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, a fresh hot pepper seasoning called for in recipe, must be made in advance. When working with hot chiles, it is a good idea to wear protective plastic gloves.
With its lively, medium-bodied character of citrus and apple, Chilean Chardonnay will match the zesty and creamy components of this dish; recommended wines include Casa Lapostolle’s Cuvée Alexandre, Montes Alpha, and Amelia from Concha y Toro.
For the aji chileno
10 jalapeño peppers
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable or olive oil
1 garlic clove
For the crab mixture
1½ pounds fresh crab meat (Dungeness or of equal quality)
4 cups white bread crumbs without crusts, made in a food processor
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup onion, chopped
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
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, or more to taste
To make the aji chileno: Cut the jalapeño peppers in half, discarding all or almost all of the seeds. Put the peppers in a nonreactive bowl, add the vinegar, and cover; marinate overnight (or fr at least for several hours) to soften the skins. After marinating, drain off the liquid and discard it. In a food processor, purée the peppers with the oil and garlic. Transfer the puree to a covered container and reserve to use as an ingredient in the pastel de jaibas.
To make the crab casserole: Pick over the crab meat, making sure to remove any shell or cartilage. In a large bowl, stir together the bread crumbs and milk; set aside. Heat the olive oil and the butter in a large skillet or frying pan, add the chopped onion, garlic, paprika, oregano, cumin, and salt and pepper, and sauté, stirring, until the onion is translucent. Add the wine, and deglaze the pan for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the stock.
Add the crab meat, bread and milk mixture, and cream. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring the entire time. Season with 2 teaspoons aji chileno, or more to taste. Check the 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 the oven to 400 degrees F.
Spoon the crab 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.