what Chilean gastronomy is, while plenty has been made, especially in recent years, of what Chilean wine is. But Chile has a rich culinary tradition that dates back centuries. With its 3,000 miles of coastline, Chile's bounty of seafood is one of the richest on earth. Way beyond Chilean sea bass—which is actually the Patagonian toothfish—Chile's waters offer up tons of salmon, tuna, hake, conger eel and corvina (what the locals call sea bass). From the shell, there's abalone, king crab, razor clams, oysters, mussels and more. Sea urchin to barnacle, swordfish to sea trout, chances are that if it lives in the southern portion of the Pacific Ocean, you can eat it in Chile.

Back on dry land, Chile is about as fertile a country as there is any place on earth. And we're not just talking winegrapes. Chile is also one of the leading growers and exporters of avocados, tree fruits and berries. In addition, farmers in the extreme north of the country grow some of the world's most exotic fruits, things like the cherimoya, lúcuma and carica, just to name a few. And that's not even getting into the range of vegetables produced in Chile.

Chile's modern-day cooks can also find inspiration in any number of traditional recipes that have been passed down over the centuries. For example, there's the empanada de pino (meat turnover), the pastel de choclo (corn pie with a meat filling) and the cazuela (Chilean stew), all of which were introduced to the country's immigrant populations by native Indians, including the influential Mapuches and Araucanos.

"I would say that our cuisine is a fusion of the indigenous kitchen, things brought by the Spanish conquistadors, and finally the influence of immigrants from Europe, France in particular," notes Pilar Rodríguez, once Tommy Hilfiger's director of marketing for Latin America and since 1999 head of Comida y Vino, a progressive catering company based in the coastal town of Pichilemu. "But today I'm focusing on the flavors our country has to offer, which are hugely varied."

As for how Chilean food goes with Chilean wine, the number of happy marriages appears infinite. Shellfish or ceviche with Sauvignon Blanc; empanadas with anything light to medium in body—white, red or rosé; crab and fish with Chardonnay; barbecued meats with myriad reds ranging from Cabernet Sauvignon to Carmenère, Chile's signature grape. With this much potential, you're practically guaranteed success.

"I can take a perfect piece of Easter Island tuna and all I need to do is make a crust of Chilean sea salt, cilantro seeds from the south, and merquén, which is a uniquely Chilean smoky spice made from special red chilies originally grown by the Mapuches," says Rodríguez. "I think this dish would go nicely with a Pinot Noir or an elegant Chardonnay."
Make that a Chilean Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.

Empanadas de Pino Con Pebre (Chilean Meat Turnovers with Fresh Salsa)
For this traditional Chilean snack we offer a consolidation of recipes from Rodríguez and Margarita Rojas, house chef for Viu Manent, a winery in Chile's Colchagua Valley.

Pino, a filling made from spiced ground beef, onions, hard-boiled eggs, black olives and raisins, gets its name from the Mapuche word "pinu." Other traditional Chilean dishes, particularly pastel del choclo (corn pie), also employ the pino filling. For empanadas, which in Chile are frequently made in a mud horno but can just as easily be baked in a modern indoor oven, the pino must be made in advance and chilled so that it won't run when placed inside the empanadas prior to baking.

The pebre, meanwhile, is a simple Chilean salsa fresca.

For the pino filling:

 Empanadas de pino con pebre

3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 cups onions, minced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or smashed
2½ tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon paprika
½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon Cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¾ cup chicken or beef stock
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the dough:
7 cups all-purpose flour
6 ounces vegetable shortening
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons white wine (optional)
1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 1 1/2 cups
warm water

To finish:
24 pitted black olives
3 or 4 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and cut into wedges
½ cup golden raisins
Egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water)

For the pebre, combine:
1 medium red onion, minced
2 tablespoons red bell pepper, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons fresh chile peppers such as
jalapeño or serrano, seeded and minced
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Dash of red wine vinegar

To make the filling: Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add onion and sauté lightly for a few minutes. Add garlic, oregano, paprika, cumin and Cayenne pepper, stirring occasionally but not browning. Add the ground beef and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dissolve flour in stock and add stock to mixture. Cook uncovered for up to 15 minutes, or until most of the juices have evaporated. Mixture should be moist but not runny. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

To make the dough: Sift flour onto a clean, smooth work surface. Make a well in the center; add the shortening, butter, wine and some of the salt water. Using a wooden spoon and adding more salt water as needed, combine ingredients as quickly as possible until you get a soft dough. Do not overwork the dough or it will result in an overly tough pastry. Wrap in a kitchen towel and let sit for 15 minutes.

To finish: Preheat oven to 400°F and set up a station to fill and assemble your empanadas. Before assembling, roll the dough into a log and slice into a dozen equal pieces. Working with one slice at a time, roll dough pieces into circles about 8 inches in diameter and about ¼ inch thick. Put at least two full tablespoons of pino mixture onto each circle, topping the mound off with two olives, a wedge of hard egg and a few raisins. Leave a margin of about ¾ inch and brush the margin all around with a little water. Then close the empanadas by folding each in half. To secure the filling, place the straight edge of the half-circle toward you; then fold in the left edge, the right edge, and the top to make a square. Seal the corners with your thumb, making a deep imprint.

