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.
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.
1-½ pounds fresh crabmeat (Dungeness or of equal quality)
4 cups white breadcrumbs, chopped in a food processor without crusts
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.