Brush empanadas with egg wash and poke three small holes into each with a toothpick so that they breathe and won't open during baking. Bake 20 minutes, or until the pastry is nicely browned and the filling is piping hot. Serve immediately with freshly made pebre.

Wine recommendations: With the mild sweetness of the raisins and the kick from the pebre, these empanadas, despite having a meaty base, call for something fresh and acidic. Consider Viu Manent's Secreto Sauvignon Blanc or Montes's brand-new Syrah rosé, called Cherub.

Pastel de Jaibas (Chilean Crab Casserole)
A treasure trove of delicious sweet crabs are pulled from the icy waters of the Chilean Pacific. This recipe melds pastel de jaibas recipes from Rodríguez and Jorge "Coco" Pacheco, chef and owner of Santiago's renowned seafood restaurant Aquí Esta Coco. The aji chileno for this recipe should be made in advance.

1½ pounds fresh crabmeat (Dungeness or of equal quality)
4 cups white breadcrumbs, chopped in a food processor without crusts

 Chilean crab casserole

2 cups milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dry oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup fish or shellfish stock
1 cup whipping cream
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons aji chileno

For the aji chileno:
10 jalapeño peppers
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable or olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled

To make the aji chileno: Cut the chile peppers in half, discarding all or almost all of the seeds. Marinate overnight or at least for several hours in vinegar to soften the skins. After marinating, discard liquid and purée peppers in a food processor with oil and garlic. Keep the aji in a sealed jar to add to the pastel de jaibas.

To make the crab casserole: Clean the crabmeat, making sure to separate out any shell or cartilage. Mix bread crumbs and milk in a bowl and set aside. Heat olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan and sauté onions with butter, garlic, paprika, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. Deglaze pan with white wine and cook down for 2 to 3 minutes, adding the stock.
Next, add in crabmeat, bread and milk mixture, and cream. Cook 5 minutes, stirring the whole time. Season with 2 teaspoons of aji chileno, or more to taste. Check overall seasonings and adjust to taste. By now the mixture should be moist and creamy, but not runny. If too runny, let simmer another 5 minutes until thickened. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F.

Divide mixture into one large clay pot, called a pomaire in Chile after the artisan town that specializes in producing them, or into 8 individual gratin dishes. (Editor's note: intrepid chefs can even load the mixture back into the empty crab shells.) Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake until golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 8.

Wine recommendations: A modern-style Chardonnay with a touch of buttery oak is the perfect wine for this dish. Try Marqués de Casa Concha or the pricier Amelia, both from Concha y Toro. Casa Lapostolle's Cuvée Alexandre from the Casablanca Valley will also go well with this dish.

Chocolate Meltaway Cakes with Caricas
The recipe for these hedonistic little cakes is courtesy of Elizabeth Pilar, food stylist and cookbook author, as well as co-owner of How Sweet It Is, a custom bakery in New York. The centers of these cakes ooze with chocolate and the exotic flavor of caricas, which come canned or preserved in jars. Along with the cakes, a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of vanilla ice cream is the perfect accompaniment.

Caricas, Chilean papayas, are available from specialty food stores in a number of eastern U.S. cities. For a direct source, try www.tamayagourmet.cl/carica.htm and click the "Buy Carica Online" option.

Caricas run about $15 a jar through www.chefswarehouse.com.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

 Chocolate meltaway cakes with Caricas

8 ounces unsalted butter, cubed. plus extra for molds
4 eggs
4 egg yolks
3 ounces granulated sugar
3 ounces cake flour, plus extra for molds
6 tablespoons caricas, diced

Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat six 4-ounce ramekins or ovenproof baking molds with butter and a dusting of flour. Melt chocolate and 8 ounces of butter in a double boiler and stir until smooth. Whisk together eggs and egg yolks until well combined, then whisk in sugar. Add cake flour to melted chocolate and whisk until smooth. Gradually add egg mixture into chocolate mixture and whisk until well combined and batter clings to side of bowl.

Pour batter into each mold, filling half way. Add one tablespoon diced caricas to center of each mold or ramekin, then continue filling with batter until just below rim. Bake molds or ramekins on a baking sheet placed in the oven's center for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are firm and starting to rise above molds. Centers of cakes should be a bit loose and runny.
To plate, place a dessert plate over each mold and invert. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Serves 6.

Wine recommendations: Chile's dry climate is not overly supportive of the botrytis that yields world-class dessert wines in places like France, Austria and Germany. However, in certain years (like 2004) Montes makes a late-harvest, botrytised blend of Gewürztraminer and Riesling that's nothing short of excellent. A simpler, less expensive option is Morandé's late-harvest Riesling.

 

 

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